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The Mendoza Line - 30 Year Low

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Artist: The Mendoza Line

Album: 30 Year Low

Label: Glurp

Review date: Aug. 28, 2007

30 Year Low is the Mendoza Line's last album. It clocks in at eight songs and under 30 minutes. That's probably about all the collaboration songwriters Timothy Bracy and Shannon McArdle could stand; they're not only ending their band but also their marriage, and from the sound of it, there's nothing amicable about their divorce.

And yet, painful as 30 Year Low must have been to make, the record is well worth the trouble. Bristling with bile, laced with hatred, couched in the most scathing kind of intelligence, it is a bracing portrait of marital trainwreck. Infidelity, money troubles, aging, children and the lack of them - the big relationship-breakers are all here in spades, but delivered with wit and style and literacy. It's a voyeur's special, laid bare for your entertainment. You'll laugh, they'll cry - it hardly seems fair, does it?

In fact, listening to 30 Year Low is a lot like watching your friends break up. It's hard not to take sides. And, let's face it, McArdle wins. It's not exactly that her songs are better; in fact, clearly the best song on the album, "Aspect of an Old Maid" is credited to Bracy (and sung by McArdle and Will Sheff from Okkervil River). Yet the men characters in these songs are worse than the women, callous and casually cruel and immune to consequences. It's the girls who get pregnant and get old and get left, in opener "Since I Came", apparently to die in a wooden shack in the woods. "It's not as if I ever really told you that I cared/But you know even if I did, you still would not be spared," Sheff sings in unfeeling double time, before dismissing a girl under 30 for wearing "the aspect of the old maid."

The age of 30 plays a significant role in this album, not just in "Old Maid, but in Bracy's title cut, which bends stock touting metaphors to describe a broken relationship. It turns up again in the go-to-hell stomper "31 Candles," clearly McArdle's best moment. It's a fiery song, blistering with country-rock guitar licks and corrosive with anger. McArdle dismisses a younger challenger with a bracing contempt, tossing off some of the album's best lines like she's spraying sulfuric acid. ("She follows all your work/Got a fucking kitty on her shirt"' is close to perfect.)

Bracy's songs are less overtly angry than McArdle's, more countrified and mournful, as he acknowledges the "morbid cache of significant failure." Yet he can be brutal, too, in an offhanded, passive aggressive way, noting in "Love on Parole," that "I was never that interested in your heart and soul/I just wanted to see you/And make love on parole." The cruelest song, and the best, is "Aspect of an Old Maid", dismissing an aging lover, her struggles and her humanity with chilling observations about a child who's afraid of her.

The eight songs of 30 Year Low are the main attraction here, but perhaps because the core material is short, or possibly to tie up some loose ends on this final release, the band also includes a second disc of live versions and covers. Some of these are interesting choices. Linda Thompson's "Withered and Died" picks up the theme of aging and broken love, and makes a subtle connection with that other great divorce album, Shoot Out the Lights. But mostly it feels like filler. The main album is sharp and vitriolic and honest, with hardly a place to take a breath. Why not remember them that way?

By Jennifer Kelly

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