Lucero are a cult band. Their following is a bunch of 20 somethings who grew up in small towns with broken down cars. They learned to jimmy liquor cabinets before they knew what to do with what they found inside. They quit their punk bands when it became clear that the chance was slipping that they were even going to make it out of their hometown. Lucero’s fan base make sense because the youth (mostly young men) who make up Lucero’s audience are the characters who make up their songs. They’re drunk, a little gawky, and don’t quite know what to do about hope. They don’t have a motorcycle or a gun. They have a jean jacket they wear like a shell, and get more offended than you think when you tell them Springsteen wants his clothes back. Lucero’s songs follow a template: Tonight + (Guy * (Booze(A Fight(A Girl)) +/- Getting outta here)). If it sounds like a cliché, I’d argue clichés are only labeled as such because people toss them off, don’t give them the attention it would take to make something new out of something old.
And for one album (so far) Lucero did just that, starting with what hundreds of writers and songwriters and poets and painters and just about every teenager in the whole world has gone through: that restlessness which comes with wanting to leave even if you don’t know where you’d go. Lucero took something infinitely familiar and seemingly played out, and turned it into their own creation.
Here’s something interesting: Lucero are a rock band. I’m sure they would identify themselves as such. Yet That Much Further West, for most of its length, doesn’t rock at all. It’s tempo is sluggish, its songs are defeatist anti-anthems, slowly coalescing and then lingering around in hot summer air. When it does rock, in the late album combo of “Tonight Ain’t Gonna Be Good” and “Tears Don’t Matter Much” it is a welcome shift in tone for the album, but it also feels somehow hollow, like the songs are betraying the quiescent solitude the group has spent the rest of the album building up. The album could be compared to Wilder’s “Our Town,” with the band visiting bars, highschools, parking lots, rivers, rock clubs, and the roads of a small southern town. Lucero act as narrators with poorly disguised subjectivity, they can’t pretend to love this place they so desperately want to get out of. The drums on That Much Further West either tick away seconds or they’re breaking bottles out back.
The band itself deserves credit for their creation, but Ben Nichols voice must be given its fair time. Every word that comes out of Nichols’ mouth just feels unraveled. Nichols’ delivery strikes an amazing balance between resignation and being amped up. The way he mumbles “well, alright” in the chorus of “Across The River,” or his delivery throughout the brief but perfect “Joined the Army,” are two examples of the poignancy and depth that Nichols brings to Lucero.
I don’t know whether Lucero will ever release another album that will resonate for me the way That Much Further West does. As they pile on more and more production and more and more instruments (they now feature a full-time keyboardist, and their last album feature a horn section prominently), they get further from the spark which lit the fuse which made this album such a rooted, epochal work. That Much Further West just fits Lucero so well, the band of lovable, smart, decent looking fuck-ups who are on the cusp. Seeing them succeed, while gratifying, also didn’t fit for me. The truth is, asking Lucero to strip back down to the style they had on this album might produce something stilted and phony, and that would be worse than their natural expansion. The long and short is, I’ve had this album for year, and I’ve played it more times than I can say, and i’m still not sick of it. I don’t think I need anything else.
This one’s for the G Train. The J train has the new R160 cars, airbag suspension, doors that close all the way, and automated, mitigated station announcements. The G Train has four cars that get you from point a to point b just fine, even if you take each trip inside of a snare drum.
I hadn’t listened to Turn, The Ex’s most recent album, in ages, despite the fact that I think they’re one of the most interesting, listenable, danceable and forceful punk bands around (that is, if they are still around). Their songs remind me of the clanging of my train, and their words remind me of the bits of plastic scraped away from windows where one boy carves his name, another, below it, fuck this shit.
Also two new ones, from albums I didn’t realize were coming out this year, but am now pumped for. Both are courtesy of Captains Dead.