“Sgt. Pepper” is often referred to as a concept album. I think that’s mainly because the first song merges into the second track and the title song is reprised towards the end. For years I didn’t think there was a concept behind the album but recently I’ve begun to believe that most songs are steeped in Lennon and McCartney’s childhoods which gives a lyrical concept if not a musical one.
Obvious concept albums are those that tell a story. “Tommy” by the Who or “A Pocket Of Wind Resistance” by Karine Polwart. Albums that consist of just one or two very long songs like “Thick As A Brick” by Jethro Tull are I suppose, by definition, concept albums. Much more interesting are albums that have a musical concept. Peter and I have been discussing this in Album Club. “A Deeper Understanding” by The War On Drugs has a musical theme that runs through every song. The Band’s second album, “Seventeen Seconds” by The Cure and the new Dylan album “Rough and Rowdy” are albums where every song has a similar musical style.
By contrast, some of Brinsley Schwarz’s albums are full of different musical styles (maybe not “Silver Pistol” but certainly “The New Favourites”). They weren’t called “the last of the great eclectics” for nothing. “The Beatles” (or The White Album as it is commonly known) is also replete with different musical styles.
What is better? A musical concept, a lyrical concept or an eclectic album? Daft question. If the music is good, it’s good.
“The Road To Ensenada” is a fantastically eclectic album. There are many different musical styles on it.
Lyle Lovett was born in Texas, he has released twelve albums and he has one of the most beautiful soulful voices you could ever wish to hear. I have seen him in concert about half a dozen times and he is very entertaining, not least with his between song patter which displays a very dry sense of humour. This comes across in some of his songs. He has also appeared in 23 films or TV shows. He is a striking looking guy although not traditionally handsome.
There are three songs on this album which are very funny. As it happens they are all gently mocking about Texas. In “Don’t Touch My Hat”, the singer is very happy for his protagonist to take his girl but whatever he does he must not touch his hat. The singer wears a size seven hat but he can see quite clearly that the unfortunate man he is singing to is size seven and a quarter. “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” is co-written by Lyle Lovett, Willis Alan Ramsay and Alison Rogers. The song is sung by someone who pokes fun at someone who doesn’t understand people who are not from Texas but “Texas wants you anyway”. Lyle Lovett makes a biblical comparison, singing “even Moses got excited when he saw the promised land”. The phrase “That’s right, you’re not from Texas” has been used in many different contexts; for example the Texan tourist board used it to welcome people to the State. The third Texas song is called “Long Tall Texan” and is co-written by Randy Newman who duets with Lyle Lovett. There’s more hat lyrics as he boasts about his ten gallon hat.
In contrast to these three humourous upbeat songs are five slow, sad and beautiful songs. “Promises” was featured in the film “Dead Man Walking” and is sung as an apology to the world for previously committed sins. “I offer no reason. I ask for no pity. I make no excuse. For the way that I am”. “Who Loves You Better” is another regretful song, apologising for bad behaviour (“Why do I do the things that make me sorry”) but still confessing his love (“Who loves you better than I”). Lyle Lovett was briefly married to Julia Roberts in the mid Nineties having met on the set of “The Player” and this album was released a year after their divorce. It’s tempting to ascribe the words to his songs as describing the break up of his marriage although he has denied that any of the songs are to do with Julia Roberts. My favourite song on the album is “Christmas Morning” in which a girl at the checkout wishes him a nice day but refuses to engage him in conversation. It’s Christmas in the song and everybody is wishing him a merry Christmas but he doesn’t believe anyone means it sincerely. He thinks back to his marriage when his wife promised to love him forever but has broken her promise. Finally he reflects on Christianity and whether Jesus is really looking out for him. The title song is sung by a man who is sick but intending to follow his lover to Mexico. The singing is sublime and is enhanced by the sympathetic playing of the stellar cast of musicians (especially the great Stuart Duncan on fiddle). After ninety seconds silence at the end of what appears to be the last song, another song starts playing called “The Girl In The Corner” which describes how Lyle Lovett met Julia Roberts at a party. He sings about Tim, Richard and Susan in the song and that is meant to refer to Tim Robbins, Richard E. Grant and Susan Sarandon. It sounds very sad and it’s beautifully sung; however, it’s quite an upbeat way to end the album.
There are other musical styles on the album. “Her First Mistake” is very jazzy, “Fiona” and “Private Conversations” are singalong country songs and “It Ought To Be Easier” and “I Can’t Love You Anymore” are midtempo. The album reminds me of most Beatles albums where the range of musical styles combined with intelligent sequencing make for a wonderful 45 minutes.