REVIEW: Oh My Darlin’

Ronnie and Elliott Ferguson. Image courtesy of STREAKING IN TONGUES.

STREAKING IN TONGUES is an albums band in the best possible sense. They can still write catchy songs, sure, and Oh My Darlin’ contains some of their best hooks and individual tracks thus far. However, in this record as well as their back catalog, their songs become even more significant and enjoyable in their respective contexts as you immerse yourself in the world of the record.

The world of Oh My Darlin’ is simultaneously the most welcoming and most brutal one Ronnie and Elliott Ferguson have ever constructed. Musically, it is still scrappy and rough around the edges, but it’s a marked improvement that continues the band’s upward trajectory. Its sonic palette isn’t as stark as Life Support or as sprawling as Kindergarten Prayers, and the performances are some of the band’s best. The production quality is also improved, likely due in part to the involvement of indie rock stalwart Fred Thomas who provided additional production input and mastered the record.

The lyrics of Oh My Darlin’ are just as potent and vulnerable as ever. STREAKING IN TONGUES has always dealt with heavy topics, but this record feels even rawer than it’s predecessors. The autobiographical lyrical narrative follows a three-act structure, centering on marriage, its deterioration, and life in the aftermath. There were moments reading the lyrics when I literally squirmed in discomfort. But the journey of Oh My Darlin’—no matter how uncomfortable it sometimes becomes—is ultimately edifying.

The opening act indulges in the band’s noisiest music since their debut, Knocky-Boo (The Eternal Playground). It really sounds like the Ferguson’s are having fun as they blend rockabilly and garage rock, but a sense of unease slowly builds—culminating in the devastating three-track run of “Damn Machine,” “My Single Wife,” and “Screw Up.” The first of these tracks borrows the melody and refrain from “Death of the Clock” on last year’s Kindergarten Prayers, and it’s the only song written and sung from Ronnie Ferguson’s ex-wife’s perspective. At its end, the song devolves into a haunting instrumental passage featuring oboe, bells, and an air organ. This leads into the multi-tracked a capella interlude “My Single Wife,” which is one of the most provocative lyrical ideas I’ve heard this year. Part of me wishes that it would have been further explored, but the brevity works in the album. “Screw Up” is a gut-punch of a song cloaked by the record’s prettiest instrumentation. Lonely guitars and a gorgeous cello part anchor some of the record’s most vivid, direct, and heartbreaking lyrics as vocalist Ronnie Ferguson laments the dissolution of his marriage. The lines and melody are simple. Brief disturbing imagery occasionally cuts through like a knife. Hearing Ferguson call himself to “the prayer inside the piss cup” as he finally accepts responsibility for his part in the ending of his relationship is crushing.

As Oh My Darlin’ continues to unfold, the narrative follows the visceral aftermath of the break-up and Ferguson’s eventual path of acceptance to the situation. There’s a palpable desire for reconciliation that the album never fulfills, further complicated by the acknowledgment of the couple’s son (Ronnie’s now-bandmate, Elliott). “Oh honey, I was born to love him; to walk away would be a mortal sin,” he sings in “Fear of Limbo.” He continues, “I could never live without him. I’d work it out with you if it cost me a limb.” The final two tracks end the record in a way that’s both satisfying and unresolved. “Our Love (Couldn’t Outrun a Train)” bears its ironic edge even in its title. It’s not as overtly dismissive of the relationship as the raw earlier tracks, but it carries a sense of conflict into the otherwise triumphant closer, “I’m Gonna Love the Hell Out of You.” You get the sense that, as Ferguson repeats, “I’m gonna love the hell out of you … if it’s the last thing I ever do,” he knows that his pleas will likely be fruitless. He recognizes that grace is “A Blessing I Can’t Earn” (in the earlier track of the same name), but he doesn’t let his profound past hurt keep him down. The album ends here, allowing us to linger in the tension of hope and the knowledge that something that was once good has likely reached its end.

Oh My Darlin’ is the most imminently listenable and emotionally eviscerating offering from STREAKING IN TONGUES yet. Ronnie and Elliott Ferguson continue to refine their craft, creating music that’s endearing and engaging. It’s more than fitting that the record’s title references the traditional folk song “Oh My Darling, Clementine.” While this song does have moments of sweet romance, it’s ultimately a tragedy. The album functions very similarly. Oh My Darlin‘ is filled with desperation and self-deprecation. But more than that, it’s girded with a reckless hope and sincere desire to work things out—especially for the sake of a child. It doesn’t sugarcoat a single moment, and it’s all the more beautiful in the end for it.

7.5/10

Oh My Darlin’ is out now on all digital platforms. Stream and download it below.