A synthesis letting its components down
It’s rare for the three major parts of a record: that being vocals, music and lyrics, to all work while the album as a whole does not. On Patience and Lipstick, anti-folk veteran Linda Draper knows how to sing and write sharp, cynical lyrics, and the country-folk instrumental palette is enjoyable. However, she repeats a lot of the same problems from her last album, Modern Day Decay, where her high-fi, lively instrumentation sometimes doesn’t blend with her poised, restrained singing. On top of that, Patience and Lipstick never taps into the same gloom which provided some of the best moments on Modern Day Decay. So while those three individual parts might be fine on their own, they combine in the worst way possible on this record.
Much like her last record, Patience and Lipstick is closer in genre to country than folk. It’s nowhere near as adventurous as the ramshackle Keepsake or Snow White Trash Girl or even the track “Burn Your Bridges” from the previous record. The acoustic guitars are sharp rather than wispy, with more pedal steel and electric timbres than acoustic, and they are produced to sound polished and lively. The pedal steel and deep twang of the opening notes on “81 Camaro,” the shining strumming of “String” and the spindly acoustics against the reverb-heavy electric notes on “All in Due Time” are enjoyable. It’s her most conventional scoring to date, but the music is balanced and executed well, and is one highlight of the album.
The problem however, is that while her instrumentation has changed, Draper herself has not. She’s a great singer who conveys a lot of poise and wisdom, but her preferred method of singing is best served against a barren acoustic tableau, letting her voice expand and form an atmosphere all on its own. With hi-fi instrumentation and an electric feel, there’s no room for her to breathe, and she refuses to adapt with a livelier vocal delivery. On “Detroit or Buffalo” she sings with a jovial, campfire sing-a-long cadence, yet sounds flat, thin and awkward. “All in Due Time” has some potential, but her default to falsetto robs the song of any power as she shrinks in the mix rather than standing out.
There’s still plenty of Draper’s snide, world-weary wit, however. On “Tether” she harangues the false concepts of unity seen during the pandemic that rung hollow when some demographics refused to display the same solidarity as everyone else. It’s telling that of the two versions of this song featured on the album, the second acoustic version is better, as it allows her voice to echo out instead of feeling truncated and contained.
The title track is a cynical take on love, lamenting the hard requirements for a long-term relationship. Draper sings about the challenge of suffering through a partner’s flaws while changing herself and presenting nothing but her best at the same time. It’s full of great, snide remarks, and there are moments when the venom of the lyrics slips into her delivery. But once again, she too often defaults to a falsetto at moments where a more theatrical, chest-voice belting on a line could sell it better. The instrumentation doesn’t help her either, with a finger-picked solo that, while nice, would work better in a more melancholy key.
By the halfway point, even the music starts to lose its luster. The pattering percussion and bass on “I Surrender” syncopates awkwardly, making the song feel a lot tenser than the title implies. The second half of “Roll With You” throws in cooing male backing vocals straight out of a doo-wop or skiffle band. Instead of sounding carefree and heavenly, they feel comical against the instrumentation, which doesn’t capture a feeling of bliss.
“The Undertow” tries to emulate the sour synthesized edge of Sharon Von Etten circa Seventeen with its chiming guitars and drum machines. However, her voice has none of the same huskiness and the admittedly pretty harmonies are too clean for a bassline ripped from Siouxsie and the Banshees. Altogether, there are some intriguing sounds on this record that might work in isolation, but nothing fits together by the end.