When Elizabeth ‘Lissie‘ Maurus first appeared back in 2010 with her debut album Catching A Tiger, she seemed like the quintessential LA pop performer – it was full of instantly appealing, steadfastly middle of the road pop songs that sounded perfect on FM radio. The follow-up, Back To Forever, delivered more of the same, owing a big debt to Fleetwood Mac in their mid-’70s pomp. Why, she even covered Go Your Own Way and it seemed like it was written especially for her.
So, you thought you knew where you were with Lissie, and then she goes and moves out of Los Angeles – not only that, but she makes a whole album about it. For, as the title would suggest, Lissie’s third album My Wild West sees her relocate to Ojai: same state, but a very different mindset. Although she remains a steadfastly commercial performer, there’s a touch of dusty Americana sprinkled over this album, helped in no small way by the presence of Curt Schneider and Bill Reynolds from Band Of Horses as producers.
So, there’s a sense of rebirth, of a new beginning, with early songs like Hollywood and My Wild West talking of fresh starts and bidding farewells to old haunts. The former, a stately piano ballad, sounds like it could have come straight from Adele‘s back catalogue, only Lissie is talking about a city that broke her heart, not a man (“oh Hollywood, you broke my will like they said you would” runs one pivotal line). Although it’s not really a concept album as such, the fact that the album begins with Hollywood and ends with Ojai shows that this is a record that illustrates Lissie’s journey over the last few years.
The problem is though that the songs this time around aren’t as strong as they were previously. Previous songs like Cuckoo and especially the wonderful When I’m Alone were shot through with a palpable energy, but too much on My Wild West sounds like a bit of a slog. There are exceptions of course – Don’t You Give Up On Me is one of the best tracks on the album, an instantly addictive folk-rock that skips along beautifully, and her own feminist anthem Daughters shows off her immensely powerful voice to its best advantage.
She’s certainly not lost her knack to craft a memorable hook – indeed, like her previous work, you can imagine any of these songs keeping you company during a long road trip – but that pop sensibility isn’t quite as sparkling than it once was. There’s a bit too much morose filler gathered on My Wild West with tracks like Sun Keeps Rising and Together Or Apart drifting by without making much of an impression. It’s not that these are bad songs, they’ve just been done many times before.
And then, just as you’re losing interest, there’ll be a song like Shroud to pull you back in – a raw, guitar led ballad which sees Lissie belting out “I feel like I’ve lost my mind” in a way that sounds both heartbreaking and cathartic. Yes, it could easily have come straight from Alanis Morissette‘s early albums, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Lissie’s third album is perhaps a patchy affair, but when it hits its high points it works beautifully. Next time round, a bit less of the FM radio sheen could see her step forward with a truly great record.