Although Nudes offers an acceptable listening experience, its does little to substantiate its release.
Lucius’ third album, Nudes, comes as a bit of a surprise. The trajectory from their first two albums pointed the band as moving toward bigger and more grandiose sounds. Their debut, Wildewoman, with its eclectic mix of baroque pop and its dashes of folksiness, had transformed into the glossy ‘80s-inspired synth pop of Good Grief. But with Nudes—a 10-song collection of covers, new material and re-recorded songs from their discography—Lucius decided to scale things back by making an acoustic album. Even if a surprise, the choice makes sense, because for all of the bold musical choices made on the first two albums, the centerpiece of their sound was always the rich vocal interplay of singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. Scaling back the instrumentation would give more room to feature their voices. Yet, while the singers certainly do shine throughout Nudes, the album falls short of expectations. Nudes feels unfinished and unimaginative, with its acoustic re-recordings of their previous material doing little in the way of creating something new.
It was probably too soon for the band to record acoustic versions of songs that were released only a few years ago, but the problem with Nudes goes deeper than that. Versions of Wildewoman’s “Until We Get There” and “Tempest” and single “Million Dollar Secret” sound way too similar to the originals. They are unchanged beyond using different instruments, and it makes the re-recording feel unnecessary, if not also part of a cash-grab. The re-do of Good Grief’s “Something About You” at least changes its listening experience dramatically and to great effect. Without the glitzy production flourishes and moody synths of the original, the song feels like it could belong to a Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. The dexterous guitar-lines and the nimble percussion enhance Wolfe and Laessig’s vibrant harmonies, showing that had the other acoustic re-imaginings embraced new and textured sounds, they might have been more successful and deserving of release.
That said, the songs that are entirely new on Nudes are solid. “Neighbors” juxtaposes almost deadpanned verses full of lyrical anxiety with an incredibly powerful chorus hook that highlights the versatility and dynamic nature of Wolfe and Laessig’s vocal interplay. Opener “Woman” also showcases this dynamic, moving from tender falsetto croons to the full-throated harmonies of its climax. “Feels Like a Curse” is a haunting and heart-wrenching ballad, with both singers delivering a lilting and vulnerable melody. Each of these songs reaches for emotional depths that feel lacking on the more sterile re-recorded songs.
Nudes rounds out with a curious selection of covers—Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line,” Tame Impala’s “Eventually,” and the standard “Goodnight, Irene.” The most poignant of these covers is “Goodnight, Irene” which features Roger Waters’ bluesy vocals in a lo-fi recording that feels equal parts intimate and old timey. Waters’ voice mixes perfectly with the duo’s expressive and mellifluous harmonies. The other two covers, however, are merely there, not adding much to the album as a whole.
Although Nudes offers an acceptable listening experience, its does little to substantiate its release. The new versions of old songs hardly sound new at all, and some of the covers don’t hit their mark. Packaged alongside these songs, the band’s new material loses some of its sheen as a result. Perhaps an EP of the covers and acoustic re-recordings would have made more sense, saving the new material for something more creative.