I often have conversations with myself. Nothing that would scare passersby or anything – I keep it all internal, and it mostly happens when I’m all by myself. Take yesterday, for instance. I boarded the train that would take me from work to my home, headphones firmly in place, the Indigo Girls’ latest album, Become You, turned up to just the right volume. I pulled out my pen and a notebook, and sat about the task of writing a review for PopGurls.
But which songs would I include? When you’re talking about a group like the Indigo Girls, where every song is a poem that can either make you whole or tear you apart, how do you decide what to leave out?
If you’re me, and the album is Become You, you’ll argue with yourself for a little bit and then won’t leave out anything.
I’ve been a fan of the Indigo Girls since I was 14 years old. Every piece of fiction I’ve written since that time has been indirectly inspired by the amazing beauty of their songs. They score the soundtrack of every heartbreak I’ve sustained, every crush I ever had that was worth remembering.
Their last two albums, while infinitely more expressive than nine-tenths of everything produced during the same timeframe, were lacking the… the… something that has always given me the chills. Maybe that’s proof that Amy and Emily needed a break from each other for a bit, and now that they’re back, things are clicking again. Become You feels like proof to me.
Nothing on this album comes through on that promise better than “Starkville.” I swear, it’s perfect. Just go and read the lyrics, then imagine constant harmony, low and throaty. Steady guitar and accordion so occasional you might think you imagined it. The eventual addition of a harmonica, wailing like a crying widow.
The very first track, “Moment of Forgiveness” has that tinge of bittersweet romance that defines what I need from the Girls. It is similarly themed to the oldie-but-goodie “History of Us,” without the happy resolution at the end. It’s an interesting way to begin the album, a slowish song accompanied by subtle guitar and heavy drums, a hint of organ and simple harmonies. That’s the word for it, actually, “simple.” And also easy, because it just flows and winds around you and ends a little breathlessly. Conversely, the title track is all rollicking penny whistles and sly tribal vocals, digging inside and imprinting on your mind until you’re walking down the street singing the chorus, “It took a long time to, become the thing that I am to you/And you won’t, tear it apart/Without a fight, without a heart.”
One has to listen only to “Destruction” to realize that Become You is embracing the old way of doing things (think of “Love’s Recovery”). There are very few musicians who can turn something mundane as garbage collection into a metaphor for love: “And as we sat stuck, you could hear the trash truck/Making its way through the neighborhood/Picking up the thrown out, different from house to house/We get to decide what we think is no good.” It happens just like this later in the album with “She’s Saving Me” – an image of burning fields, the death of a star, the arc of grieving.
“Yield” is the bluegrass they’ve been teasing us with for years, and thank god it’s finally come to fruition. I’ve been waiting and waiting for it, content with the peek at it here and there, but from the first break of the mandolin in “Yield,” it’s there. I can’t describe it better. More true country (not the Shania Twain kind, the Alabama kind) than bluegrass, “Bitterroot” was made to be sung around a campfire, especially if you’re in the company of a couple of kick-ass women named Emily and Amy. Hand clapping required. In the same vein, only more Emmylou Harris by way of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Covered In Roses,” is “Nuevas Senoritas.” It’s a gentle, almost unplugged way to end Become You.
Every album has a song that is different, that doesn’t quite fit into anything that you previously expected from the Indigo Girls. In the early days, it came with harmonica and lyrics about Native bloodshed. It moved into bluegrass and then hard rock, and now it’s “You’ve Got To Show,” which is the background music for a chance meeting, set in a Nora Ephron world of classy martini bar and fusion jazz band. It’s a gliding dance montage surrounded by dim candlelight, a hand in the small of a bare back beneath an upswept hairdo.
You know that there had to be a sob-inducing song somewhere along the way, too, right? Of course there is. Nothing will ever unseat “Mystery” for ability to make me cry unprettily into my wine glass. “Hope Alone” does a fine job, though, of bringing on the waterworks. “We were just an empty dream too big for hope alone to fill.” I am thankful that this song didn’t exist when I was still a teenager pining over lost love.
If there were a gun to my head, and someone demanded that I say something non-gushing about Become You, I’d probably mention “Collecting You” and “Our Deliverance.” The first is nothing special, nothing new. It’s kind of plain. Of course, I’d also like to mention that it’s probably stunning live, because it is the thing they do well, which is play the guitar and sing together. “Our Deliverance” has this warbling guitar at the beginning that always reminds me of The Princess Bride. I couldn’t even begin to say why, but it’s distracting. Sometimes I think this song could have been left off the album, but then there’s this part: “And in our blind trust/Love will find us/Just like it always has before.” And I decide it should stay. Really, though! These are low points. They just aren’t very low.