When Paul Westerberg first sang “It’s a Wonderful Lie” more than 20 years ago, it sounded like the Man Without Ties’ sad-sack ode to his self-defeat. “Misanthropes, guys like me,” the former Replacements frontman sang, leaving no ambiguity as to exactly who Westerberg was talking about. When Mary Lou Lord covered the song in 2015, the Boston folkie focused on that helpless vulnerability, singing lines like “I still get by” in a near-whisper.
But there’s always been a sappy sweetness to “It’s a Wonderful Lie,” and on the second album from Puss N Boots, Norah Jones’ alt-country group, the song sounds like it’s been discovered anew. Catherine Popper, best known for her work as bassist for everyone from Jack White to Ryan Adams, sings lead on the midtempo folk rocker, with Jones and bandmate Sasha Dobson joining in for a three-part harmony on the song’s beautifully bruised refrain. The trio highlight the song’s tenderness, from the classic pop melody to the dark hope of truisms like “The truth is overrated, I suppose.”
Westerberg, on the other hand, was always quick to point to the song’s darkness. “I’ve taken all kinds of things that chemists and physicians advised that will make your life better or different,” he said in 1999. “The very first line of ‘It’s A Wonderful Lie’ spells it out. Taking amphetamine for a crushed rat brain. They ask, ‘What’s a crushed rat brain?’ Well, I know what it is. I bet someone else who takes one does too.”
But on Puss N Boots’ rendition, it’s the very next line that shines when sung by Popper: “How am I feeling?” she asks. “Better, I suppose.”
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