Album Review: Ken Tucker on 'Wussy:' Strong Work, And Not Without Pain Rock critic and Fresh Air regular Ken Tucker joins the show to review Wussy, the self-titled third album from the Cincinnati, Ohio quartet.
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Wussy: Strong Work, And Not Without Pain

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Wussy: Strong Work, And Not Without Pain


Wussy: Strong Work, And Not Without Pain

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The Cincinnati, Ohio, quartet called Wussy has just released it's third album called "Wussy." Comprised of two men and two women, Wussy is led by its singer-songwriters Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker.

Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Paper Birds")

Mr. CHUCK CLEAVER (Musician) and Ms. LISA WALKER (Musician): (Singing) Never thought it'd come to this, but there you were sleeping in your clothes. In bed with your arithmetic, your hair had grown so long in your repose.

KEN TUCKER: It's all right, we've got all night - Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker sing on that song "Little Paper Birds," the lead-off cut of their album "Wussy." And indeed in their measured ways, Wussy's songs do exude a serene confidence in the strength of the music. It conveys the delicacy, the fragility, of the emotions they want to describe. It also helps that "Little Paper Birds" includes a line that the band must have known would charm anyone who still uses the postal system, quote "I finally got your letter and your punctuation hit me like a truck."

(Soundbite of song, "Gone Missing")

Ms. WALKER: (Singing) We met the other day on the catapult. When they threw us to the dogs, you were at my throat. It's funny what you do, do to get my goat. Well, honey, you're the pain and the antidote. It always ends, it always ends like this, ooo-ooo, gone missing. Ooo-ooo, gone missing.

TUCKER: Wussy certainly knows how to turn a phrase. On "Gone Missing," Lisa Walker sings: now my heart is on my sleeve, or what's left of it. What does the it refer to? Her sleeve? Her heart? The latter is more poetic. On the other hand, Wussy music strives to avoid easy poetry, going for something more conversational, yet striving for a quality of open-ended allusiveness that more difficult poetry achieves. The band is also more than capable of coming up with a catchy up-tempo chorus, as they do on the otherwise-bleak "Happiness Bleeds."

(Soundbite of song, "Happiness Bleeds")

Mr. CLEAVER (Singer): (Singing) I remember puking down the side of the car. The cost of drinking liquor from the mouth of a jar. Leaning on the fender and declaring that we'd name a star. Tripping through the brambles till our pants were all torn. Searching for a paper bag of mildewy porn. Reflecting on the never ending question - why we been born? Happiness bleeds, happiness bleeds, happiness bleeds - all over you and me. I remember stumbling down the side of the road…

TUCKER: You can listen to "Wussy" as a concept album propelled forward by the band's buzz saw guitar riffs and tight little rhythm sections. Cleaver and Walker write most of the songs and either alternate lead vocals or sing them in harmony. And the album itself becomes a short story about two people in a complicated relationship.

(Soundbite of song, "Dreadful Sorry")

Mr. CLEAVER: (Singing) Cut paper snowflakes hang down from the ceiling. The bathwater ripples, predicting an earthquake. An air bubble surfaces, rising to heaven. Some call this living, but I call this living a lie.

Mr. CLEAVER and Ms. WALKER: (Singing) Dreadful sorry, dreadful sorry, dreadful sorry, dreadful sorry.

Mr. CLEAVER: The granddaddy longlegs is climbing the curtain…

TUCKER: If the album begins with the sentiment we've got all night, as the collection progresses, the emotions become more mixed. Well, actually, more morose and fatalistic. The song I just played, "Dreadful Sorry," comes about midway through this lengthy dissection of a couple about to split. Over increasingly louder, chiming guitars, with Cleaver and Walker raising their voices to be heard and to convey tension, they sing as one: some call this living but I call this living alone. Uh oh. By the climax of the album, the narrator of "Death By Misadventure" finds a note on the door saying: go away, I'm sleeping.

And so I leave, the lyric goes on, but I believe that you're entertaining someone else. It's an almost elegant way to describe a betrayal, a final conclusion. It also works as a serious pun. The someone else that music is entertaining, as morose as it is full of life, is us. The very next song is called "This Will Not End Well." Well, maybe not for Wussy, but it does for us.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,

I'm Terry Gross.

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