Loudon Wainwright III: Lifetime Achievement (Story Sound) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Loudon Wainwright III

Lifetime Achievement

Story Sound

Aug 17, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

On his 26th studio album, Lifetime Achievement, Loudon Wainwright III considers his titular accomplishments through a series of moving, witty reflections on aging, love, and nostalgia.

Initially suffering by comparison to Dylan and perhaps best known for his early hit “novelty” song “Dead Skunk,” many will also recognize Wainwright as the subject of ire in numerous songs by his famed children Rufus and Martha.

Wainwright’s substantial talent for pirouetting along a wavering tightrope between comedy and tragedy remains undiminished 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 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 contrived to amuse or appall. He ruthlessly inverts the idea of a family vacation on the soaring, silly song of the same name (“Fam Vac”), and again weighs up the value of escape on the strumming squall of “Town & Country.”

It’s with the sublime a cappella of “One Wish” that Wainwright’s mercurial mastery really glows. He stoically notes, “We only have one wish with which to make do,” and, with a melody worthy of longtime fan Alex Chilton, wistfully intones, “Candles on cake on a day we may rue/I’d like to tell you what it was that I wished for/But you know if I told you, it wouldn’t come true.”

Ranking alongside his finest moments, “How Old Is 75” is a clawhammer banjo and violin ballad that echoes the youthful purity of his classic “The Swimming Song” (“In five years I’ll be 80, I will hear the fat lady belly-flop, jacknife, swandive/Or cannonball off the high diving board”) and asks plainly, “Was time wasted or was it well spent?/Did you do as you choose, as you’re meant?”

Surprisingly, for an album that spends most of the span of its 15 tracks considering mortality, it’s never maudlin and rarely as cynical as his earlier work. More often it’s self-effacing, celebratory and, even in its darkest moments, oddly comforting. It queries how we recall the past; how we perceive our roles in others’ lives and, perhaps most importantly, how we remember ourselves. What is, Wainwright enquires, ultimately of worth? “I’m near the end, time’s almost up/So what have I achieved?” he begs on the gorgeous, lilting title track, then foregoes, “Gold records and blue ribbons” for the sweet declaration “What I achieved is you.”

“We’re one and done, that’s it son/So do it for fun and free,” advises Wainwright at the album’s close, and to arrive at that conclusion could be considered a lifetime achievement all of it’s own. (www.lw3.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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