Lyle Lovett Rides Again

* * * 1/2 "PONTIAC." Lyle Lovett. MCA. On his second album, the lanky, quirky Texas singer-songwriter uses the same elements that made his 1986 debut such an off-kilter delight--devastating wit, incisive observations and a jazzed-up country sound--to zero in on relationships, most of which turn out happily never after.

Combining the razor-edged character studies of Randy Newman and the bouncy musicality of Bob Wills, Lovett's songs often paint relationships--marriage in particular--as inviting as a dip in shark-infested waters.

Even at his funniest, as in "She's No Lady," Lovett never drops his guard lest he be love-struck by one of Cupid's arrows: "The preacher asked her and she said, 'I do' / The preacher asked me and she said, 'Yes, he does too' / The preacher said, 'I pronounce you 99 to life / Son, she's no lady, she's your wife.' "

In the album's first single, "Give Back My Heart" it's not so much the reluctant lover as the mystified, formerly freewheeling rambler who looks back on his life and wonders: "How she did it I'll never know / But it's been maybe 20 years or so. . . . There's just too much living going all around / But I can't figure out quite where it went."

Lovett's frequent barbs at wives and girlfriends are not misogynistic, as some critics suggested about the first album. Instead, they serve to acknowledge and illuminate destructive attitudes on both sides of relationships. And like Randy Newman, he often writes from the point of view of decidedly unsympathetic characters.

The brilliance of his first album was no fluke, and Lovett again proves himself a stunningly perceptive and ingenious songwriter who equals his writing skills with a vocal delivery that's as dry as a West Texas plain. If his creative streak continues, he's on his way to joining the ranks of pop music's most celebrated commentators on life and love.

Check List * * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty

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