Brighter Than Creation’s Dark Drive-By Truckers
New West 61352
Excuse me just a moment.
I'm no Luddite. I'd be as dead as the next music junkie without my iPod, and I'd be deader still without this series of tubes we call the infoweb. But I'll be damned if this new Truckers record doesn't have me yearning for the glory days of dusty vinyl. It's no throwback urge, no nostalgia stirred up by the classic-rockin'-rompin'-stompin' product the Truckers are pushin'. It's something much simpler.
I want records back because a record clocks in at 52+ minutes tops.
The new 19-track Truckers disc is the kind of unwieldy, sprawling mess we've come to expect from splatter artists like Ryan Adams, Devendra Banhart and their self-indulgent ilk. Sure, this comes from a humbler place. You can almost see the Truckers' three songwriters — Patterson Hood, Mike
Cooley, and Shonna Tucker — lobbying to keep each others' songs on the record rather than their own, but the net effect is the same. At 72ish minutes, it's… well, it's the bloated, uneven crap we've come to accept from artists that never have to make tough choices.
Now turn the clock back to 1977. First of all, let's admit that the Truckers wouldn't be out of fashion sonically. They aren't exactly pushing the edge in that way, and I don't want them to. I want the Truckers right where they are — kickin' up a shitstorm and telling the stories of people who were served by country music before country became the greedy, faceless star-machine it has become. The real beauty of this time warp though is that the Truckers would have had to either 1) make some serious cuts here or 2) sell the record company on the idea of a pricey double album.
This record is just six minutes shorter than Physical Graffiti, only eighteen minutes shorter than The White Album, six minutes longer than Exile on Main Street and a full 30 minutes (or more than an album side) longer than either Sgt. Pepper’s or _Axis:
Bold As~Love_. Once, the double-album was a statement. The artist had to earn that second platter. Now every second-rate would-be B-side finds a cozy home on the comparatively capacious CD. Hood insists that this record was produced
with vinyl in mind, but — if that that’s the case — they ignored the most important thing vinyl had to offer them: the extrinsic motivation to edit.
Still, I wouldn't be so pissed and ranty if I didn't think there was a solid album buried in here. Jason Isbell is gone, but Hood and Cooley, both top-notch storytellers, bring their A-games to the proceedings. It's all in the execution. Their themes — working through tragedy, coming up short, holding on to what you've got, hoping for the future — aren't anything new, but all the details are in place. Like most of his songs, Hood's take on suburbia ("The Righteous Path") becomes a character piece. The narrator's "boat that ain't seen the water in years" is a solid symbol for the hemmed-in and pinned-down middle class, but it's the fact that he's "got a coupla secrets [he'd] kill to keep hid" that brings the character to life. "Daddy Needs a Drink" sounds predictable enough until it begins: "Daddy needs a drink to deal with all the beauty."
Hood also brings a pair of war songs. One ("The Home Front") is a simple portrait of a woman with a two-year-old left pacing the floor, crossing her fingers that Daddy comes home while feeling "bitch-slapped and abandoned by a world she thought she knew." The other, "That Man I Shot," finds an American soldier at home haunted by the thought that the insurgent he "put down" in the process of doing his job might also have had "little ones that he was so proud of." He clutches his own kids and squeezes until the specter disappears. Musically, the track bristles with hate, but the soldier insists that "I didn't hate him/I still don't hate him," so the hate is transferred, redirected perhaps toward a government that would press him into duty, toward a world that would let it happen, or toward himself for believing what Wilfred Owen called "the old Lie." He's left to shout, "I just don't understand," as the guitars blister on.
Mike Cooley's got a bit more classic country in him, so it's perhaps no surprise his work relies more on the line than the character sketch. "I used to hate the fool in me, but only in the morning/ now I tolerate him all day long" is country all the way (for better or for worse). He can set the
stage too, as the first line of "Checkout Time In Vegas" ("Bloody nose, empty pockets, a rented car, trunk full of guns") proves. Perhaps best though is his line in "Three Dimes Down," (Coolety's best here) whose "hero" can't fit into a world that wants a quarter and winds up "[t]otally screwed
while chicken wing puke eats the candy-apple red off his Corvette."
There's plenty more here, but I'm not talking about it. Among the many benefits of the digital age is this: I can fix the Truckers' mistakes. I lopped twenty-five minutes off the top of this turgid lump, re-sequenced to my heart's content, and made my own Southern Rock Smile. The resulting album_My Creation’s Dark_is a killer, chock-a-block full of richly imagined stories rendered with heart and grit, ringing of truth and screaming to be heard. The trouble of course is that I shouldn't have to do their job. Had the band separated the chaff from the wheat as another era's
technology would have forced them to do, I could be talking about not only a solid but an important record here. Instead, like you, I'm left with an over-long rough draft in desperate need of revision. Seriously, you think this review wouldn't be better off if I had been forced to keep it to 500
words for a print magazine? Welcome to the on-line rag, the spacious CD of the rock-crit world.