Lucinda Williams, World Without Tears

I’ve determined two things lately in my thinking about World Without Tears, which is an album I think about often.  First, once something has been released for, say, over five years, it stops mattering if people at the time thought it was great or not; the debate of the day becomes fairly irrelevant, and what really matters is if the fans of the record still find themselves turning to that record (I do, very much so).  Second, despite the great sadness chronicled throughout the record, and the great pits of emotions from which it’s clearly wrung, I don’t find World Without Tears depressing.  I remember sitting in the CU bookstore in the basement of the University Memorial Center, back when they still sold cd’s, and listening to World Without Tears before I’d bought any other Lucinda Williams records, despite liking many of her songs.  What I felt when I heard the opening minute or so of “Fruits of My Labor,” the first song, was not sadness, despite it sounding like a classic soul ballad – what I felt was excitement.  What I felt was a world of sadness and longing shared by all of us unveiled behind velvet curtains and in stale living rooms.  As the song moves into “Righteously,” her carnal, bass-driven rock plea to a lover to turn his physical prowess into emotional comfort, it becomes an album in which sadness and release run hand-in-hand, a faultline between excitement and devastation.  I felt it an unveiling of thoughts I’d often had of love and lust, of why we’re driven to things that hurt us and torn apart when they go away.  That’s what happens here – a three-day love affair has left Lucinda “so fucking alone” in the visceral “Those Three Days;” rumors from others have caused nothing but turmoil, but mostly because they’re true in “People Talkin’;” something awful and unnamed (a rape?  a humiliation?) in a hotel room in “Minneapolis,” and it’s unclear if she misses or hates the lover who wronged her.  At the time of its 2003 release, Williams was highly respected – Time had recently named her America’s greatest songwriter, which many of us had known for 15 years.  Still, the longing had stuck around, and informed a record that cleanses you of the notion that your worst fears and loneliness may never disappear.  She releases it from time to time here – a great rocker like “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings” finds release in music, and “Atonement,” a 7-minute barnstomp without a recognizable tune is practically an exorcism – but what she really does is find peace in it.  “If we lived in a world without tears,” she wonders, “how would misery know which body to flow outside of?” It’s poetry of the greatest kind that leaves her calm with her anger and sadness, finally, in “Words Fell,” a song that never excuses or minimizes her pain, but accepts and loves it.  It’s art of that caliber that makes an album linger in memory like the love and longing the record chronicles so specifically.

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