Smile Politely

Album Review: Ludo, You’re Awful, I Love You

I discovered St. Louis rock quintet Ludo quite by accident a few years ago when I brought family and friends to see suburban darlings The Dog And Everything at the Metro in Chicago. I was ready to see an excellent show that night, but had no idea I would be finding one of my “happy accidents” — a band that wins me over with live performance and joins my list of favorites. Ludo was on the bill that night, and hit the stage with a veteran swagger and theatrical flair that had every single person I was with lined up to buy their self-titled album. Their solid freshmen effort was followed with the concept/rock opera EP Broken Bride, which showcased the band’s full understanding of orchestrations and composition, as well as their ability to craft stories through clever lyrical turns. The apocalyptic zombie attack song “Save Our City” still regularly moves me to tears, and I say that sincerely. The early March release of You’re Awful, I Love You, Ludo’s second full-length effort and first on major label Island Records, was something I anticipated with great expectations.

You’re Awful, I Love You has three moods, the strongest being the dark side of human existence. Ludo has a knack for presenting this theme with a deviously catchy style somewhere between the sound of gypsy folk tunes and musical melodramas. “Love Me Dead” starts off the album strongly, bringing one right back to the brooding musical tone of Broken Bride. This song is about the love you want to get rid of, but can’t due to an unrelenting physical addiction. This sentiment is best summed up in the lyric “and when her edges soften, her body is my coffin.” Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill would gladly have had this song next to “Mack the Knife” in their murderous Threepenny Opera. “Drunken Lament,” which follows, describes what happens when we finally break free of the addictive relationship and replace it with another. In “Lake Pontchartrain” a boy tells the vivid story of joining with his friends to try and escape their Missouri trappings, but as the tale moves along, it becomes apparent that song is actually the boy’s alibi for the murder of his buddies. The band takes aim at stalker life with “Go-Getter Greg,” giving an adventurous theme song to the main character’s unwanted advances toward his new neighbor. All these dark themes culminate in the hauntingly beautiful “The Horror of Our Love,” in which a mass murderer professes that all his life’s work has been done for the woman of his obsession. Of course, in the end she must also “die like angels sing.”

The second mood of You’re Awful, I Love You provides the antithesis of the darkness above, found in five nearly perfect pop love songs. “Such As It Ends,” with its childlike keyboard sounds, expresses the optimism of a dedicated lover. In contrast, “Mutiny Below” works through the conflict of a former flame asking you back for just one more night. “Scream, Scream, Scream” is a plea for emotion from a listless loved one and “In Space” is a lighthearted hyperbole in which the storyteller “can’t wait for gravity to bring (him) home.” Finally, the third track, “Please,” may the gem of the album. It is a driving and uplifting song about the promises made when lovers part, the likes of which Jimmy Eat World would be proud to call their own.

The last remaining mood is that of the acoustic balladeer. “Topeka” is the lament of a Midwestern twenty-something looking for change in a repetitive winter, hoping that if “every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” Unfortunately, this song loses me due to the engineer’s use of auto-tuner on the vocal track, making the voice seem robotic. The summer passion of love realized is found in “Streetlights” and the album’s bonus track is a simple song of autumnal escape.

You’re Awful, I Love You is a well-crafted album that plays to Ludo’s strengths. They continue to bring their own brand of theatrical flair to their albums and explore the dark and light of the human experience with equal temperament. The ensemble is tight and the band’s ability and willingness to use all five members as singers is to be commended. The beautiful arrangements, which would raise the envy of Andrew Lloyd Weber, are driven home by the plaintive and emotionally powerful vocal stylings of Andrew Volpe, who is, in this reviewer’s opinion, among the strongest in the business today. But let me say this to Island Records: please do not ever use an auto tuner on Volpe’s vocals again. These parlor tricks may work for the talentless, but are not needed for a singer of his caliber. That aside, this is one album that is well worth the purchase price, so don’t hesitate to pick it up.

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