Jun 17, 2021
By Carlo Thomas
To listen to Reason to Live—the latest album by indie rock legend Lou Barlow—is to listen to a recalibration. Sure, the album centers around the acoustic strumming (“Why Can’t It Wait”) and lo-fi aesthetics (“Paws”) that have become synonymous with Barlow’s solo projects. Ever the self-examiner, his lyrics still read like someone figuring out their place in this world. Yet on Reason to Live, Barlow imbues his life experiences—a touring musician, a father, an observer of global events—with a joyous sincerity that elevates the album from being more than another mere legacy act release.
“I need more proof I don’t need this/And I don’t like changes,” Barlow confesses over prickly guitar lines and thumping percussion on “I Don’t Like Changes.” His character studies such as “Cold One” are treated as something of myth (“Oh brother you’re a cold one/Sold your mother for the warm sun”), where the moral lessons transcend the specifics. Yet even when Barlow is more direct, there’s a calmness in his playing and singing that suggests he knows that anger isn’t the answer. Songs such as “All You People Suck” are biting in their criticism (“All you people suck/You’re the ones that don’t believe/That we’re all connected in/Let the finer point repeat”), yet Barlow’s delivery isn’t one of resentment but of fascination. The album’s standout title track sees Barlow examine the selfishness of man over effortless strumming and echoing effects that evoke someone wandering a chilled wilderness. Nevertheless, he arrives at a consoling realization that he relays to his unnamed partner: “We gotta be kinder before we got nothing to give.”
“Love Intervene” sees Barlow namecheck several of today’s ills: unjust laws, today’s polarized political landscape, the ongoing fight for a woman’s right to choose. Yet no matter the trouble, he returns to the simple idea that love can be the answer (“Love intervene please show us the way”). In the wrong hands, lines such as these could come off as naïve, but Barlow’s experience suggests he knows there’s still some truth in them. Some of the album’s songs have origins that go back decades (opener “In My Arms,” for example, uses a sample of a Barlow recording from 1982), while others were recorded as recently as last year. That Barlow is still able to draw from across this entire music career is significant. Before listeners re-enter a reopening world, Barlow reminds us to pause at their doors, take a deep breath, and appreciate that there’s still so much in life to look forward to. (www.loobiecore.com)
Author rating: 8/10
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