Justin Wells: The United States

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The title is a pun: it’s about life in the USA in these divided times but it’s also about the fact that we have more in common than differences, particularly the fact that we’re all born, live and die.

“This record starts in the womb, and it ends after death,” Wells says of the album. “Each song is the soundtrack to a different phase of our shared human experience.”

So: a concept album but a country-based one and it’s an excellent and listenable body of work, even if you don’t like country much. Wells has a country voice but the richness and variety of the sound, and the clever lyrics make this more than just a country album. He’s a fan of Pink Floyd, reflected in some of the guitar sounds.

You’ll Never Know, Dear, How Much I Love You is the ambient opening; given what follows it’s either the peace after the moment of creation (nudge, nudge) or a soundtrack to a film as a family rushes in slo-mo to the maternity ward.

The Screaming Song is birth, from the point of view of the baby. “There’s four more breaths, I know” gurgles the talented foetus before commenting on birth: “The most beautiful sight I’ve never seen / This short life so far has been like a dream”. It’s tinged with melancholy, though, the neonate aware of its ultimate fate: “It won’t be the last time I am on my own”. This point is echoed in the penultimate track as life ends, The Bridge’s lyrics noting: “On my own / Til I see you again”.

In between, as they say, is life the universe and everything.

No Time for a Broken Heart is about having a good time when you can, “I’d like to lie and tell you it gets better … you should play the fool every single time,” sings Wells.

Never Better is (we guess) about the start of a potentially long relationship, though “… the only thing between us is the hand that left the writing on the wall,” suggests trouble ahead, although the narrator adds: “You’re the end of my days / You can bury me there, with the sun on my face.”

That writing on the wall proves correct in After the Fall, the narrator singing: “You can rob the whole world blind / And I’ll take all the blame.”

Temporary Blue is the next love in life, Walls Fall Down also possibly about falling in love (“There’s lightning in your eyes, and a shotgun in the smile on your face”). But as with life itself, the end of the album approaches, Ruby seeing the older narrator preparing himself for The End, “I’m not the first to go / But I go anyway” while The Bridge (as in rainbow, we assume) is that second and final time we are alone.

Says Wells: “Everything feels so divided, but if you zoom out, you see that we all bleed the same, we all laugh the same, we all cry the same. There’s this common path that all of our lives follow: birth, being a dumbass kid, thinking you’re falling in love, actually falling in love, worrying about paying the bills, death, and whatever comes next.”

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