The John Prine memorial tour continues with the oddly rocked-up version of many of his later hits. Yes, if you still like the 90s rockscape that sounds like Our Lady Peace then this is the JP album for you. Unfortunately, you’re a very silly man or woman, and you should be ashamed. JP is not a rocker, he’s a 50-something folkie and this album sounds desperate to sound current and with-it. It’s a sign that half the songs are written by his studio musicians; I’m guessing they’re the ones not about divorce.
The songs themselves aren’t too bad, though (with no exception) there’s only one song that breaks the later-period Prine mold of light humour and adult contemporary-style sentiments but saved by extremely clever lyrics. It can be hard to find the songs through the production sometimes – I’m pretty sure “We Are The Lonely” and “Humidity Built The Snowman” have good songs hidden somewhere inside the awkwardly spaced-out instruments, and “Quit Hollerin’ At Me” is at least a suitable cranky old man rant, inside a terrible wailing blues guitar and cheesy bongos.
Then there’s a bunch of nothing songs that ruin everything – “This Love Is Real” and “All The Way With You” are GAWFUL slices of adult contempo, and “Big Fat Love” is an awful awful attempt at a rocker, while “Leave The Lights On” loses me by its second distended, cheesy note, and keeps me lost with its irritating-ass fart-fuzz bass and its asinine placeholder lyrics.
The big savior here is “Lake Marie.” Wonderful, almost nonsensical speak-sing country-folk that’s amusing and sentimental and primes one for nostalgia with its universal chorus before amping up the catchiness. It’s a lovely piece of music, almost good enough to forgive Prine for whatever producer he hired. It still goes on like a minute too long, though. You’re blowing it, guys!
Under the surface here is a great sadness about divorce, but it tends to be expressed as schmaltzy generica. The closer “I love you so much it hurts,” not written by Prine, is actually sad, like an old divorced man drinking and playing piano alone, but that’s rare here. I guess divorce doesn’t wear well on a man best when he’s being wry; unless you’re willing to go full out and joke about serious sadness then you’re bound to get caught up repeating how love is a rose and reading Corinthians.