The history of modern music is littered with losers. Each decade has had one or more great successes that present the difficulties of a failure, a dud or a has-been. From the Beatles (“I’m a Loser”, 1964) to Bob Seger (“Beautiful Loser” 1975), Dan Seals (“Three Time Loser” 1987), Beck (“Loser” 1992), 3 Doors Down (“Loser” 2000) and Simple Plan (“Loser of the Year” 2011) to today, the airwaves have been full of songs of self-pity. The aforementioned items are just the tip of the iceberg. No doubt readers can find plenty of examples they’re familiar with, and that’s not even counting songs without the word loser in the title that are about failure (i.e. “I fought the law and the law won “).
The Lone Bellows took the loser concept one step further. Their latest release features nearly a dozen Love songs for losers. The trio (Zach Williams, lead singer; Brian Elmquist, guitarist; and Kanene Donehey Pipkin, multi-instrumentalist), along with bassist Jason Pipkin and drummer Julian Dorio, spent eight weeks together at Roy Orbison’s former home ( which would be haunted) creating tunes of love and pain, life and death, how we are all doomed to die, and the simple joys we can have in the meantime. Orbison’s wit (think his crestfallen obsession with his emotions on tracks like “Only the Lonely,” “Crying” and “In Dreams”) seems a fitting touchstone on these new recordings.
This is especially true because the losers of the Lone Bellow address are mostly themselves. The best songs are the most personal, especially those that lead songwriter Williams composed as a tribute to his love for his wife. (It should be noted that most of the songs were co-written by all band members.) Tracks such as “Unicorn”, “Wherever Your Heart Is” and “Honey” acknowledge his feelings of inadequacy in the light issues beyond the singer’s control. . He may be a loser because there are situations that frustrate him, but he simultaneously brags about being lucky in love. Life can be short, as Williams sings in “Homesick,” but it’s fine if you lead with your heart.
Kanene Pipkin takes lead vocals on “Cost of Living,” which she wrote. The female voice provides contrast, but it doesn’t detract from the fluidity of the production. The song sounds recorded at a slightly lower volume and adds a calm touch to the proceedings, even though it sings loudly. There’s something gospel about it, like hearing a church soloist chirp after the choir has stopped. This impression is reinforced by the rarity of the song which immediately follows it, “Dreaming”, before the rhythm is taken up by the aptly titled “Move”.
The album’s instrumentation sounds big, almost orchestral, with horns on cuts such as “Caught Me Thinking” with screaming horns and “The Great Divide” (written by Elmquist) with quiet strings. The least romantic song is also the one about the biggest loser on the album. The main character of “Gold” is a drug addict who “puts his salary in his arm”. The singer expresses empathy, but it’s not a love song despite the title of the album.
As Taylor Swift recently noted, there’s a certain instinctive attraction to life’s antiheroes. The Lone Bellow offers consolation to life’s failures. There is a certain cheekiness about this, as they are often the object of their own compassion. But aren’t we all the heroes of our dreams?