The short version: ‘Deluxe Hotel Room’ is an unfinished, hollow record that marks a disappointing sophomore effort from Lucette, five years after the phenomenal ‘Black Is The Color.’
- Favorite tracks: “Deluxe Hotel Room,” “Fly To Heaven”
- Least favorite track: “California”
- Rating: 4/10
The long version: The thought of a new Lucette album in 2019 was almost too good to be true.
Of course, the last time we heard from her at all, the country music landscape was quite different. In 2014, independent artists were just starting to receive attention they wouldn’t have before. Now, that’s (thankfully) not so uncommon.
And then there’s Lucette herself, an artist who catapulted her popularity with “Bobby Reid,” a southern-Gothic tale in the vein of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe.” But it also says something about the industry that the attention came more from the song’s music video, mostly because it starred a little known artist known as Sturgill Simpson. The fact that her debut album was produced by Dave Cobb was simply the icing on the cake.
Still, I remember Lucette’s debut album, Black Is The Color, and I remember it being one of the best albums of 2014. The dark, harrowing, seedier songs matched against rootsier, darker production showcased an artist performing this style well.
And despite all being quiet with Lucette over these past five years, “Bobby Reid” continued to explode, appearing in the Netflix special, Nanette, in 2017.
Still, upon the release of her sophomore album, Deluxe Hotel Room, the focus shifted back to Simpson since he was handling the production reigns for this album. On one hand, I’ve never personally been a huge fan of Simpson’s production work for other artists, but it helped catapult Tyler Childers into independent superstardom. And considering Simpson has been essentially threatening longtime fans that he’s drifted away from country to carry out his synthesizer and electronic fetish, it’s no surprise to hear that influence reportedly carried over to Lucette’s album.
Sadly, while Deluxe Hotel Room may capture attention for its background elements, the actual music represents a gigantic step backward for Lucette, enough to where I’d say this is the most disappointing album of 2019 thus far. Also, the small flaws that permeated on Black Is The Color are sadly the only elements from her past work that make their way onto this album.
And speaking as a country fan, it’s not the shift in style that’s disappointing. Artists should pursue whichever lane they wish. But this is pop music without any flair or dramatic stakes attached to it at all.
On one hand, Lucette’s writing style has always been interesting. Even on her debut album, she often went with a “less is more” approach by painting a broad picture and letting the listener fill in the details on their own. It’s one of the few times it ever worked effectively for an artist, especially on a murder ballad like “Bobby Reid.”
But that style only works once here, and that’s on the title track – a look into the life of a prostitute where the emotion of the performance is the key element of the song. Aside from this, most of the songs feel unfinished or just lacking even the most basic details to paint an interesting picture. Maybe it’s because Black Is The Color simply explored more interesting topics. For example, I wouldn’t have minded hearing more about the seedier details of a warped small town on “Full Moon Town,” but it’s not exactly a topic breaking new ground in any genre of music. In other words, this is an instance where those extra details do matter.
And it doesn’t help that other tracks are harder to follow than they really should be. “California” only barely offers a desire to leave said state for something new, which becomes more apparent on the next track, “Crazy Bird,” where it feels like the story continues, ends and finally offers some clear plot line.
Granted, the writing isn’t all to blame for this album’s problems. Simpson’s production work is equally as limp. To be fair, the album once again starts off just fine in every department, with the title track being a stark piano ballad that pulls no punches in its framing. But the synthetic elements often feel monotone, stiff and unneeded. “Out Of The Rain” is an OK, but very broad sketch of depression, but when the recurring synth riff is all there is to bolster the track until Brad Walker’s excellent saxophone solo, it’s hard to become wrapped up in something that sounds so cold.
And the thing is, considering how much Lucette and her team intended to push boundaries with this album, they could have at least afforded to not make these tones sound so dreary, muddy or unappealing. A freedom from genre isn’t uncommon for artists in 2019, but it usually just ends up leading to projects that blend together. Even if the mission was just to distance Lucette away from a southern-Gothic country sound, more tracks relying on piano and saxophone would been great first steps toward establishing a new lane, especially when the proof is there on a few tracks!
But no, instead, this is just a frustrating listen all around. There’s also Lucette herself as a performer, and the most noticeable element of her performances from Black Is The Color make their way onto this album. She’s a great singer with excellent tone, but her delivery can also come across as inert at times, making the listener question if she’s aiming for numb disaffection or just not emoting passion in quite the right way. It becomes apparent on “Angel,” where, despite the tempo and overall energy increasing, Lucette remains reserved and refined in a way that doesn’t match the track.
Likewise, I enjoyed her performance on “Fly To Heaven” mostly on vocals alone, but it also becomes apparent that Lucette remains in comfortable territory, vocally, throughout much of this album.
And at the end of the day, I just wish I had more to say about Deluxe Hotel Room in general, because while there have been good nine-track albums before, when the problematic writing persists and most of the songs barely clock in at three minutes, it’s hard to ever become engaged with this album. The vocal performances run between quiet expressions of passion and a lack of emotive delivery, the writing either cultivates a sense of mystery or frustrates the listener for its lack of solid direction, and the production feels too dreary and dull to bring life out of most tracks here. Overall, it’s an unfinished record that represents a huge step back for Lucette, and that’s a shame given her talent.
Closing remarks: I’m sticking with Black Is The Color.