Heroin makes you slow. That’s a fact, I think. It has to — how can you run around like a maniac with a needle dangling from your arm? The human body is fragile and the circumstances and dangers of everyday life demand that you proceed with caution at all times. Smart people look before speeding around the bend; dumb people, or hopeless romantics, simply don’t give a shit and wheel around with their arms flailing, thinking of unicorns and rainbows or, in the case of Lucinda Williams, more heroin (speculatively, of course) or that lousy bastard who done broke her sweet heart. World Without Tears is FULL of tears. When I picked it up for the first time I swear to you right now that I heard it whimper a wee bit. Granted, that could have been me looking at the cover, which looks like a countrified Madonna photo-shoot outtake, but once I played it, alas, I realized that this album really is that fragile and emotionally exhausted.
The first time I actually listened to it, though, I fell asleep. Honestly. I was out for four hours by track six. Okay, this may have been due to the abuse my body had endured the previous 48 hours (the details of which are insignificant yet extremely entertaining), but on first listen, World Without Tears sounds monotonous. The one thing to remember about Lucinda, though, is that it’s the wooords that matter, dude. For instance, on track one, “Fruits of my Labor” she sings: “Baby I remember all the things we did/when we slept together in the blue behind your eyelids.” GodDAMN, that’s good! It’s so good I wish Sheryl Crow could’ve written it. Blasphemy, you say? Not really, because the rockers on this album, notably on “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings,” sound like Globe Sessions demos. Some of the solos could’ve been transcribed by Steely Dan, which isn’t to say it’s not entertaining — just a little too polished for its own title. This was recorded live, so why not go for the throat? I just wish I could hear the fingers bleeding instead of guitars seemingly played with thimbles.
Still, the incredible inconsistency of this album causes each track to be negated by another. “Righteously” has some truly ugly slide guitar, which is really the best kind, so the timidity of “Bleeding Fingers” is vindicated. On “Atonement,” one of several strange, rhythmically-appealing spoken-word (NOT rap) songs, Lucinda violently spits pure sarcasm into the eyes of fundamental Christianity. It’s so encouraging that I thought I could excuse the obvious compositional flaws of “Sweet Side,” but the hilariously incompatible transition from verse to chorus grates my nerves so much that every time I hear it I start to hate its anti-child abuse stance, and I almost feel like scoping out the preschools for a scapegoat.
The rest of the ballads reflect Williams’ inability to brace herself before the emotional storm hits. “Ventura” makes vomiting seem so psychologically draining that it makes me think that maybe all bulimics are really just miserably heartbroken. How can anyone hate a song with a chorus that begins “I wanna watch the ocean bend the edges of the sun”? Even I’m not that callous. “People Talkin'” sucks, and sucks hard, but “Minneapolis” bites. Actually, it bites and draws blood–Lucinda’s blood. Literally. By the end of four minutes she’s bleeding so much that she’s melting snow with it. I love it. Leonard Cohen only hopes to feel such numb despair.
Suicide, depression, rage, despair — yep, they’re all here. But as she sings on the title track, “If we lived in a world without tears — how would broken find the bones?” Read that line again. Done? That line is f-ing GREAT. Sure, this album is grossly inconsistent, but so what? It’s quite clear that even she didn’t know how it was going to turn out, only that it would be painful but honest. Read that line above just one more time. Done? I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well, maybe I could, but who wants to try if it means feeling this badly most of the time?