Will Oldham’s 2006 album The Letting Go—under the Bonnie “Prince” Billy moniker—focused on the pain that love often causes. It wasn’t a heartbreak album, exactly, but it focused on the necessity of letting go, which love sometimes requires. His new album, Lie Down in the Light, could be seen as a celebration of love’s pleasures, the protection and warmth it offers.
In Oldham’s hands, those themes feel natural and tender. On “So Everyone,” he sings with The Organ’s Ashley Webber, both of them pleading to each other: “Show how you want me and do it so everyone sees.” It’s not a crude exhibitionist impulse, but a desire to bask in the glory of love, with all the corny implications that demands. That’s at the heart of many pop love songs, but Oldham makes it sound fresh, touching, and even insightful.
The songs aren’t just about romantic love, either, but also include family love. On “(Keep Eye on) Other’s Gain,” the narrator recounts advice from his parents: “Keep your loved ones near,” but also watch out for the other guy because “there’s only so much here upon the earth to go around.”
Oldham loves using metaphors of dark and light and love and evil in his lyrics. He gives those metaphors fresh life, even as he makes you aware of how tired these clichés are. On the title track, he sings, accompanied to great affect by a juice harp, “Time and again, one of us falls behind/It’s as if we tried to know what we can’t really know.” So he returns to the metaphors about love being a fire burning for everyone. He knows it’s the best we’ve got to make sense of life.