Albums Of The Week

Funny ode to life and death

Country icon Willie Nelson approaches the topic of mortality with candour and humour in Last Man Standing.
Country icon Willie Nelson approaches the topic of mortality with candour and humour in Last Man Standing.PHOTOS: LEGACY RECORDINGS

Country music legend Willie Nelson stays true to himself on his 67th album



Willie Nelson

Legacy Recordings

3.5 stars

In the age of music streaming, where long-form music works are increasingly getting cast aside for quick singles, it is almost inconceivable that, in 2018, an artist is releasing his 67th album.

Willie Nelson - country icon, outlaw idol and perennial bad** - is not your regular music-maker, of course. Last Man Standing is the appropriately titled newest release from the 85-year-old Texan.

One of the last of the old guards, he is still performing and churning out new material regularly - long after contemporaries such as Johnny Cash have died or retired.

The new batch of songs touch on mortality, but in true Willie Nelson fashion, he approaches the subject with candour and humour.

On the title track and album opener, a jaunty and rollicking tune, he mulls over friends that he has outlasted (It's gettin' hard to watch my pals check out/Cuts like a wore-out knife/One thing I learnt about runnin' the road/Is forever don't apply to life). A couple of songs later, he bemoans his bad breath with a self-deprecating jibe: "Halitosis is a word I never could spell/But bad breath is better than no breath at all".

There are some regrets and mentions of relationships that he probably could have done without in She Made My Day (Well she made my day/But it ruined my life).

Still, he is very happy to be alive.

"Heaven is closed and hell's overcrowded," he sings in the ballad Heaven Is Closed, and there is plenty of fighting spirit left, as he reminds listeners in the swinging Ready To Roar (Worked hard all week my back is sore/It's Friday night I'm ready to roar).

While he keeps the proceedings generally light and easygoing, it is the more contemplative songs that cut deepest.

On the waltzing Something You Get Through, he ruminates about carrying on with life after loved ones are gone.

"It's not somethin' you get over," he croons, "but it's somethin' you get through."

Several songs hark back to the 1960s and 1970s, a period where Nelson built his reputation by refusing to conform to slick, music industry norms and turning to what has come to be known as the outlaw country sound.

This is most apparent in Me And You, in which the well-known activist laments the state of society in the United States (It's like I'm in some foreign country/That I've never seen before), but refuses to budge in his personal beliefs (The world has gone out of its mind/ Except for me and you).

Last Man Standing is the sound of a man with a lot of music and life still left in him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2018, with the headline 'Funny ode to life and death'. Print Edition | Subscribe