Corey Lyondell: Running Light
by Bentley Donns
July 22, 2018
Some albums present such an evolutionary leap forward for an artist they seem like a bolt from the blue, but upon closer inspection, their critical merits seem inevitable in hindsight. Other albums are commercial juggernauts with an embarrassment of radio-friendly riches, their hit singles lined up and ready to drop, one after another, like airborne soldiers waiting on a green light.
And some are both.
Purple Rain. Achtung Baby. American Idiot. 21. 1989.
Add Corey Lyondell’s Running Light to that rarified list.
It’s a revelatory work that stands taller than its peers by sending its roots down deeper. This is still Corey Lyondell, but all grown up. Still aching but angry now as well, and fully actualized in her artistry. Gone is the young woman of Damsel Underdressed, itself an indispensable addition to the rock canon. Lyondell has swapped the young, tastefully naked ingénue for a wiser, clear-eyed warrior, clad in faux military gear and hungry for battle. And over the course of Running Light, battle she does. The weary but resolute Lyondell is in full, ferocious command of her voice and wields it like a weapon to shred all comers.
Lyondell enlisted superstar producer Ricki Parrish—“enlisted” in this case is entirely intentional as Lyondell uses a militaristic theme throughout to describe how we wage war on one another, both personally and politically—and the pairing is both natural and inspired. Parrish’s clear, sparkling production pushes Lyondell to embrace her poppier instincts she’s long eschewed. The apocryphal story goes that a heartbroken Lyondell posted the ubiquitous, chart-topping Reveille to her socials, and the sonic message in a bottle somehow washed up on the Svengali producer’s shore. Whether the story is too good to be true is missing the point—the real story here is the music.
The first track, Strife and Drum announces itself in a discordant squall of guitars and primal screams then fades away to reveal a single martial drumbeat, carving order out of chaos. Then the rest of the instruments fall into line, and the song marches forward, burning a path of righteous fury that continues into Milittante and Swordbearer, a trio of Rage Against The Machismo anthems that threaten to turn your town’s next Women’s March into a full blown riot. In later tracks, Lyondell reveals the toll waging a one-woman war on the world can take. In Dearest Patron she takes on all those who believe they own a piece of Lyondell simply for having consumed her art. And on its own, Reveille was an arresting gem, but in the context of the larger album, it’s revealed as the bruised heart of Running Light. One can practically feel a bereft Lyondell, shed of her armor, staring out over the bloody battlefield of her own heart at dawn.
The back half of the record slows its tempo without sacrificing any of its power or emotional heft. There’s the shimmering ballad Girl Overboard and even a cover of Numb, a B-side of the normally cheeky Robbie Williams that somehow feels completely at home here. The record cranks up the guitars again with Anonymous Cunt and Foul Weather Parade. Hourglass plays with the notion of unyielding male expectations despite the inevitability of time. The record closes with the jaunty The Fifties, a strumming tune that pokes holes in that oft-idealized decade while also trying to keep a weather eye open to her own next decade.
Pay no attention to aging hipster contrarians or die-hard 90’s alt rock types who might um actually Lyondell’s new masterpiece. Running Light is not for them. It’s a call to arms for women of all ages—those screaming into their hairbrushes and whirling their arms around air guitars, learning to unleash their own warriors. If Damsel Underdressed spent too much time asking the last generation to gaze at their navel, Running Light demands they shake it. In doing so, Lyondell isn’t making a bid to be the new queen of rock, it’s a brazen coup. With both a single and an album comfortably perched at the top of charts, a campaign of world domination set to begin with a summer world tour, her next collaboration with Parrish already in the works, and even a rumored engagement, it’s clear Lyondell is having a moment, but our guess is she’s going to make it reign.