Loudon Wainwright III

Album II

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Within the year to come, Loudon Wainwright III would enjoy his brief moment of fame with the single "Dead Skunk." Reaching the number 16 position on the Billboard chart and appearing on his third album, the musical approach to the tune differed a lot from his first two LP releases. Album 1 and Album 2 didn't feature a band -- they simply presented the artist with his guitar (and occasionally on piano). Thus, compared to his later albums, the songs on Album 2 appear less melodic. Naturally, the listener is directed to what matters most: Wainwright's imaginative and often funny lyrics. Combined with the unique manner in which he delivers them -- part regretful, part nearly hysterical -- his views are essential to his performance. For all it matters, he's not that good a singer, but whenever he tries to reach a higher note, it makes the implications of his songs more tragicomic. Every once in a while he's rediscovered for this specific talent and his fan base expands a little further. From the lyrics on this record, it is clearly noticeable that Wainwright grew up, if only a little. His then-wife, Kate McGarrigle, had given birth to their son Rufus; hence, Wainwright offers an insightful account of fatherhood in "Be Careful There's a Baby in the House" and, in all honesty, gets away with a line like "For the coochie coochie coo is a lot of pooh pooh."

Elsewhere, there's "Samson and the Warden," the famous story of the singer ending up in an Oklahoma jail (for smoking pot), pleading hysterically with the merciless warden not to cut off his hair and beard. Also worth mentioning is the trademark Wainwright suicide trilogy, which could be comprehended as a sort of pre-study to 1986's sublime "I'm Alright." For instance, compare the former "When you get the blues and you wanna shoot yourself in the head/It's alright, it's alright/Go ahead" to the latter "So I went to the bathroom, to the medicine chest/There was razor blades and sleeping pills and all the rest/But I was in control baby, I was so relaxed/I found myself my dental floss, my favorite kind: unwaxed!" The undeniable highlight is, of course, "Motel Blues." Covered by the likes of cult band Big Star and Dutch band Daryll-Ann, it's a song about the more depressing aspects of touring. The content of the lyrics will have you crying on the bed, especially at the point where Wainwright tries to convince a girl to spend the night with him in exchange for a song about her on his next LP. Good old Loudon was once threatened with having his genitals removed by a hostile female DJ, while he sang it during a women's liberation program on the radio! All the more reason to get to know the singer or at least this song better.

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