The first time I heard this album, I loved it. I popped open a beer, cranked it up, and started washing the dishes; this may, in fact, be the best possible way to listen. I was immediately drawn in by the sheer ballsiness of Lucid Nation’s combination of ’70s-era new wave guitar rock and Tamra Spivey’s riot-grrlish beat poetry. It’s kind of what Patti Smith would sound like if she was just starting out now… and if she wasn’t boring. And when I found out that they pretty much improvised this album, words and music and all, right there on the spot — all 132 minutes of it — well, I started writing little mash notes to it. Huge crush.
But like many crushes, this one didn’t last too long. When I tried to listen to it in the car, I started to see that Spivey’s lyrical conceits had way too little of the political-is-personal-is-political fire she things they do, and too much of a “I’m just making this shit up off the top of my head” vibe. And forget about trying to pay any serious headphone attention to the damned thing, because that’s when the improvisation thing falls short. I hate conservative Texan politicians as much as the next Midwestern liberal, but Spivey’s rant on “Welcome To America” almost had me feeling sorry for Dick Armey. Not quite, but almost… and that’s not good.
Sure, the garage-rock crunch that this group can cook up can be sexy and menacing and fun and fresh — Ronnie Pontiac and Larry Schemel are an excellent one-two punch on guitars, and bassist Greta Brinkman and former Hole drummer Patty Schemel form an excellent and elastic rhythmic team. Lucid Nation locks into some grooves here that remind me of The Standells, and others that remind me of Brix-era Fall records, and any group that can do both is ace with me.
But the whole close-listening test really made me think that Lucid Nation would benefit from being a bit more conventional, and actually work on writing songs or something. With 32 songs spread over two discs, there are a lot of misses, and it can just kind of get exhausting hearing songs like “Favorite Star,” which crunch like 60 musically but end in sad little off-key repetitions of “Friends don’t let friends drink and drive.”
So this huge sprawling ambitious mess of an LP is a Monet, right? Pretty from a distance but nothing special close-up? Well, not exactly that either, because my opinion has changed once again. Seems like maybe when I hit upon the whole comparison with The Fall, who are crucial, I wanted to give this another try. And another. And [editor curses, tears hair out, mutters voodoo imprecations against reviewer] another. I’ve gone through the wringer with Lucid Nation, and come out on the other end a fan. Yes, they’re as pretentious as a sophomore and sloppier than my cousin Seamus, but they’re just interesting enough that I keep wanting to dive back into the pool. I love “Problematic,” with its debased Memphis groove (love those random time speed-ups and slow-downs) and Spivey’s wobbly awful fun silly poetricks; I love the metal swagger of “Everyone’s Got an Area 51”; I love the fact that they even have a song called “Fall” that goes all shoegazy and sounds nothing like The Fall at all. (Apparently “fall” is also a season as well as a verb.)
I don’t know if you’ll like this record, because I don’t know how much I like it myself. But I think I will end up loving it dearly, and you might feel the same way, if you’re not afraid of a little ambition and some rock-and-roll gutsiness. Yeah, Tacoma Ballet might drive you bonkers for a while. But is that so bad? Just listen again, and all will be made clear, or more gloriously unclear. Or is that “less” gloriously unclear. Do I know? No. Do I care? Hellz no. I’m too busy rockin’ out to Lucid Nation, who are probably going to capture my heart after all.
Lucid Nation: http://www.lucidnation.com