Sunday, April 27, 2014

add 0981 the bottle rockets

The '90s turned out to be a little tough for the Bottle Rockets. Upon the release of its eponymous debut in 1993, the Missouri quartet was almost universally hailed as one of the leaders of the post-Uncle Tupelo Americana movement, but the band lost momentum when trying to make it in the big leagues. It wasn't for lack of trying. They labored over their official Atlantic debut, 24 Hours a Day, but when they were touring the album, the label pulled their support, leaving them to flounder. The Rockets regrouped and released a collection of outtakes, Leftovers, the following year, as they decided what to do next. Wisely, they seized an opportunity for a fresh start, which is what Brand New Year, their first studio album for Doolittle Records, is. They've decided to emphasize their roots as a bar band, cutting away their country tendencies and playing up their fondness for '70s hard rock. The twist is, Rockets leader Brian Hennemantries to inject some intelligence and self-aware humor into the lyrics. At times, it works, but it's just as frequently awkward or self-conscious, especially since it seems that the words have taken precedence over hooks or melodies. Even so, there's a sense of songwriterly craft, if not actual songs, that is welcome, and it's made all the more engaging by the earthy performances by what is, after all, a really good bar band. There's no question that Brand New Year is a proudly Luddite record, celebrating the virtues of loud guitars and living without computers (see "Helpless," as in "how come I don't feel helpless"), which naturally makes it feel like an album out of time, but that is its redeeming virtue -- it might not have the hooks of a classic rock album, but it's a good, solid slice of organic hard rock.


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