Pop quiz, hotshot: what’s been wrong with the last few John Prine albums?
A) John’s getting too poe-faced and unwhimsical, and he’s far better at the latter
B) John’s writing more and more about boring topics and not enough about heroin-addicted war veterans
C) They’re too dang loud!
D) He seems increasingly lost, thematically
IF you guessed C) then you win my copy of “Aimless Love!” (not literally, though). Prine sounds like he’s gone into early musical retirement, clipped his hair short, and decided that any mood other than somber folkieness is a conceit. He had rarely been a barnstomper, but this is borderline happy Christian levels of subdued here. The lyrical magic is still 40% gone and 60% present (an improvement over the last couple albums), but golly is this album ever calm and friendly.
It’s still very nice, but be aware you’re spending time with a preternaturally relaxed 40 year-old man when you listen to this album. And he doesn’t have much of a sense of humour anymore, which is a giant cock of a shame. He used to be so clever! Now he spends half of his time on sincere sentiments like “Be My Friend Tonight” or twice espousing the serious beauty of human to human love, or telling morality tales. When he wants to be entertaining, like in the standout hoedown “The Bottomless Lake” (The only time on the album he has any fun) or the weird romance-murder anthem “Maureen Maureen” he’s still on the money, but those moments are far too few. I’m also greatly partial to the alcoholics’ regretful anthem “Me, Myself and I” even if it’s ultra-sincere once again, and I like the sad, original, and empathetic “People Putting People Down,” but it’s also so soporific that I can’t get beyond mild enjoyment.
I have little doubt that his intentions are pure, and that’s nice, and he has a right to relax with a beer and reflect, and that’s nice, but I don’t have the countenance to chill out and reflect kindly on how “Somewhere Someone’s Falling In Love,” and hearing someone else do it doesn’t do much for me either. This is an extremely friendly album, but it’s rarely inspirational, and that means it sails above water on the basis of Prine’s personality, but little else.