There comes a time in any illustrious artist’s career where the river
risks running dry. While Bonnie "Prince" Billy (aka Will Oldham) is still putting out material at a prolific rate, the relevance of it seems to be diminishing the quicker his output flows. To Oldham’s defense, no record he has put out in his career has been bad, but as 1999’s I See A Darkness and 2006’s The Letting Go were valued statements on lush, orchestrated song form and audacious lyricism, Beware is a safe record by his standards.
The song structures that build Beware are full of sparse arrangements, Celtic melodies, and hints of Americana twang -- truly a culmination of his most endearing work. But where as previous records highlighted Oldham’s dry vocals at the front of the mix, they grow comfortable into the environment around him, making it harder to focus on his always witty, uncompromising lyricism. Although he is becoming more comfortable in his own skin as far as his vocal timbre goes, the awkward lyrical phrasing that always put him at the top of New Weird
America seem to be absent on Beware.
But speaking in terms of the New Weird America scene that Oldham was often claimed a pioneer of; his career has fallen in line more Americana and its developments over recent years. With the lines of the genre being explored and skewed on a invariable basis, Bonnie “Prince” Billy has been following the ethos of the genre for a lengthy period of time now. By using traditional instrumentation, sporting a voice that doesn’t make the stomach settle easily, and searching for ways to speak the common person’s struggle in a new light, Oldham has become a figure that people remain loyal to because of these characteristics. And lets face it folks -- the common “struggle” no longer has to do with just Southern stereotypes (and yes, Oldham was born and raised in the South) and the country clichés, but its become much more universal. By not appealing to the unanimous struggle so to speak, the very essence of Americana is being shunned. Oldham understands this, and Beware is a record more conscious of this as a whole than any of his previous work.
Beware isn’t any kind of misstep, its actually quite the logical progression for Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s career. But for the fans that visit his records on a casual basis for a different outlook on life’s inner-turmoil, they can’t keep hearing it set to the same backdrop. The
music itself has got to revive them the same way his lyricism always has, or the newcomers may stop coming.