Thursday, December 28, 2023

ALBUM OF THE YEAR - Inger Lorre: Gloryland

I’ve never met Inger Lorre, but she’s been my companion for years.

Way back in the early ‘90s, I was lucky enough to hear a song called “Imitating Angels” by Inger’s then-band, The Nymphs. Lyrically and musically, the song’s four and a half minutes summed up the universe for me. As the guitars not-so-gently wept, Inger mournfully sang of “ghosts imitating angels” and “a place where nothing hurts and no one knows.” The latter bit stung and intrigued me. As an alienated adolescent stuck in suburban New Jersey at the time, I longed for adventures in faraway places. I could have just been projecting my desires onto a piece of music and coming up with my own interpretations of what the song intended to convey, but I didn’t give a fuck— “Imitating Angels” became my internal battle cry to get the hell out of where I was.
To me, “a place where nothing hurts and no one knows” was the promise of somewhere better. That ended up being Los Angeles, where I eventually lived for a few years in my twenties. Inger, another Jersey escapee, had already ended up there by the time The Nymphs’ first and only full-length album arrived in 1991. There were certainly highs for the band and its singer in those days—including a memorable cameo in the film Bad Influence and having Iggy Fucking Pop do a guest vocal on the album—but the lows came in equal measure. There are plenty of tales of Inger’s wild antics at the time readily accessible on the internet, so there’s no need for me to rehash them here. What’s ultimately worth noting is that The Nymphs soon ground to halt, and Inger spent the next several years combatting everything from addiction to fellow musicians. Unsurprisingly, her output in the decades following The Nymphs’ dissolution was sporadic at best, limited to one solo album (1999’s Transcendental Medication), a few scattered collaborations, and the odd gig here and there. Whether by choice or circumstance, Inger had become a typical LA story—an example of big dreams destroyed by music industry machinations, dope, scene politics, and missed opportunities.
I can’t say my time in that “place where nothing hurts and no one knows” was much different. The thing about LA is that it’s very often a cesspool of humanity disguised by palm trees and sunshine. I’ll never forget arriving home from a great night at the Roxy to discover I couldn’t enter my apartment until the cops moved the corpse of a murder victim away from my front door. I’ll also never forget watching people network at a memorial for a buddy of mine who had O.D.ed on Thanksgiving that year.
Welcome to the City of (Ghosts Imitating) Angels.
But now it’s 2023, and Inger returned this year with a new album called Gloryland (Kitten Robot Records). In truth, I can barely stand listening to the fucking thing. Is it terrible? Oh, no. It's human, raw, and beautiful. It's Tom Waits' Mule Variations and a good chunk of Leonard Cohen's discography. It's Nico's Chelsea Girl on a snowy night. It's Jeffrey Lee and Nick. It's Tori singing to her Boys for Pele. It's an album you put yourself through because it takes you somewhere you need to go.
Let me try to sum it up another way by comparing Inger to another one-time “it girl” who later experienced a far-from-easy life: Marianne Faithfull. If “Imitating Angels” was Inger’s “As Tears Go By,” then Gloryland is her Broken English—the sound of a shattered heart trying to mend itself while coming to terms with the hells of this world. It’s also the sound of triumph and survival, the kind of album that reminds you that life is worth the horrors you often go through just to make it to the next day.
Don’t expect a track-by-track exploration here. Not gonna happen. That would require me to listen to the whole album again, and yeah … no. But I’ll say this: At least try to get through the first three songs in one sitting. Either you’ll get the album by that point, or you won’t. If you do … well … it’s goddamn gorgeous, isn’t it?
There is one song I’ll single out. “Song for Elliott Smith.” For fuck’s sake, Inger—I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more devastatingly human song in my life. We’ve all had a least one Elliott Smith in our lives. Why did they have to go? Listening to the tune brings me back to hanging in Silver Lake in the days following Elliott’s passing. The sense of loss in the air was palpable. I’m haunted by many ghosts from my LA days. I’ll leave it at that.
Some closing notes as I stop playing Gloryland and put it away until I need it again:
1. A raised glass to Paul Roessler, who I simultaneously want to hug and punch in the face for producing this album into existence.
2. Hey, Inger, if you’re reading this … I get it. I always have. Thanks for always helping me to make some sense of this world.
3. Albums like this are why I stick around.