by Craig Howieson
Lou Barlow’s latest offering is a raw document of contentment, brazen truth, and a worthy addition to his unparalleled body of work
Honesty is underrated. For a concept so simple, it becomes a practice pin pricked by complexities that leaves it well beyond the grasp of many – even those with the purest of intentions. Now, more than ever, amidst a nebulous swirl of half truths and false narratives, veneered lives and insincere projections, an honest soul is a rare soul.
Which brings us to Lou Barlow – a thoroughly candid and open man who is more than befitting of his legendary status. The quality of his songwriting has always shone through his many guises, and being a member of not one, but two of the finest alt-rock bands in recent decades, he has become an unassuming purveyor of classic album after classic album.
But it is perhaps when he is releasing under his own name that he is at his most refined, resonant and truthful. That it took until 2005’s Emoh for him to release a record free from any moniker is perhaps telling of his modesty, and it turned out the man we thought we knew everything about had far more to share. His directly distilled folky rawness – expanded upon on Goodnight Unknown and Brace The Wave – painted another side of the face we had come to recognise.
Reason to Live, which can be loosely considered his fourth solo record, is marked by how true it feels to its creator. There is a cushion of contentment that props up the album that never veers into complacency, and through its many turns and deviations, Barlow proves that he is one of the best there is at knowing exactly what a track needs (or doesn’t need), to make it feel complete. Whether that be the woozy west coast swirl of Privatize, or the comforting drag of Paws that feels like a familiar hand twirling you around the dancefloor. His lo-fi aesthetic remains firmly in place – with a battered acoustic guitar providing the spine of most songs, but each has its own unique nodules.
An extensive back catalogue can often be confused with a decline in standards or quality control issues. But across these 17 tracks, Barlow never drops below anything other than great, and in a trait he shares with Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, his prolific nature points at his genius as opposed to a lack of due care and attention.
On an album called Reason to Live, Barlow provides plenty of them. Fused in its DNA is the contentment to be found in forging your own path, and in pursuing and appreciating what you have. Assured, but never arrogant, raw but never distasteful, lofty while being matter of fact, the real reason Barlow is such a legend is that time and time again we find him to be above all else… honest.
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