Several months ago I got an album in my mailbox with this depressed looking chap on the cover, submerged fully-clothed in his bathtub. When you feel like doing that you are probably not in the happiest of mindsets, so I first dismissed it as sad sap break-up music and I’ll admit that I tossed it into a pile of “To Listen On A Day When I Am Sadder” albums. I was doing myself a disservice by not listening to this gem immediately.
The 2005 album is called Broken (and other rogue states) by Canadian Luke Doucet, and I am wondering why I had never heard of his solo work before. This is a wry album that reminds me of excellent artists like M. Ward and Ryan Adams, with a bit of Wilco or even the self-effacing half-spoken zingers of Cracker on songs like “One Too Many.” Doucet brings alt-country inflections, a rich voice with a slight rasp to it, and stunning lyrics that read like wicked clever poetry.
Above all else, those lyrics are what elevate Doucet above the dozens of other singer-songwriter albums I’ll listen to this year:
“I left a trail of Lucky Strikes on the way up to your room
in case the sun went down I’d find my way home
Now one and one half years have passed and it’s time for me to go
But the smokes have all been kicked away
I’m blazing a new trail from your cold, cold heart.”
-From “Lucky Strikes”
“It takes a uniquely fucked up man to break his own heart
And the right girl at the wrong time to make him do it . . .
So bring me cigarettes, bring me alcohol, bring me heroin,
make me feel again
You were never my whole world
you’re just one of many girls . . .
Maybe I’ve had one too many“
-From “One Too Many”
Or how about this song TITLE (also the extent of the lyrics) for track #10:
“if i drop names of exotic towns that you’ll never see, in the songs that i write, it’s that that’s all i have when i miss my girl and you’re taking yours home tonight”
Doucet intermittently wallows in his sorrows, flagellates himself for his loss, lets fly some pretty harsh barbs (“You don’t need a heart to have a swollen head”) and warns the womenfolk about himself. The last song on the album is a rough and fuzzy 1:42 stomper called “Keep Her Away From Me”: “Keep her away from me, keep her away from me, ’cause I’m not man enough to keep my hands where I can see them.”
Doucet has woven an album that manages to be sweepingly cinematic and completely unpretentious at the same time, a visceral soundtrack to his life experiences. One of my favorite pairings on the album is a short 1:14 track called “Stumbling Gingerly Back To Emily’s Apartment” – a drunken flamenco-tinged waltz that feels exactly like what the title says. It brings him unsteadily to the front steps of her apartment and flows seamlessly into the shameless grovel of “Emily, Please” — “Emily please don’t send me packing in this dilapidated state.” He swears he’s “on the brink of being sober — this was to be my last drink” and asks her to please not tell his mother.
Even though he’s shameless, you still want to believe him.
Doucet is the former guitar player for Sarah McLachlan (I thought I’d heard the name somewhere), and has released several previous solo albums. One reviewer had the following to say, and I couldn’t put it better: “Although Doucet is clearly an exceptionally talented guitarist, Broken (and other rogue states) is not your typical guitar player’s record. His songs are not vehicles for his solos, and when the Canadian does let slip his six string skills, it’s to complement his songs and to emphasise his emotional themes, not to draw attention to his penis.”
He has crafted an absolutely lovely, scathing, bittersweet, alcohol soaked chronicle of love and loss — it is definitely one of the most solid albums of my year so far. Buy Broken (and other rogue states) and pour yourself something that burns a little on the way down.