Album Review: LUDO

Ludo’s fourth album Prepare the Preparations takes a bold stylistic step forward for the eccentric quartet from St. Louis. No longer too sheepish to put some of that major-label money to work, the band’s second effort under the Island Records banner looks and feels like a pop album, losing some of their usual quirkiness (i.e. heavy use of moog and former bassist Marshall Fanciullo’s amateurish but endearing cover art) around the edges, in a ready-for-the-big-leagues facelift that includes razor-sharp timing, crisp, resonating percussion, and soaring vocals. Having convinced us of their professionalism, Preparations marches with confidence through a lineup of music types, from blues to country to jazz, bending their signature power-pop sound around prototypical riffs from the various genres, producing smart results at times, but rarely feeling truly inspired.

For the lyrics, lead singer and songwriter Andrew Volpe dusts off the stencil he cut for the band’s first album Ludo (2003), and again regales us with allegorical stories about love and space travel and pirates and the undead. While Volpe’s lyrical rhythm and rhyme are nearly beyond reproach, wrapping emotional Polaroids in uber-creativity, for him, doesn’t take many risks.

All said, it’s not a disappointing album. The album hits the ground running with the chord-driven and mesmerizing “Too Tired to Wink,” using gritty and visceral metaphors to make your blood pressure seesaw between first clenching verses and a resigned, relieving chorus. The third track, “Whipped Cream,” is a sarcastic calling-out to that guy at the bar we all hate; the driving beat and graphic innuendo made it an easy choice for the first single.

After that, the album slams on the breaks – the duration of the journey is a tunnel-of-love ride, and your gondola driver is in no hurry. The folksy, acoustic “Anything For You” manages to tickle out a smile, as the smitten signer pines via an escalation of clever ‘fish tales,’ echoing (vaguely) the imagination that made their self-titled debut oh-so-perfect for transcription on the backs of a spiral notebooks.

Unlikely to strike any marketable chords, Prepare the Preparations is an almost ironically apropos title. They brandish stadium-sized talent and confidence, but again deliver gymnasium-sized songs. The band’s die-hard (and hard-earned) fan base can take comfort: for now, Ludo couldn’t “sell out” if they wanted to.