LACHLAN BRYAN & THE WILDES – AS LONG AS IT’S NOT US
As Long As It’s Not Us (Social Family Records)
“Misery is currency, that’s what my doctor said,” sings Lachlan Bryan, not accidentally sounding like mid ‘80s Leonard Cohen – vocally and musically. “My heart’s overflowing with anxiety and dread, I know we should quit while we’re ahead.” And it’s fair to say this is not a relationship likely to get a Heart Foundation tick of approval.
Quit While We’re Ahead is the kind of noir-ish, or at least pulp-ish, story and musical setting (picture a two-piece vamp band in a two-bit dive bar) that doesn’t usually get a run in local Americana bands, let alone Australian country. It’s got a bit of sleaze, a patina of urban darkness, and an ear for the line between cynicism and realism.
But then, like Shane Nicholson and Jason Isbell, Bryan these days is country by old association, and Americana by limitation (ours, not his). There are people and ideas at play here which can trip up simple statements and simple assumptions, like the internal discussion in I Found God which feels like Matamoros Banks repositioned on a city street, God competing with ego as if they weren’t the same; or the title track (written by Bryan and Tim Rogers) which hovers between guile and glee as much as between a New Wave bar in the early ‘80s and a back room where you half suspect a bunch of pristine urban cowboy hats-with-legs are hooking thumbs into belt buckles.
Similarly, the unwary could hear something as Texas songwriter-like as The Road or as first-beer-on-the-highway as the choogling You Remind Me Of Myself, and make a call about where this is going, only to have the bluegrass murder ballad-meets-inner city blues of I Went Down (written by band member Damian Cafarella) or the delicate filigrees of The Understudy put a spanner in those expectations.
As Long As It’s Not Us – even the title projects a moral ambiguity – is an album that takes its travels seriously but not earnestly, the depth of character in the bulk of the songs making you feel like you’ve tapped into more story than is actually there: you fill in the missing pieces basically. That works so consistently that even when it feels a too gentle ride for the tale, for example the closing Take It Out On Me, which ends the record on a somewhat unsatisfactory breezy note, the tenor of the uncertain times still resonates.
All of which, maybe, brings us back to Quit While We’re Ahead and it’s pairing of “the kind of woman that I’d want to be” and “the kind of man I’d string along”. Is our unreliable narrator undercutting or understanding this relationship? Is he loving her too much or himself too little? Is the jauntiness of the keyboard a prospect or is the slide guitar a portent?
Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes aren’t saying. Fair enough, this isn’t your idea of a country song, so work it out yourself.
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