The first time I heard the Indigo Girls was in 1995, watching Glastonbury on TV. I had just begun reading the NME and gorging myself on loud alternative rock and yet the acoustic performance from Amy and Emily stopped me in my tracks. They were singing Closer to Fine, of course, and their words, voices and harmonies got me in the heart. Some songs and bands are just instantly with you for life.
Look Long is the Indigo Girls’s first album in five years and the band continue to appeal to a wide audience, influencing younger artists like Brandi Carlile and Justin Vernon. The title and songs suggest these legendary artists are still seeking truths, considering the world and moving forward musically. To go with them is to walk in unity, creativity, hope.
They start out by Shit Kickin, an Amy song (they still write separately), the title of which tells you everything about the attitude this duo have cultivated over their careers and lives. A story of identity and childhood where she admits ‘I’m a little bit left of the salt of the earth’. Acknowledging contradictions and knowing your own strengths is central to the song.
We want to believe in something, they sing on the title track about the state of their troubled nation, the pain of party politics and how important it is to have faith and a sense of perspective, things we all especially need right now.
They push their traditional sound and rhythm structures on songs like Howl At the Moon which celebrates screaming back against everything you can’t control, and experiment further still on Favorite Flavour which they describe as ‘the B52s mixed with Burt Bacharach’. Change My Heart is a psychedelic rocker, where they cut loose a little and this time literally scream. Songs like these reflect a simmering frustration which so many of us are feeling at the state of the world right now.
Many of these songs on the album are stories of the past, with comforting nostalgia deep in their bones. Feel This Way directly appeals to high school kids, telling them to enjoy everything while they can. Sorrow and Joy explores the conflicting emotional turmoil of grief. When We Were Writers is filled with a haunting longing for a simpler, freer time when Emily was at University. By going back you can recapture an essence of yourself for the present: I’ve had my day in the sun that’s no lie/ but I’m still burning inside. The fire remains.
Country Radio is the heart song of this album. Written by Emily, it’s a story about growing up gay in a small town and finding solace through listening to country radio. The songs on the dial may have been heteronormative but the heartache and pain spoke to her. She understood the loneliness, sought the comfort of the music to dream of another life. I wanna know what it’s like to fall in love like most of the rest of the world/ But as far as these songs will take me is as far as I’ll go/ I’m just a gay kid in a small town who loves country radio. Devastating. Beautiful. Perfect.
Always poetic, personal and political the Indigo Girls have lost none of their power. Look Long considers where they came from and concludes we ain’t done. Long may they burn.
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