Review Summary: The least memorable record in eleven years for a usually stellar and consistent band.
There’s something inherently interesting and consistent about the Drive-By Truckers. Always hovering on the cusp of stardom, the Truckers have established themselves as indie darlings over the years, steadily delivering the goods across five consecutive stellar albums in the 00s. Brandishing a three guitar and three lead singer attack, the Truckers have proven astoundingly prolific at melding several non- traditional coinciding genres like Hard Rock, Southern Rock, Country, and Grunge into an Alternative Rock/Country hybrid that gleans admiration from hipsters and proud rednecks alike. Proudly waving the flag of the Dirty South (their breakthrough was a two disc concept album about Lynyrd Skynyrd) while somehow captivating the attention of traditional urban snobs, The Truckers have expertly wove their way through musical legitimacy by riding an assault of clever narratives stamped with melodic hooks, delivered with authorized Southern sincerity.
With the release of “The Big To-Do,” it is difficult to envision the fortunes of the Drive-By Truckers considerably changing. Their new label is more established, the album is leaner and more concise than previous efforts, and the emphasis is higher on rock and lower on country, all ingredients that could theoretically lead to heightened mainstream acknowledgment. Perhaps in an effort to align themselves with a brighter limelight, The Truckers are stripped down here, forgoing the grandiose, quasi epic reaches of the past in favor of more traditional rock proclivities. The good news is “The Big To-Do” is consistently slightly above average enough to satiate their current fan base. The bad news is it’s their worst record in 11 years, and is unlikely to carry them to the next level.
The unrelenting vibe of “The Big To-Do” is that while the record is competent and only a small portion is skip-worthy, it lacks the presence of anything resembling staggering, a concept in no shortage on their previous five records. There are moments of near greatness, such as the driving melodic hooks of album opener “Daddy Learned to Fly” and lead single “Birthday Boy,” the bone chilling hymn buildup of “You Got Another,” and the alcohol worshipping “The Fourth Night of My Drinking,” yet none of these would fall into the top five on any of their watershed records. There are redeemable moments on the downtrodden working stiff anthem “This F*cking Job,” the rollicking 50s-esque “Get Downtown,” and the breezy “Sante Fe,” yet the resounding theme resembles nothing more than merely above average songwriting. Perhaps the primary catalyst here is the dominating presence of co-frontman Patterson Hood, who despite being the most recognizable member is a lesser songwriter than co-founder Mike Cooley, who inexplicably takes a backseat with only three entries on the record. Possessing a stronger sense of melody, more accessible voice, and a much sharper wit than Hood, Cooley is responsible for probably three quarters of the band’s truly great songs, and once again contributes the album’s strongest moment in the tawdry “young man doesn’t know what to do with a prostitute” themed “Birthday Boy.” For his part, Hood has always been competent yet just short of great, and his predominant presence mirrors the passable nature of the record.
With another album slated for late 2010, perhaps “The Big To-Do” can be labeled as a slight misstep for the Truckers. For a band that has consistently delivered at an impressive and prolific rate, the weight of expectations is heightened, and perhaps a slightly above average showing can be viewed as worse than it actually is. Neither startling nor wretched, “The Big To-Do” and its seminal moments are worth the price of admission for any moderate fan, but this is the first time in a decade the Truckers have put their stamp on a recording that is not borderline essential at the least. For a more worthwhile analysis of the Drive-By Truckers, check out either “Southern Rock Opera,” “The Dirty South,” or “Decoration Day,” and it will be easier to understand their hype.
Daddy Learned to Fly
You Got Another
The Fourth Night of My Drinking