The fourth album from Memphis-based Lucero begins with gravely voiced Ben Nichols singing “You said you’re tired of this goddamn town/ Said you’re gonna burn it all down/ Drive your car to the end of the bridge/ Sit and watch the smoke rise/ Lay on your hood at the top of the ridge/ Gonna watch it all burn tonight all right” overtop a churning guitar riff and a dirty drumbeat. It is the perfect beginning to a smoke-filled rock record.
Nichols growls, the guitars suck the air from the room and leave feedback carrying sweet pop melodies, and the drums pound out a blues-rock march that erupts when necessary: This is Nobody’s Darlings. The twelve-song effort hits you like an all-nighter with friends. It goes by fast and painlessly but stays with you the next day, and you wonder how you did so much shit the night before without being arrested.
I don’t know if the four guys from Lucero have ever spent some nights in jail, but it’s obviously from listening to Nobody’s Darlings that they have spent some nights listening to Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson and Dire Straits. This is Lucero’s first on their own label — Liberty and Lament — and it starts with up-tempo storytelling and stays there, almost the whole way through. Previous Lucero efforts have been filled with slow ballads and laid-back rockers, but Nobody’s Darlings is a pretty full-on guitar onslaught that will likely cause head-banging and singing along.
The members of Lucero have shown touches of heavy rock on previous releases, but this is the first record they have unleashed themselves, left all the slow pretty feelings behind and captured the sweat and heartache of life on the road. Opener “Watch it Burn” sets the pace for a record that has only one goal: to “slash and burn.” Nichols tells stories of lost love, broken hearts and days as dark as night. Nothing works out as planned (“Now Kathy’s been with Benny Bauer ever since that night/ She’s tried to leave him many times but can’t quite get away/ She’s seen more jails and courts and lawyers than she’d like to say”), but the characters never change, never find an epiphany (“Buy another scotch as I head for the door/ and it won’t make me better/ but I wanna make sure”) and keep going in circles (“Drink it up boys, it’s the last night in town/ It’s too late to turn back now/ In the morning it’s the wide open road/ Take it far enough and it’ll bring you back home”).
Nobody’s Darlings captures a restless, angry, dirty vibe that resonates. “Cause when you try to make it stay/ That’s when it surely slips away/ and it’s all the same to me,” Nichols tells us. This record is committed to telling stories of hurt, just as the finest blues and country singers do. But Lucero chooses to tell them at a blistering pace: the pace of life.