There’s a Pampers commercial that hinges on the line, “Having a baby doesn’t just change your life, it changes everything.” Not sure there’s a parent around that would argue that point, though some might argue the ways in which it changes things. As with all of life’s challenges, people respond to parenthood differently, especially the creative types. Some play it safe, feeling a need to put stability and security above all else. Some push the edge, recognizing an empathy and urgency they hadn’t known before.
Singer/songwriter Andrew Combs sort of split the difference. Now a father, but long a questioner of all things spiritual, Combs uses his new album, Ideal Man, to double down on that pursuit, perhaps hoping to figure some things out to pass on to his daughter.
Album opener, the cuttingly breezy “Stars of Longing,” acts as something of a thesis statement. “Stars of longing, bright and haunting, keep me wanting just a little bit more. I often wonder if the hunger is just to find what I was put here for.” That’s classic Combs, right there. Wondering about life even as he’s wandering through it. In the chorus, though, he makes a downright declarative statement that, indeed, “there’s only love.”
As he puts his updated and ever-lovely countrypolitan sound to work on “Like a Feather,” Combs yearns for a way to hold onto that love in the series of fleeting moments that make up a life. It’s a fool’s errand, of course, but beautifully so, in his hands. Staying on message, both “Save Somebody Else” and “Hide and Seek,” Combs advocates for living with our hearts first, setting our heads aside to do what feels right.
Even as he brings the urgent edge to bear in songs like “Dry Eyes” and “Born without a Clue,” Combs keeps to his point of deploying fully empowered, personal responsibility, chiding, “Born without a clue, we were born just for something to do. Born without a clue, it’s up to me and it’s up to you.” Then, in the album closer, the gently affecting “Golden,” he offers the safety and stability that only a parent can, singing to and of his daughter, “One foot in front of the other, I’ll be right here, if there’s too much ground to cover.”
Ideal Man covers a lot of ground, to be sure, but it keeps its footing, every step of the way.