BONNIE RAITT: LUCK OF THE DRAW (1991)
1) Something To Talk About; 2) Good Man, Good Woman; 3) I Can't Make You Love Me; 4) Tangled And Dark; 5) Come To Me; 6) No Business; 7) One Part Be My Lover; 8) Not The Only One; 9) Papa Come Quick; 10) Slow Ride; 11) Luck Of The Draw; 12) All At Once.
I will wholeheartedly admit that Luck Of The Draw, building up on the commercial success of Nick Of Time and managing to sell even more copies (as more and more baby boomers passed a certain age limit?), is a better album, and probably holds up a little better after all this time. However, the only reason for this is us passing into the next decade — gradually wringing ourselves out of the clutches of truly bad, suffocating production. This time, everything is handled more smoothly, and has a much more «natural»-looking superficial flavor. Whether this lack of obvious ugliness makes for extra depth, not to mention entertainment, is a different thing.
I will even admit that ʽI Can't Make You Love Meʼ, one of those pillars of adult contemporary (yet also a song fully and completely rooted in early 1970s soft-rock / country-pop / whatever), is a song that operates efficiently on gut level. As much as I perversely expect, every single time, her to rhyme the line "here in the dark, in these final hours" with something ending in "golden showers" (admit it, it's such a natural rhyme, isn't it?), there is a real tug there on the "I can't make you love me" bit that Bonnie nails just right. She does have a knack for capturing that entire "two meters away from happiness, but no way we're gonna make it" vibe, and if only a little bit more effort went into the music...
...the problem, of course, being that the music is completely uninteresting. Blues, ballads, full arrangements, sparse arrangements, fast tempos, slow tempos — there is not a single guitar lick or piano chord to be found here that would step one inch out of the ordinary. Not one inch! As in, you know, you just don't want to mess up a good formula — no need to upset your potential audience. Consequently, the best track on the album is probably the one where little upsetting could be done in the first place, due to format limitations — the little acoustic ditty ʽPapa Come Quickʼ, with a New Orleanian accordeon overdub for company, sounding like something out of The Band's Cahoots stage, though less ambitious. It's traditional, predictable, enjoyable, forgettable, and unregrettable — everybody does just what they can do. In almost every case, much more could be done. But wasn't.
Where it can still get offensive is in the «message» area. For instance, ʽSomething To Talk Aboutʼ, written by Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, is about — imagine that! — two representatives of the opposite sex wrongly assumed to be having an affair by the outside world and wishing to — you don't say! — capitalize on this. This almost TITILLATING, nearly ADULTEROUS subject should have probably been set to a nasty, sleazy, Stonesy soundtrack, but instead, all we get is some bland keyboards, some weak soul harmonies, and a shamefully lazy slide guitar solo that probably took three minutes to figure out. Not convincing!
A bit of atmosphere is injected in Bonnie's own ʽTangled And Darkʼ, although both the melody and the atmosphere have triggered an association with The Grateful Dead's ʽWest L. A. Fadeawayʼ in my mind — and probably not just in mine. (One thing that is special to this track is a set of brass overdubs that give it extra nocturnal, slightly spooky flavor.) On the other hand, the mix of «jello-wobble keyboards» and «ethnic» whistles on ʽOne Part Be My Loverʼ feels like an attempt to ride that New Age wave — not something that can, or should, be ever done in a half-assed manner: if you want to be Enya, you should go all the way and farther than that, or else you're simply channelling a new route for boredom and an inferiority complex.
In short, as we get to the title track, written by Paul Brady, there's a nagging suspicion that she means it: "Forget those movies you saw / It's in the luck of the draw / The natural law". That this album and its predecessor managed to enjoy such a huge success — out of literally hundreds of such releases — has very much to do with «the luck of the draw», and I am not even beginning to search for any scientific explanation. At the same time, if it's really luck and not well-programmed calculation, I guess that this eliminates the need to plant seeds of hatred for either Bonnie or her producer. Except for some of the really slow ballads and that whole inescapable sensation of «why-the-heck-am-I-listening-to-this-when-I-could-be-Superman», Luck Of The Draw is completely inoffensive and perfectly listenable for all those who appreciate clean, smooth, professional roots-rock, sometimes bordering on «adult contemporary». Comestible enough circa 1991, but who really wants to drag it along into the next century?
Except for Adele, perhaps, who has frequently covered ʽI Can't Make You Love Meʼ in live performance. But then again, with all due respect, Adele and her voice could make Bonnie Raitt's diary come alive, let alone one of her glossy ballads that does accidentally feature a pre-set working hook from the very beginning.