Any time a band whose reputation and philosophy were grounded firmly in DiY ideals makes a jump to a major label, there are bound to be concerns about selling out, dumbing down, cleaning up and all of those other concessions that aren’t tolerated among rabid fans and purists. Lucero’s transition from under-the-radar darling to major label act is no different, and while the band’s fans are dedicated enough to be tolerant of departures, they’re also passionate enough not to tolerate any slick bullshit in the name of appealing to a broader demographic (couFiveDollarCovergh). For the first time in their career, Lucero will have more than just raving critics and word of mouth behind them. They’ll have the lumbering – often fumbling – major label machine shoving their record down the listening public’s throat. This is great if the record’s as good as the material Ben Nichols and co. have been cranking out for the last decade, but what if the record sucks?

From the opening piano notes of “Smoke,” which kicks off the free six-song sampler available now with a pre-order of 1372 Overton Park, one thing is clear: Nichols’ affinity for anthemic classic rock is not going to be buried here; it’s right up front. “Smoke” sounds like Tom Petty aping Bruce Springsteen and, which Nichols’ rasp cutting through the pulsating piano, organ and guitars, it works. Springsteen is echoed in the second track, “Sounds of the City,” as well, with the swirling boardwalk organ and Memphis horns propelling Nichols’ tale of bad boys who “know when to push [their] luck.” Somebody’s been listening to Marah records. The addition of a horn section to Lucero’s sound shouldn’t be unexpected or unwelcome by anyone who’s witness the band’s maturation over their last few albums, as piano and organ were added in layers to flesh out Nichols’ bruised and bleak vacant lot anthems. However the band’s sound may have shifted, Nichols’ narrative remains constant, maybe even to a fault.

As “The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo” chugs along, sounding for all the world like a Thin Lizzy B-side, Nichols calls out for Love and Rockets and wrings his hands over punk rock girls and lonely saints. It’s a good tune but how long is Lucero’s audience going to be subjected to – and tolerate – Nichols’ bludgeoning of the “rock ‘n’ roll outcast” horse that was beaten dead about the time Green Day embarked on their first foray into rock operadom. Touching on familiar thematic elements is part of maintaining a dialogue with one’s audience – just ask Springsteen himself, nobody does it better – but that’s a far cry from writing the same song in six different keys, which is damn near what Nichols has done here. Luckily, he’s a good enough writer and compelling enough vocalist that the act isn’t tired — yet. But if, upon release, 1372 Overton Park turns out to be little more than a dozen recitations of “boy meets girl, boy fucks up, boy loseWeight Exercises girl, boy and girl find salvation in rock ‘n’ roll and live scrappily ever after,” Nichols is going to have a lot more to answer for than why Lucero incorporated horns into their tunes.

Until the full album is released, I’m more than willing to suspend judgment – God knows Lucero has earned it. And don’t mistake me, these are not bad songs, quite the opposite. 1372 Overton Park may well end up being the rare example of how to cross over without selling out but it may also show us a band struggling to find new ground while walking in place. For now, new Lucero tunes are better than no Lucero tunes, and these sings songs are good enough to keep expectations for 1372 Overton Park extremely high.

Lucero – Sounds of the City

Lucero’s Official Site, Lucero on myspace, Pre-Order 1372 Overton Park

17 thoughts on “LUCERO – 1372 OVERTON PARK SAMPLER”

  1. I have to admit. I was a little skeptical when you said you were gonna post a piece about the sampler.

    My hesitations have proven to be unfounded though.

  2. Sounds of the City is my favorite off of the sampler. I am not sure I agree with the horse being beaten though. Rebels Rogues and Sworn brothers departed from the usual with more than a couple of songs, we’ve had Last Pale Light in the West in the interim. I think that keeping some of the same while mixing it up with the new is a good formula. I certainly seen larger crowds at their shows these days. Of course I could be wrong…

  3. Killer writing Kasey. AIV, excellent selection of a partner in crime.

    Lucero’s always been a little light on the lyrical side for me. But I know when I am feeling sorry for myself about being the eternal bachelor of spokane, or stuck on some girl, I can go to Ben & the Boys.

