No need to beware of the man from Louisville

The colorless cover of the March 17 release, Beware

The colorless cover of the March 17 release, Beware

Fans of the Misfits know that the band released a short album entitled Beware early in 1980. For the casual dabbler in the Misfits’ song catalogue, the final track on the EP is “Last Caress.” This song begins with the emphatic announcement, “I have something to say. I killed your baby today. It doesn’t matter that much to me as long as it’s dead.” The song was later covered, with considerably more recognition, by Four Guys from Northern California Who Will Go Unnamed because They Like to Sue Poor People.

This song is not revisited on Bonnie Prince Billy’s newest work, which shares its name with the Misfits’ EP. However, a listener familiar with the cult of Will Oldham might infer that their bearded leader might actually identify with the same destructive defiance that birthed “Last Caress” into being. Not to say that Oldham would approve of the Misfits song’s subject matter. You probably won’t hear any songs that overtly advocate infanticide or sexual assault in the Bonnie Prince Billy discography, not even ironically. But even the biggest fans of Oldham’s work often view him as half troubadour, half mountain man. The leading personality of the cult of Will Oldham invokes someone who can sound truths about bleak topics like unrequited love and last-second shots at redemption, but ignores the invitations of his true devotees to sit down, have a few beers, and really get to know him. Although that’s the main way one cultivates a cult of personality, I never get the impression that Oldham actively calls his publicists to write in the word “mysterious” at least four times into his press releases. I just see a man who thrives on privacy, who needs space to piece out the quietly catastrophic tendencies of humans and record songs about them.

But if you’ve read any of the media buzz surrounding the release of Bonnie Prince Billy’s newest album, you know that Oldham’s strategy looks a lot more promotion-friendly than his approach has been in the past. He’s been interviewed by the New Yorker. He played some favorite tracks on NPR’s All Songs Considered. And all his uncharacteristically media-savvy tricks serve to showcase a greater focus on production and overall fullness of the sound that can be heard on Beware. So while the Bonnie Prince Billy of the past (maybe back in the Palace Music days) may have admired the merciless ruin of the Misfits’ Beware track, these days, Bonnie Prince Billy appears more interested in building something new that hopefully includes new listeners.

Bonnie Prince Billy will play at the Crystal Ballroom on Friday, March 27. Pillars and Tongues will also play.

  • Bonnie Prince Billy ~ Beware ~ Drag City

Afraid Ain’t Me

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