Great news for readers of Uncut magazine....there's a new Drive By Truckers album in town. The magazine's flagship band haven't released a record in three years which is a long time for them but leader Patterson Hood has been struggling with writers block brought on with worrying about how to convey the very mess the world is in. Thankfully he started to look closer to home, to matters of the heart for inspiration and found that his band were at the peak of their powers on an album that mixes the politics with the personal.
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Does anyone remember Prefab Sprout’s 2001 album ‘The Gunman And Other Stories’? Probably not - it didn’t crack the top 40 and spawned no hits. But it’s a notable record, particularly in light of the success of the film ‘Brokeback Mountain’ four years later. Like ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘The Gunman…’ mines that same homoerotic inflection of the Old West for all its worth. Its songs are incredibly florid, full of million-yard-stares and barnstorming gentlemen and kicked-down saloon doors - the first lyric on the whole damn record is ‘love’s a silver bullet that blows your world apart’. All the while chief Sprout Paddy McAloon lays on strings and pedal steels with a glee that is either nudge-wink knowing or utterly sincere. It’s one of the kitschiest albums of all time, and I absolutely love it.
Something similar is happening on Drive-By Truckers’ ‘The Unraveling’. Not so much the homoerotic or kitschy stuff, but more the deployment of American rock/country modes, landscapes and myths as a way to simultaneously interrogate the form and, by turn, the culture it has spawned from. The reference points may be different to ‘The Gunman’ - rather than Jimmy Nail (an artist who McAloon originally wrote some of ‘The Gunman…’ material for) ‘The Unraveling’ leans closer to Springsteen, both his heartland rock and his balladeering. But from the moment the piano and strings kick in on opener ‘Rosemary With A Bible And A Gun’, we know that we’re in two Americas - the America of the land, and the America in our minds.
Truckers lynchpin Patterson Hood also isn’t approaching his craft with the same louche irony that McAloon (probably) did. As you might expect from their titles, there is real vitriol to ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ and ‘Babies In Cages’ and ‘21st Century USA’. These songs find Hood quaking with rage at the way his country is conducting itself, and they kick all the harder for the fact that Hood is dealing in and skewering a musical style so native to the United States - one that Drive-By Truckers have made no small contribution to in their time. This album may be surreal, but so are the times its born from - and there’s nothing fanciful about its anger.
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