Lucy Dacus releases her third and most overtly autobiographical album – there’s several threads running throughs this, where, in the olden days, we’d call it a concept album – but I want to just celebrate it as a brilliant set of songs, thematically linked (faith, relationships, celebrity) and further proof that she is emerging as one of the great songwriters of this generation.
Album two was the one where I really understood Dacus’ genius. Her wise-beyond-years writing – the great arrangements that were all at once classic folk-rock, indie-pop and wig-out noise-rock; she was Liz Phair at her very best with more to say that meant more to me than Taylor Swift or Lana Del Rey but I could see instantly how her work might also appeal to fans of those musicians.
Maybe the comparison is Elvis Costello. A weird one, but a mark of quality. A mark of someone that works for the song and understands the role of the singer and songwriter in that process – to serve, and to study. Not for nothing, Dacus’ second album was called Historian. Home Video is a reference to the angle of the lens now.
Home Video starts with Hot & Heavy, a hot flash(back) revisiting her hometown. Now famous, still young, but remembering the tender, early years – she knows how to captivate with a line, someone used to be “so sweet” and now they’re “a firecracker on a crowded street” – it’s a rhyming couplet that packs a deceptive punch. Later she’ll ditch the rhyme to simply say, “being back here makes me hot in the face” – we all know that sort of punch; metaphorically, geographically, spiritually.
VBS places us in the “summer of ‘07” – she’s a teenager attending church (“hands above our head, reaching for God”) and “waiting for a revelation” – the song is hooky and great. But the story in it is brilliant prose (“…locked away like jam jars in the cellar of your heart/waiting to be tasted and ultimately wasted”) and then this killer deceptively simple line about making the dark “feel darker than before”.
The writing is genius-level. Which was something Dacus unlocked on Historian but here there’s such a consistency in these songs. They’re clever, funny, heartbreaking and they sound great. That’s not such an easy thing to achieve. I listen to Bill Callahan for his words – yeah, sure, I love his dry burr – but I don’t always stay listening long because the tune only does so much. But a Dacus song will suddenly erupt into a burst of Smashing Pumpkins squall or a reminder of when Liz Phair and Juliana Hatfield had your heart in their hand to crush.
And where Historian opened with an 8-minute epic that threatened to dwarf the rest of the album, Video closes with the 8-minute epic. A gut-punch of a song (Triple Dog Dare) that has Dacus trying to reconcile her sexuality (bi) with her faith (church upbringing). These sorts of tensions are given great vehicle through a voice that could, frankly, sing anything. But when you hear her ponder her hands and ask “How did they betray me?/What did I do? I never touched you how I wanted to” there’s a heartbreak you feel on behalf.
Triple Dog Dare is an incredible coda to an album that has already delivered so much – but perhaps the reason I’m loving this album more than her previous excellent work (let’s not forget a cover-filled stopgap EP and the boygenius supergroup with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker) is because of the sequencing. The way this album unfurls is like a great book of short-stories. A novelist’s eye for observation, a singer’s grasp of the emotional that is universal and a musician’s innate understanding of how to wrap it all up in deep warmth. Lucy Dacus goes from strength to strength – she is a brilliant writer. And this works as very fine introduction and/or confirmation.