On the title track of her 2001 album Essence, Lucinda Williams sang about waiting for a lover, but she phrased her anticipation in the starkest physical terms, likening his essence to a drug and requesting a kiss with force behind it. The new World Without Tears picks up where that kiss left off. Largely abandoning Essence's fragile sound, Tears instead takes its cues from the hard physicality of Williams' lyrics. The album's songs are populated with characters that bite and bleed; when they walk away, sometimes they're hurt, and sometimes they want more. It's an album filled with appetites and their consequences. On "Righteously," Williams takes giddy pleasure in a lover's sensual attention, but her mind keeps drifting back to the little hurts he's inflicted, as the song drifts into a distorted guitar solo. The protagonist of "Ventura" begins the song with a desire to eat, and ends it hunched over the toilet, as heartbreak and loneliness cause even the simplest pleasures to double back. Ever since Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, Williams has partially traded her past clarity of expression and observational distance for the grit of experience. Being immersed in the grit, however, sometimes means being unable to see beyond it. "Atonement" and "Bleeding Fingers," with their long strings of imagery, suggest more than they reveal, and the music sounds sympathetic to their elusiveness. The album's best moments find a middle ground. "Over Time" and "Those Three Days" craft astonishingly frank and tuneful songs from the same heartbreak material as "Ventura," while "Sweet Side" spotlights Williams' gift for portraiture. The story of an abused child who becomes a hard-to-love adult is chilling, both in the details it reveals and in those it withholds; it underscores the album title's irony almost as well as the title track itself. "If we lived in a world without tears / how would bruises find the face to lie upon?" asks the first item of a list showing just how unrecognizable a world without tears would look. The song seems to suggest that in such a world, there might be nothing left to sing about. But in the world at hand, Williams seems destined never to run out of material.