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Album Review: You Can't Go Back if There's Nothing To Go Back To by Richmond Fontaine
Exceptionally Good, Based on 5 Critics
Record Collector - 100 Based on rating 5/5
Let’s hope Willy Vlautin’s life is not as dark and disastrous as the subjects of the 13 songs that make up this album – drinkers, parolees, gamblers, vagrants, adulterers and losers of every description. If that makes You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To sound depressing, it’s absolutely not. Vlautin inhabits the lives of his brilliantly drawn characters as if he has lived them, his lyrics full of beautiful phrases, tellingly observed details, clear-eyed insights – all totally convincing.
Stories. Tales told when old friends reconvene. Victories embellished with each telling; defeats disregarded or their blows lessened by time. Rare is the story that remains raw and unflinching amongst friends. Those who’ve followed Oregon’s Richmond Fontaine over the course of the band’s two ….
What you need to know is that this is going to be Richmond Fontaine's last album. Knowing so will lend the listening experience an extra indulgence, not unlike the way you feel right after a serious breakup. You know, where you scan your mind for every discernible reason not to have done what you just did. Knowing an experience is over makes you look for all its best features, and forgive its flaws as proof of humanity.
“I can’t believe it’s true/You’re fucking that guy you used to,” Willy Vlautin sings on “Two Friends Lost At Sea,” which, ironically, turns out to be one of the more upbeat offerings on Richmond Fontaine darkly titled You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To. By now, fans of the band understand that sobriety and a dour disposition are part and parcel of Richmond Fontaine’s MO, a fact borne out by a series of novels the multi-talented Vlautin has authored over the years. Whether in story or song, Vlautin is obsessed by loners and losers, those who live in the shadows and struggle to come to grips with their sad circumstances.
Some acts become cult concerns accidentally. Others seem to half-consciously pursue a life in the margins by their choice of musical settings and subject matter. Portland, Oregon’s Richmond Fontaine belong to the latter category. Having started as a high-octane cow-punk bar band in the early 90's, the four-piece - aided and abetted with a rotating cast of guest musicians and producers - have evolved a great deal musically over the years, reaching something of a peak with 2004's near-perfect widescreen Americana masterpiece Post to Wire and maintaining similarly lofty standards ever since.