Lydia Loveless is working through a few things on her new album. Daughter is her first new release in four years, during which time Loveless got divorced, moved from Ohio to North Carolina and was frank on social media about her mental health, and also having been sexually harassed by someone in the orbit of her former record label. So there’s a lot to cover on her fifth LP.
She hasn’t lost her knack for writing brutally candid songs: Loveless is as frank as ever on these 10 tracks. She has, however, learned to pull back from the flame-thrower vocal sensibility of her earlier material. Loveless has a massive, powerful voice that she uses to great effect, though the effect is even greater, and hits even harder, when she blends it with a measure of restraint instead of going full-bore all the time.
Singing with greater nuance also helps put the focus on her lyrics, which can be flat-out wrenching. Loveless sings with a mix of remorse and dismay on “Wringer,” a divorce song where the opening lines refer to dividing up possessions: “You give the sweetest kisses, dear,” she sings on the refrain. “But you leave the stinger.”
“Love Is Not Enough” seems less surgically targeted as Loveless sings about wrestling with a pervasive world-weariness and realizing that she isn’t going to find fulfillment from an outside source. She sounds restless and dispirited, accompanied by a sturdy beat topped with intertwining guitars. If the slightly rugged mid-tempo rock feel of “Love Is Not Enough” evokes the sound of her previous album, Loveless takes some unexpected turns here, too. Layers of synths drift over a popping beat on “Never,” while “September” finds her playing piano for the first time on an album. Loveless pumps out a melancholy vamp as she sings about rising up and flying away in search of something—anything—better. Though it’s a sad song, sharp backing vocals toward the end from Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace help stave off wallowing in self-pity and give the track some bite.
For all her pointed lyrics on Daughter, Loveless saves her sharpest commentary for the title track, which is an uncharacteristic foray into topicality. Loveless was inspired, if that’s the right word, by the “As the father of a daughter” perspective expressed by some virtue-signaling men who see themselves as allies of feminism. Loveless wants to know about her own value when it’s not a function of shared DNA. “What is my body worth to you without your blood in it?” she asks to start the song, which is a moody construct built around gleaming organ accompanied by muted guitars in the background.
The answer ought to be self-evident: Like any human, her worth is (or should be) considered innate. That said, she does have one powerful advantage that nobody else does: She’s Lydia Loveless, and that’s saying a lot.
Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013, and writing about music and pop culture for longer than he cares to admit. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website.
Watch Lydia Loveless’ 2016 Paste Studio session: