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The Lucksmiths - Where Were We?

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Artist: The Lucksmiths

Album: Where Were We?

Label: Matinee

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

When it comes to pop music, few bands come close to the Lucksmiths. Instead of fiddling around with ostentatious production and 21st century delusions of progress, the trio of Marty Donald, Tali White and Mark Mannone unabashedly stick to the basics. Few bands can afford such complacency, but anything the Lucksmiths sing turns into, at the worst, an endearing B-side, and the best, a timeless classic. Their penchant for witty rhyme schemes and double entendre will always secure the group a spot at the podium of pop music, especially considering their genre’s inherent redundancy.

In a way, the group’s new record Where Were We? is a bit redundant; like their 1999 compilation Happy Secret, Where Were We? is a collection of past recordings that many Lucksmith fans may already have in their collection. Regardless, as a formal release, the album deserves consideration as entity in itself. And in that light, it is a moderate success—quite good jangle-pop, yet, when compared to the Lucksmiths’ past recordings, nothing too special.

The songs were recorded around the world from 1999 thru 2001 and sound more like the hi-fi Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me from 2001 than their earlier stripped-down Candle recordings. There are some literary gems, like “T’mrw vs. Y’day,” a nostalgic glimpse into life in a small town, and “Southernmost” (which shouldn’t really count, since it was on Happy Secret), a lazy summertime trip to the coast “Where the sky was swimming-pool blue / and the swimming pool was too.” The wit is released in full force on “Even Stevens,” a collaboration with the Ladybug Transistor in which White sings of a couple engaged in a seven-year battle of Scrabble. “I know it’s a consequence of clinging to consonants / but PLL and QSC spells trouble to me.”

Donald’s ability to tell so much with so little has been compared to Raymond Carver's short stories and deservedly so. “The Great Dividing Range,” a demo from Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me recording session, fits a trans-ocean love story into 3:18 and even pokes fun at its romanticism, ending with “But let’s not get metaphysical.”

Like most compilations, Where Were We? features a number of rather average songs, but that is to be expected when compiling b-sides. “Can’t Believe My Eyes” is as trite as its title and “I Prefer the 20th Century” was written for a New Year’s Eve 7” and is predictably forced. If compared to Happy Secret, Where Where We? falls well short, but few albums can compete with the former’s consistent level of excellence. There is no “Untidy Towns” and “The Art of Cooking For Two” on this record, unless you consider “Southernmost,” which, of course, we can’t.

While I prefer their 20th century as well, Where Were We? is a pleasant distraction to the trouble and trials of the 21st.

By Otis Hart

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