Loudon Wainwright III
sound of history
August 17, 2022
On his 26th studio album, Lifetime AchievementLoudon Wainwright III considers his titular accomplishments through a series of moving and witty reflections on aging, love and nostalgia.
Initially suffering in comparison to Dylan and perhaps best known for his “novelty” song “Dead Skunk”, many will also recognize Wainwright as the subject of anger in many songs by his famous children Rufus and Martha.
Wainwright’s substantial talent for pirouetting along a wavering tightrope between comedy and tragedy remains intact with age; “Hell” amusingly imagines a welcoming committee in the fiery pits of the afterlife; “Little Piece of Me” and “Back In Your Town” form a duo of bittersweet ruminations on his decades of touring.
As an artist easily criticized for his facetiousness, Wainwright has made a remarkably open and heartfelt record here, his droll observations springing naturally from the absurdities of living and dying, rather than being designed to amuse or appall. It ruthlessly inverts the idea of a family vacation on the soaring, silly song of the same name (“Fam Vac”), and weighs the value of escapism anew on the scratchy flurry of “Town & Country.”
It’s with the sublime a cappella of “One Wish” that Wainwright’s mercurial mastery really shines. He stoically notes, “We’ve only got one wish to settle for,” and, with a melody worthy of longtime fan Alex Chilton, nostalgically intones, “Candles on a cake one day we might regret / I would like to tell you what I wanted / But you know if I told you, it wouldn’t come true.
Alongside his best moments, “How Old Is 75” is a banjo and fiddle ballad that echoes the youthful purity of his classic “The Swimming Song” (“In five years, I’ll be 80, I’ll I’ll hear the fat woman’s belly -flop, jacknife, swandive/Or cannonball from the high diving board”) and asks clearly: “Did you waste time or did you do it?/Did you do what you wanted, like you’re supposed to?
Surprisingly, for an album that spends the majority of its 15 tracks considering mortality, it’s never tearful and rarely as cynical as his earlier work. More often than not, it’s self-effacing, celebratory, and, even in its darkest moments, oddly heartwarming. He asks how we remember the past; how we perceive our roles in the lives of others and, perhaps most importantly, how we remember ourselves. What, Wainwright asks, ultimately has value? “I’m nearing the end, time’s almost up/So what have I accomplished? he begs on the beautiful, melodious title track, then forgoes “Golden Records and Blue Ribbons” for the sweet declaration “What I’ve achieved is you.”
“We’re one and done, it’s all sons / So do it for fun and free,” Wainwright advises at the end of the album, and coming to that conclusion could be considered a lifetime’s accomplishment. in itself. (www.lw3.com)
Author’s note: 7.5/ten