Real, Loveless's confident and poppy fourth album, builds on what Loveless and her band were doing on 2014's grittier Somewhere Else. But while that album sounded a bit like Wilco's A.M. crossed with Lucinda Williams gone cow-punk, on Real, Loveless and her long-time producer Joe Viers embraced a Cars-ish retro pop sound, making the intro to the opening track "Same To You" (about picking fights with band mates) recall classic Heartbreakers and providing a cleaner crunch to songs like "Longer," a catchy song about wanting to linger a little longer in grief.
On top of Loveless's usual gut-wrench, the songs for Real were written while Loveless and her husband, Ben Lamb (the bassist for the band) were "going through a time." One gets the sense of emotional hardship on songs like the melodic "More Than Ever" when Loveless belts, "your mistress is pounding harder on the door," before following up with the quieter, "but I guess you don't want to see her anymore." She's hurting, but no less rock'n'roll for it.
On "Heaven," Real's big, super-produced, Talking Heads-ish funky faith-shaker of a song, Loveless tackles her relationship with faith (though it sounds like that relationship dovetails with her relationship to her husband), while on "European," Loveless compellingly gets into the head of a self-justifying stalker — so compellingly, in fact, that if you aren't listening closely you might think it's a love song. "Midwestern Guys," meanwhile, perhaps Loveless's answer to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville, is a scathing, witty critique of a culture and time that goes back to the '80s, predating Loveless's birth.
For all of Real's variety, the album's quietest song, "Clumps," demonstrates once again that despite her rollicking country rock, all Loveless needs is her flickering, torchy voice and a few steadily strummed chords to convey her hard fistfuls of truth. (Bloodshot)