Cowboy Junkies - At the End of Paths Taken
Nearly twenty years have passed since the Cowboy Junkies released their cover of The Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane. By the sound of the eleven songs on their new album, you wouldn’t know it at all. Lead singer Margo Timmins’ voice is still attractively smoky and jaded, and the music is still downbeat but hopeful. And that is undeniably the biggest problem. It’s too polished; everyone knows what they’re doing and does it flawlessly, and whenever it threatens to turn into something more interesting (the fractured guitars of Cutting Board Blues and My Little Basquiat; the use of samples on Mountain), the band either revert back to formula or don’t know how to develop it.
That pattern is repeated in the lyrics. At times, they’re a bit political (Still Lost), at others they’re entirely glib (My Little Basquiat is embarrassingly self-indulgent), but mostly they depict a sort of rustic hardship which barely has any meaning in the 21st century. Worse than that, they go on and on, with only one track here actually ending when it should. That song- My Only Guarantee, also happens to be the only one to exhibit the sense of defiance and sly wit that would have been welcome throughout the album. Timmins sings that she will ‘fuck up’ anyone who tries to form a relationship with her, and is followed in the chorus by an angelic choir. It wouldn’t be hilarious on its own, but after fifty minutes of morose folk-rock, I for one would laugh at anything.
There’s very little about At the End of Paths Taken that will invoke strong opinions. The vague lyrics and vague tunes amount only to a feeling of vague boredom. That they’ve been doing this for over twenty years makes you wonder why the Cowboy Junkies even bother.