Thursday, April 01, 2010

1/1/10 - The benefits of reaching for the stars

New Drive-By Truckers album came out, and, just like previous Truckers albums (basically all since Decoration Day), it's got some good songs, some OK songs, and some filler. It got me to thinking about why I anticipate each new DBT album the way that I do, and I realized that it all goes back to Southern Rock Opera.

It can be cruel the way that a work of art that results from total balls-out going for it can come to serve as an albatross around the artist's neck, but so it goes. As seen by the fact that the Who complained people thinking the band was called Tommy and the album The Who, it's not a new phenomenon.

The thing is, though, that there's a reason that people thought the band was Tommy. Tommy is an unbelievable accomplishment. As in, more unbelievably good as a thematic whole greater than the sum of its parts (and its parts are really good) than anything the Who had done before, or would since. And it's kind of crazy to expect them to do something that good again. Because a rock opera has to be the work of someone pretty anal and organized, what with the whole theme and variations and motifs requirements, and a band is a collaborative enterprise, and an album is really a collection of individual song units. It's like trying to write a musical in a completely different idiom - a musical, by its form, is rigid in its requirements, whereas a rock song is more ragged and free-form.

For that reason, Southern Rock Opera doesn't really hang together as a rock opera proper. There aren't any repeated musical motifs, unless you count three loud guitars operating all at once as a musical motif, but there are a lot of shout-outs to Lynyrd Skynyrd and a whole lot of lyrics about the experience of being Southern, which for Patterson Hood includes a lot of reconciling with Skynyrd. It's kind of a mess, but it's by far the Truckers crowning achievement, and I think they realized that which is why they distanced themselves from it immediately by cranking out another album (Decoration Day) and not allowing it to turn into Tommy. Which it is.

But just like the Who had plenty more bullets in the chamber ("Baba O'Reilly", for one large-caliber example), the Truckers had plenty of good songs left, and Southern Rock Opera doesn't even have the best lineup of the band, which right now is looking like the one with Jason Isbell on guitar. It's to their great credit that they just accepted that lightning in a bottle had hit them once and then kept on keeping on.

Still, I'm a greedy music listener, so I want another swing for the fences. Enough of this workmanlike rock, DBT. Go for the sequel. If it's good enough for Meat Loaf, it's good enough for y'all.