and Ronnie Lane's "All or Nothing" sure sounds like it was made in car-radio heaven, and who can argue with that? Especially since even mundane X is still more thoughtful and ballsy than most of the stuff in rotation. Given the choice between X and, say, Corey Hart, which would you take?
Yet despite or maybe because of John Doe and Exene Cervenka's polished, catchy collaborations and Wagener's pricey gloss, Ain't Love Grand feels hollow. At their best (Wild Gift and More Fun in the New World), X was desperate and raw, as befitted life at the bottom, yet punk-rockabilly rousers like "We're Desperate" and "The New World" revealed the band's empathy for the lost and eccentric souls in their paths. Invigorated by Doe and Cervenka's vividly observed lyrics, X's sharpest tracks were like loving, ragtag postcards from a Greyhound-bus-and-dingy-bar tour of America. Ain't Love Grand misses such champions-of-the-under-class defiance (not to mention the old rockabilly and country twang).
But then, when your private world's a mess, society can go to hell, as Doe and Cervenka scream in "What's Wrong with Me ..." ("Ain't none of your goddamn business!"). Doe and Cervenka's marital misadventures informed X's previous records; their estrangement pervades Ain't Love Grand and further diminishes the album's sense of unity. Doe's dusty wail and Cervenka's kewpie-witch keening used to lean on one another in a touchingly frazzled solidarity; here, they tiptoe around each other most of the time. Still, you don't often hear postbreakup sexual jealousy expressed so frankly as on Doe's fervid "Burning House of Love" or on Cervenka's girl-group answer song "Love Shack," or hear such a heartfelt pledge of continued friendship as "I'll Stand Up for You." Clearly, Doe and Cervenka still share a vision, so it's possible that X can once again sound like a band with a plan. For now, we'll have to settle for X as the most down and dirty L.A. outfit to flirt with the Top 40 since the Doors. (RS 456)