REVIEW: Lou Barlow – Reason to Live

Ah, you might be asking yourself, what kind of Lou Barlow am I going to get on Lou Barlow’s latest solo outing? Will I get the plaintive, highly produced (for him) Lou Barlow of Emoh? Or the slightly more strung out Lou Barlow of his post-divorce Brace the Wave album? Will it be a Lou Barlow familiar to us from such handcrafted pop gems as The Folk Implosion’s ‘Natural One’? Or the lo-fi Lou Barlow of Sentridoh? Or the crunching riff monster of Dinosaur Jr?

What we get here, for the most part, is the gentler Lou Barlow, the folk Lou Barlow, the Lou Barlow with his voice relatively high in the mix and the occasional bum note left in for authenticity’s sake. But there is a difference and there is something, arguably, new about Reason to Live too. Pretty much from the outset, what we have here is happy Lou Barlow. Now, we’ve known happy Lou before. I once saw him lead Sebadoh through an impromptu paean to the humble chip buttie for god’s sake. But I’m not sure we’ve seen such a pretty, upbeat collection of songs released at one and the same time.

The instrumentation is surprisingly lush too – Barlow is using his effects pedals to dazzling effect. Listen to the title track to see what I mean. ‘Talk about a reason to live,’ Lou sings. The ‘reason’ for all the bonhomie is a new wife, a new child, a move to Massachusetts. Basically Lou is in a good place and he’s gone and made a great album too. Periodically you hear a song (‘Privatize’ say, or ‘Thirsty’) and you can imagine how good it would sound with big drums and crunchy riffage but that’s because your reviewer is spoilt and entitled (if you want to indulge your crunchy riffmonster version of Lou Barlow, check out the most recent Dinosaur Jr album, ‘Sweep It Into Space’ – it’s a doozy). Most Lou Barlow fans will just go hey, 17 new Lou Barlow songs! 

Words by Pete Wild

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