World Without Tears

Lucinda Williams

Lost Highway Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Although there are only about two months left in 2003, it would be hard to imagine another album beating out Lucinda Williams' World Without Tears for the title of "Most Misunderstood Album of the Year."

One who has even a remote knowledge of Williams' music or even the alt-country genre will likely wonder what the fuss is about after a single listen of World Without Tears. It's the logical meshing her award-winning Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and the starker, more intimate fan favorite Essence. However, never underestimate how critics can undermine an album, especially misinformed critics. Karen Schoemer of Rolling Stone gave the album a three-star review and basically criticized the album for being too depressing. She also stated the song "Minneapolis" alluded to a rape. I'm all about people interpreting songs in their own way, but when you make that sort of statement about that severe of a crime in a magazine as prominent as my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Rolling Stone, you better be right. Scanning the lyrics, "Minneapolis" seems more about the abandonment of a relationship than a sex crime.

Other critics and even fans slammed Williams for her attempt at "rap" in songs like "Sweet Side" and "Atonement." The only thing remotely resembling rap is Williams' spoken-word delivery. However, a fan of traditional country and alt-country will tell you that much of early country music was primarily sung in stark, spoken-word delivery.

Petty, ignorant gripes aside, World Without Tears is Williams' most balanced work yet. It's more varied than Essence, contains considerably less studio gloss than Car Wheels and is more lyrically and musically accomplished than Sweet Old World and her self-titled album. The only major fault is that while Tears may be her most consistent work, it doesn't achieve the artistic heights like the best songs on Essence and Car Wheels do.

Not that World Without Tears doesn't try. "Righteously" has a sultry, sexy groove to it. In "Atonement," Williams' unleashes a gutteral growl that would make Beavis proud. And in "Sweet Side," Williams neither excuses or victimizes a man who has survived child abuse to become a flawed adult: "You're tough as steel and you keep your chin up/You don't ever feel like you're good enough," "You get defensive at every turn/You're overly sensitive and overly concerned." It's one of the most complex and affecting character sketches in recent memory.

Breakups have always been a favorite subject of Williams and World Without Tears is full of breakup stories. But with Tears, Williams has never sounded so expressive in her pain; through swampy blues ("Atonement"), straightforward rock ("Real Live Bleeding Fingers an Broken Guitar Strings") and simple acoustic beauty ("Words Fell"). But nothing on World Without Tears sounds like Williams deliberately trying to hit all genres. She has made her masterpiece and her confessional album. World Without Tears sounds like the work of an artist with nothing else to prove.

Rating: A-

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© 2003 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Lost Highway Records, and is used for informational purposes only.