If Lena Dunham is her generation’s bullseye for narcissistic neurosis, then Lilly Hiatt is the Gen X/Y femme intellectuelle who uses hurt, doubt and self-knowledge for her own deliverance. Offering excruciating details, she rebruises ouchy places, freewheels through awkward spots and arrives at the final title song with the realization: “What would a good woman do? She’d move on and write a song or two.”
Royal Blue, Hiatt’s second album, is a glorious tumble of influences—surf rock, Smiths vibes, Laurel Canyon twang and jangle, Sonic Youth flatline, Britpop flourishes, Seattle grunge and Joy Division-meets-Human League synthery. Producer Adam Landry (Deer Tick, Diamond Rugs) fears no flavor: disparate elements mingle and merge confidently. The result is charming in its agony, dignity and escape.
Providing the forensics of a relationship that has collapsed, the songwriter unflinchingly owns every messy moment, every vulnerability, but does so over tracks that shimmer and percolate like the Bangles or Cardigans at their most exuberant.
From the breezy quiver of “ooh”s over stacked chords opening “Far Away,” Hiatt’s earthy, velvety alto admonishes “If you meet a girl like me/ who wants to call you home/ make sure when you touch her/ she don’t feel so alone.” Synths swirl with Echo & the Bunnymen’s narcotic pull. The influence merge is complete.
“Get This Right,” breezy and thrumming, offers a pivot: can this relationship be saved? The spaghetti Western-evoking “Worth It,” all elegy and examination, weighs the situation, drums pounding like a heart in turmoil.
Dire as this is, Hiatt maintains her humor. On “Jesus Would Have Let Me Pick The Restaurant,” slathered in steel and chiming acoustic guitar, Hiatt declares, “I don’t believe in hell/ So I’m gonna hit the highway.”
Owning her side of it, “Machine” churns a confession of her rebel youth. “Somebody’s Daughter”—which, in this case, that “somebody” is the iconic John Hiatt—is a reminder: you can’t outrun who you are, but there’s strength in acceptance. It’s offers awareness and a feel-good shuffle, courtesy of slide guitar and a slouchy beat.
Casting rapier truth in the details, Hiatt sighs, “You think the townies give a shit/ they’re drinking their dinner just to deal with it” on “Too Bad.” For a wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee moment, Hiatt’s impaling truth is mirrored in the scene it’s played out in.
Lilly Hiatt’s lived a life, listened to lots of records, assembled a killer band and some feel-good songs offering freedom in sorting the truth, owning the pain and letting go. On Royal Blue, it’s all here.