CD Review: Butch Walker / I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart
Butch Walker and The Black Widows
I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart
Reviewed by: Ryan Labbe
It’s been a little over a year since the release of Sycamore Meadows, Butch Walker’s emotional and critically acclaimed fourth solo album named after the street in Malibu where his home, and all of his master recordings, burned down in the California wild fires in late 2007. On February 23rd he makes his return with a revamped band and a new album. Butch Walker, musician/singer/songwriter/producer calls his gaggle of band mates The Black Widows, and their new album, I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, showcases Walker’s knack for unparalleled musicianship and innate lyrical storytelling.
Over the years, Butch Walker’s music has gone from the big arena rock sound that he honed with his former band, The Marvelous 3, to a much more stripped down acoustic style. Along with The Black Widows, Walker keeps on that path, as well as continues to thrill fans with honest, sometimes whimsical lyrics, set to raw and exciting melodies.
The album’s opener, and first single, “Trash Day” is one of the album’s more upbeat numbers, revisiting a common theme in Walker’s music – Los Angeles, and concludes with another common theme – Atlanta (Walker hails from Cartersville, Georgia). “Trash Day in Beverly Hills, all the sad little mamas with their happy little pills,” sings Walker as The Black Widows, comprised of Fran Capitanelli (guitars), Chris Unck (guitar/lap steel), Jake Sinclair (bass), Darren Dodd (drums) and Wesley Flowers (keyboard), provide the energetic soundtrack. (Not sure who’s playing strings, but thanks in advance!)
The next track, Pretty Melody, has a subtle air of Elvis Costello to it. Considering Costello and Walker are two of the best out there at weaving a story through a kaleidoscope of music it’s no surprise that they might draw influences from one another. It’s a beautiful arrangement of keys and strings framed beautifully by Walker’s longing vocals. “You’re such a pretty melody, I’m just another tattooed tragedy, oh baby we don’t have to be like the rest of them.”
Michael Trent (who co-wrote some of the songs on the album) joins Butch and company on the sweet and swaying “Don’t You Think Someone Should Take You Home,” a story of a woman fallen on hard times, including the death of her “old man”. The percussion is represented only by hi-hat cymbal and bass drum, as a violin weaves a melody over strumming acoustic guitar. Butch’s descriptive lyrics paint a heartbreaking picture as he sings, “Her smile is like a Jack O’ Lantern trying not to cry” and “She holds her head like she’s got something heavy hangin’ round her neck.” Walker and Trent sing chorus together, their harmonies simple and sad, yet a perfect complement to each other.
It’s hard to listen to any Butch Walker song without envisioning how it would play out live, because after all, there’s no denying that the live stage is Walker’s true playground and until you’ve seen him live you’ve yet to see the best live performance of your life. “Temporary Title” stands out as one of the new songs that’s going to be fun to see performed live including a mid-song breakdown that seems like almost perfect placement for a fan favorite cover tune or two.
“She Likes Hair Bands” opens up with quick acoustic riff that is joined by a mid -temp bass to snare drum beat that reminds me of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels.” Sings Walker, “She’s got a birthmark on the inside of her thigh, ask me how I know (laugh) about the inside of her thigh.” The chorus is light, memorable and one of the album’s finest.
On all of Butch’s albums’ there is always one song that stands out to me as the most emotional. 2004’s Letters had “Joan,” and 2006’s Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonite’s had “Dominoes.” It’s now 2010, and I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart has “Be Good Until Then,” a solo acoustic performance showcasing a vulnerable side to Butch, and one that we have not seen before; the voice of a parent. Not in a “eat your veggies” way, but advice that a loving father might impart on his son in hopes that he grow up to be a better man. The music is stark and beautiful, but it’s the lyrics that really take center stage. Sings Walker, “Always know the road you’re riding on, always know the words to your baby’s song, try to make the most of Friday nights when they come. Maybe turn a stranger to a friend, never break a heart that’s on the mend, never let the romance ever end like I’ve done.” In the chorus, Butch sings, “It’s okay to cry, if you feel it coming on. It’ll let you know you’re human in the end. All these things will mean more when I’m gone, just be good until then.” It’s the album’s final track and, as the final notes ring out, the listener may find themselves a bit teary eyed. “Everybody loves a hero, not so much when they fall short, so try to keep your cape on underneath. You don’t have to try so hard, to be the best, just know you are, that’s all that’ll matter to me.”
From “Trash Day” to the charging rhythm of “Temporary Title,” the romping “Days/Months/years” to the emotional “Be Good Till Then,” Butch Walker and the Black Widows make you want to listen, to know what happens next and to enjoy every moment as you find out. I Liked It You Better When You Had No Heart shows that while Butch Walker can write, record and produce with a variety of artists, he always saves the best for himself and his fans.
1. Trash Day
2. Pretty Melody
3. Don’t You Think Someone Should Take You Home
4. Stripped Down Version
5. Canadian Ten
6. Temporary Title
7. She Likes Hair Bands
8. House of Cards
9. They Don’t Know What We Know
11. Be Good Until Then
*To Pre-Order I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart head over to Butch’s website
*Stream the album now
*Butch Walker and The Widow Makers will be hitting the road with Train, check here for a full list of dates