A Blessing and a Curse
Full disclosure: back in January I got tapped by New West Records to write the bio for the new Drive-By Truckers album and was paid for my efforts, so I won't pretend that this an un-biased objective review. But then I'm not big on un-biased objectivity, unless I am pricing weedeaters. When it comes to Drive-By Truckers, I am an unabashed fanboy, and the opportunity to trade emails with Patterson Hood and living in secret with this great this album filling my life for the last couple of months has been a personal highlight. Friends of mine knew that I was doing this, mostly because I would not shut up about it, and begged me for a copy, but I held it close, letting it flower on its own. The album is released today, so I'm free to let my slobbering fan flag fly.
So the word around the campfire that The World's Greatest Rock Band has taken a step back from historical re-enactments and just penned some rock songs, and that word would be right. And maybe have written their most personal and tightest record yet. Who knows if the world has been submarketed to a degree that Coldplay is about as rock-n-roll as a million-seller will be allowed to be, but the opening track "Feb. 14" is a contender. The album is filled with the bands influences: The Replacements, Let's Active, early R.E.M, muscle Shoals bands, John Hiatt, Credence Clearwater Revival (and its been printed that Mike Cooley, one of the three frontmen in the band is a huge Hall and Oates fan, but I don't really hear it bubbling to the surface.
This is a record that will make you say "finally" - it's just a great rock album, with a variety of styles and tempos, heavy numbers and sad numbers and funny ones. I hope Keith Richards picks up a copy of this record and throws it at Mick's head, coughing "Remember when we used to make good albums like this?" Especially with the raucous account of glorious hony-tonk disaster that is "Aftermath USA" with lines like "
The car was in the carport sideway
Big dent running down the side
Never seen anything as frightening as when I took alook inside
Smell of musk of deception
Heelmarks on the roofliner
Bad music on the stereo
All the seats in recline
It's like an AM Homes novel, except actually funny and completely plausible.
The whole album works on this trajectory, slow soulful numbers like "Goodbye" that show how to do the slow burn without going overboard, Jason Isbel's "Daylight" which is the prettiest rock song in ages, and he soars like a southern condor on the chorus. Cooley's songs here are tightened up as well, where as I like his weird sence of pacing in his songs in the past, "Gravity's Gone" is a future model for country rock now that even Son Volt has abandoned it.
This record is what one would call a hit record. Every song is different, and they all rise to the occasion. I still maintain "Wednesday" is the elliptical power pop anthem Paul Westerberg forgot to write, but it's an easy trap to compare a band that did a whole double album about Lynyrd Skynyrd as rehashing its influences. The three strains of rock from the three songwriters is stronger than ever, co-mingling and twisting like wisteria vines around the bare pergola of modern rock.
The plummeting depths of emotion and loss are scavenged on tracks like "Little Bonnie" and "Space City" where babies and grandpas respectively are torn cruelly from this world and we are left blinking in the goddamn harsh light of the unfeeling universe to figure out what's next. The most uplifting is the almost Johnny Cash honest sermon that is "World of Hurt" that closes the record, where the easy way out is pushed aside in favor of love and enlightenment.
This is a classic, defining-moment record. It's a Tonight's The Night or a Fables of the Reconstruction or a Pink Moon or The Queen is Dead or whatever letter nailed to the church door does the job for you. Go get it and quit fucking around with that stuff that isn't the real deal.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com