  4. i know they deserve it. i know your sound as a band needs to progress. i am very happy that they are getting the dues they deserve. but jesus fucking christ the few songs i’ve heard are fucking awful. i feel like the only person in the world who thinks so. i dont like the organ, never have. it’s one of the main reasons that rebels is my least favorite lucero record. and horns? really? no thank you. and what happend to the twang of previous records? it’s just not there. i think ben’s solo album is the best music i’ve ever listened to in my life. what the hell happend? i’m hoping that when the album in full comes out i’ll warm up to it. i do like the acoustic versions of ‘hey darlin do you gamble’ and ‘what are you willing to loose’. but so far not so good. i guess i’ll just put on the self titled record and remember how it was P.H. (pre horns). let the bashing begin…

  5. I am way more into what i’m hearing from Lucero right now than what is coming out of another recent major label convert, the Avett Brothers. Lucero seems (haven’t heard the whole record) to be walking a bit further down a road that makes sense for them.

    I feel ya on the lack of twang though.

  6. never got the avett brothers thing either. i can’t get into ’em, although the single i just heard – i and love and you, i think? – ain’t bad.

    noticed some typos in my post. i’ll go ahead and clean that shit up next time.

  7. I think it’s mostly the girls who love the Avett Brothers. Emotionalism was pretty good but the rest of their collection really hasn’t drawn me in. Especially since they opened for DMB.

    I love having Ric and Todd at the shows so I can only hope this translates to the album. I LOVE Hey Darlin Do You Gamble and the songs on the sampler I dug less have grown on me. Let’s face it. Lucero is all about the live show. Regardless of what this album sounds like, they’re still going to put on kickass shows, which we’ll all still go to, and that’s really all that matters.

  8. I have to admit, I wasn’t keen to the new sound of “The Devil and Maggie..” but it grew on me and “Sixes and Sevens” is a great song, different, but still great. I don’t know…I suppose when you sign on to be a diehard fan, you take the good with the bad. I talked to people who attended Lucero shows where Ben was barely coherent enough to sing and they still said it was the best fucking show they had ever been to. So I suppose drifting with them down their musical river is no different. You take them when the current is slow, you hang on with them when the river gets a little choppy, and sometimes you just hang on for dear life with them thru the rapids. Personally, I am here for the long haul because no matter what, they are still the same group of guys they were when they started. And for that, I am and will remain a loyal diehard.

  9. It took me 4 or 5 listens before I warmed up to these new songs. It certainly is departure from Lucero sounds of the past but I don’t think that it is a forced progression at all.

    I’m really looking forward to hearing more of their new stuff.
    Especially live. That is where the boy’s really shine.

  10. Oh and I will continue to go to all the shows just like I always do. But I might be closer to the bar instead of up front.

  11. I love everything I’ve heard so far. No surprise there, this is one of my favorite bands and Rebels is in my all-time top-ten list. Maybe it’s because I jumped on the Lucero train a bit late with That Much Further West, but I really like where they’re taking their sound. I never was too taken with the spare twangy sound – not that I dislike it or anything, it’s just not what really hits me. I can’t wait for my pre-order to arrive, and I would give just about anything to see a tour roll through Madison.

  12. To those asking “Where’s the twang?”

    You should have seen this coming since Nobody’s Darlings. Lucero has been pretty adamant that they’re a rock n roll band first and foremost, from what I can tell. It seemed to me like that’s how they want to be viewed, and their music has pretty consistently drifted away from country from the outset. S/T is a country record…This new one probably won’t be at all. That’s just the band maturing.

    I love pedal steel as much as the next guy, maybe more, and I still listen to Tennessee and TMFW more than any Lucero records. Even so, I love NDs and RRSB. Great rock and roll. And that’s always a good thing.

    Oh, and if you don’t like organ…well…I’ll pray for you.

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