Vic Chesnutt was a singer-songwriter that I completely overlooked for a long time. I know I listened to this album once before, but wasn’t impressed. Just recently though, I decided to give it another shot, and I have no idea what I was thinking back then. I might’ve been hesitant on his singing, but it takes very little time to get used to his voice and style. I absolutely recommend listening to this with the lyrics handy, just to get the full impact of the songs.
Coward opens the album slowly, builds to an apocalyptic, massive sound that sets the tone for this album: this will be a dark and brooding one. It always takes me aback how quickly this song can pierce through my memories and bring out some of the worst moments of my life. While that might sound awful, it’s just not. It’s less like like a reminder of mistakes, but a friend that empathizes with you, they’ve shared your feelings. When the Bottom Fell Out brings it back to just Vic and his guitar, but he does not disappoint on this track either.
We Hovered With Short Wings is almost a Tom Waits track, it’s this haunting and enchanting song that I can’t help but bring up that connection. It bridges the gap from the more singer-songwriter songs like Chinaberry Tree and Chain (both wonderfully depressing songs) and the folk-rock sounding Philip Guston and Concord Country Jubilee. The album has a wonderful flow to it, even though he never lets up from the melancholy feel one bit. I especially enjoy the chugging repetition of Philip Guston, it really reflects the hammering, repetitive nature of depression.
Flirted With You All My Life is the centerpiece of this album, and if the rest of it was any clue- this is the most depressing song. If you’re not paying attention, this sounds like a bittersweet letter to an old lover, but this is something else entirely. It’s a song to Death, how Vic has flirted with the idea of suicide, attempted it several times, and the lives close to him that have “succumbed to it”. Hearing how his mother was begging for death after fighting cancer is just so soul crushing. What’s more is how much the song makes sense with the history shortly after this album. A year after this was recorded, Vic Chesnutt overdosed on muscle relaxants. For artists who write music this bleak, this outcome isn’t rare enough.
If you’ve read all this and that’s turned you off from listening to it – please do it anyway. This is true artistry, a depressing subject matter should’t deter you. These are very human emotions, ones we all wrestle with, facing them is important…”It is What it is”.