Mitski has thrown her cowboy hat in the ring for the award for sad banger album of 2018 with her fifth release, ‘Be The Cowboy’, in which she brings us on a 14-part journey through the heart’s filthy lesson of love.
There’s no quarter given to the cutesy, Disney-tinted ideal of romantic love here though – instead Mitski exposes desolation, panic, and inevitable regret with the fastidiousness of a quantity surveyor pinpointing the structural weaknesses of a building that’s collapsing from the inside out.
Mitski doesn’t play the blame game, though – well rather she does, but she lays much of the flack for her unhappiness at her own feet. Self-sabotage and “what have I done?” moments of clarity line the doldrums of her mind as she ponders why she turned her back on opportunities for happiness and fulfilment.
‘Be The Cowboy’ will no doubt resonate with outcasts in the same way The Smiths have since the ’80s, thanks to its razor sharp lyrical turns and ‘I’m fine, but I’m dying inside’ world view. This is a quest for acceptance as thick as the Lord of The Rings. Blue Light even begins with a signature Johnny Marr 3 chord flick of the wrist.
A haunting drone with an almost Celtic flavour gives way to Geyser, a mournful tale of unrequited love. Mitski turns away the “hands that beckon her”, trying instead to convince herself that “I will be the one you need” as the organ and distorted guitars crescendo into the type of melodic malaise that Rivers Coumo mastered in his blue period, but seldom since.
The influence of former touring partners The Pixies can be felt on the Santiago-esque slash chords of Why Didn’t You Stop Me? “I know that I ended it but why won’t you chase after me/ You know me better than I do/ So why didn’t you stop me?” she refrains, on the precipice of a realisation that there’s nobody left to blame but herself.
The fifth-gear gusto gives way as the BPM drops and Mitski takes a more plaintive – but no less frank – tact on Lonesome Love and Come Into The Water, the former delivering the killer line “Nobody butters me up like you and nobody fucks me like me”, the latter highlighting her classic country song writing chops.
The albums centrepiece is Nobody, a sub-disco sequel to I Will Survive for the modern age, but unlike most sequels this one is successful – an uplifting yet morose, but deceptively defiant tale of isolation and sexual yearning: “I know no one will save me, I’m just asking for a kiss. Give me one good movie kiss and I’ll be alright”.
Other notable tracks include the raucous Remember My Name and pulsating Washing Machine Heart, while the austere A Horse Called Cold Air’s jagged piano chords offer a glimpse of starker, future possibilities.
‘Be The Cowboy’s closing act, Two Slow Dancers, provides Mitski with opportunity for a Hollywood kiss in the gymnasium, but instead what starts off as a slow dance takes on an almost funeral march feel as Mitski appears to contemplate the possibility of what it would be like to find long-term love and look back upon it. But then again, maybe I’m just an old romantic.
Mitski plays Dublin’s Tivoli Theatre on September 22nd. Tickets €20 on sale now.