The title is wholly ironic, given that these tracks are awash in misery and heartbreak. And here again is Lucinda Williams in her role as the literate honky-tonk angel who will go home with you on Friday night (after closing time, of course) but knows you'll be back at the same bar 12 hours later to pursue a different conquest. But despite the fact that this fragile flower has a stem of steel, World Without Tears threatens to collapse under its considerable emotional weight. It's one slow-paced effort leading into the next, all narrated in Williams's trademark honey-soaked backwoods drawl.
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Williams's lyrical mastery remains strong, and few contemporary songwriters can touch her visual imagery in bringing to life the sensual -- whether seductive (the thigh-strokin' and neck-biting in "Righteously") or crude (the lover of "Those Three Days" who is chastised with "you found a hole and in you came").
Unfortunately, there are too many draggy-tempoed numbers of wounded hearts healing. "Ventura," "Overtime" and "Words Fell" all meld together, and no amount of brush-drummed jazz stylings can save them. By the time Williams asserts "everything is wrong" on the rap-spoken "American Dream," you're ready to pull that shotgun off the truck rack and open fire. Only "Those Three Days" and "Minneapolis" stand out among anguish-laden ballads, like lost tracks from her Sweet Old World. Even the ill-advised rap of "Sweet Side" is salvaged somewhat by a memorable melody and slide guitar playing.
What's mostly missing here is a sense of energy, joy or the rough-and-tumble spirit that Williams is more than capable of showing, not to mention the character-based songs she does so well. What up-tempo numbers there are spew invective, against the junkie Prince Charming in "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings," and against organized religion in the noisy and menacing rant "Atonement." Railing aside, both are highlights and should serve Williams well on her upcoming tour with Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
It used to be that a new Lucinda Williams record came by with just slightly more regularity than Halley's Comet. No longer -- World Without Tears is her third album in five years. Perhaps she should go back to taking her sweet time. Despite the hordes of critics who give hosannas to everything she puts out, it is not one of her best efforts. Misery and pain will always be part of the songs of Lucinda Williams, but it's time for a little less Prozac and a lot more Pabst again.