Most people will best know Lita Ford from her 1988 Lita record. It housed the top-twenty hits "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Close My Eyes Forever" along with MTV favorites "Back to the Cave" and "Falling In and Out of Love". This was merely an inkling of the tortured artist within. She followed Lita with the expressively ambitious Stiletto in 1990, possibly the most complete record she will ever release. Released shortly after the death of her mother, Ford's life was in a tailspin of emotional mystification. While the record found a smaller audience than its predecessor, those that heard it were in agreement- it was Ford are her most naked, until now. Watching her a few months back on a stage just outside of Chicago, opening for Def Leppard, she plucked her guitar strings eliciting a array of styles and feelings from Buggy Guy blues to the sinister solidity of Tony Iommi and also the svelte swing of Pete Townshend. She was a model of coolness and despite only being able to perform six songs, she threw herself into the performance. Watching Ford strut across the arena stage was a remarkable sight as with every step, strut and song she fought long and hard for her place on it. She had to battle to make her dreams a reality and it still shows in every song she sings. When she had reached a commercial plate, she found happiness in her personal life and all but abandoned for the music world for more than a dozen years only rarely giving interviews with nary a scent of new music in the air. Then in 2009, she reemerged but it was not what people were expecting.
Lita returned to the musical landscape in 2009 with Wicked Wonderland, a record for which she abandoned her heart and let her then husband, Jim Gillette take over. The record was a bewildering collection for those who had anxiously awaited fifteen years for her to return. It was not just experimentation; it simply did not play to any of her strengths. Since that record's release, her life once again went into a tailspin of gloom one would not wish on their worse enemy. She separated from her husband of fifteen years and she does not speak to her two boys because of the divorce. As a parent myself, this is an inexplicable sting one cannot imagine unless they have lived through it. She left music for her family, raised them and even home schooled them for several years and one day she found herself tattered and alone. In the absence of a life that once was, she sought consolation in music once again and she has created her strongest album since Stiletto. On Living Like a Runaway she does not hold back and dives deep into the waters of despondency and dissolution taking us along for the rise.
You could say I am partial to albums like these because out of unforeseen tragedies, artists at their most vulnerable and desperately want someone to listen to them. They relinquish the wall they have built between them and the audience and all of a sudden, they are willing to break bread with them and let us bear witness to the tears and pain. The still-not-healed wounds take the audience further into the artist's realm as the two sides try and make sense of the tragedy that has befallen them. "Branded" sets the record in motion, in a cleanse revealing the scars she is carrying with her in the aftermath of her divorce. The dissolution of her relationship is on full display and the unfiltered access may be too much for some to bear. Her metal riffs are paired with solos that are more melodic and yet she rides the emotional arc of the material. The recurring bass on "Hate" evokes revulsion and embraces the shadows that haunt her. She reveals her dual personalities on "Hate" with excruciating guitars that bathe in the dark mysteries of our mind. She speaks of her merciless yearning to be heard on "Relentless" and as the melodious solo reaches a wailing crescendo like a spreading fire in an oil field from which she rises out of the engulfing flames. The most gut walloping of the album's cuts is "Mother"- a letter written to her two sons. She taps into the pain that exists today with a guitar solo that lives in a dimension between metal and the blues-, which perfectly compliments the push and pull between life's greatest heights, and it is most philosophical depths. The dichotomy of this is exemplified further on the pulsating "Devil in My Head". Opening with a slicing guitar it begins to trudge deep down in the bellows of darkness she entices the listener with a confessional that she too falls from grace and even with wisdom and age, she is still learning. "Asylum" is a weighty expression of rage, hurt and vulnerability and yet as the song concludes, there is an unseen benefit as the keyboards glisten and even though she put herself through the ringer, you sense a new start instead of dreaded end. The dual harmonic guitars of "Love 2 Hate U" surge underneath a rebellious vocal delivery by Ford while "A Song To Slit Your Wrists To" closes the record in a subjugated manner. A peculiar choice for he closer as it was originally recorded as an the industrial track by Motley Crue in 1997 as a Japan bonus track for their Generation Swine album. Ford found the MP3 on her computer one day and gave her a way to end the record with unfiltered candor. What I most admire about Living Like a Runaway is the way Ford allows herself to become unhinged for the listeners. You hear a human who has endured unfathomable experiences and yet finds a way to just not get out of bed in the morning, but who has made sense of what has befallen her and funneled it into music.
The most impressive moment of her Chicago performance was how not merely how her sensuality slithered across the stage but how her vulnerability rang out on the one new composition she was able to perform in her all too brief set. On "Living Like A Runaway", she hung her guitar off her back, gripped the microphone with two fists and gave a vocal performance that teetered on the edge of darkness. Women musicians rarely receive the acclaim and respect they deserve. Ford had an ever more daunting task by entering a testosterone-filled genre like hard rock and heavy metal. If anything, following her musical heart has made it more difficult for her career. Former Runaways guitarist Joan Jett had a more focused approach that fused punk with classic 50's rock-a perfect recipe for critical praise. Ford took the road never traveled- she went headfirst into the windstorm of metal. While her sound veered down different roads including exotic pop guitar, she has always had her head and heart in the metal world. Living Like a Runaway is a record that picks up where her career left off in 1995 with big sweltering guitars and contemplative lyrics that should not be dismissed. The material shifts between ominous pleas, clamorous confessionals and earnest letters to those who have been affected by the rubble. Musically, it is not a game changer, but it does not need to be. Lita Ford is not reinventing the wheel here; she is simply embodying what she does best. She is a survivor who will not hide behind her guitar, but will open her mouth and let the truth hemorrhage like Loretta Lynn. There is this moment where we find ourselves at a loss. Our stomach twists, our heart is in our throat, the only thing we want to do is crawl into the fetal position, and welcome death's door or we can find a way to emerge bruised and battered on the other side. Living Like a Runaway is Lita Ford's Blood on the Tracks as she reveals the paradoxes of her existence while never allowing the cynical confusion overtake her; instead, it compliments her declaration of resolve.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter