Drive-By Truckers — Go Go Boots. Out 2/15, ATO Records.
I am going to get this out of the way first: I do not like this album as much as I liked The Big To-Do; in fact, it isn’t even close. There are tracks I love, and there are things about it that really work for me, but as a whole, Go Go Boots feels more like Brighter Than, an album I have documented problems with, than it feels like TBTD.
So knowing that going in: forewarned is forearmed, people.
I knew that GGB was going to sound different from TBTD; Patterson said that upfront, when he announced last year that they’d made two albums. And I’m not opposed to albums that sound different, because different songs fit on different records, and I am one of those people who doesn’t want my favorite bands to keep making the same album over and over again. But the biggest problem that I have with GGB is that it is not a cohesive record — it sounds, to me, like a collection of b-sides from TBTD sessions, songs that didn’t work on that album and so got shoved onto this one. I don’t think that’s how it was meant to sound — I think it was really meant to be its own album. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me that way.
It’s true that any band with three songwriters is going to struggle to make albums that sound good together; Shonna doesn’t write like Cooley who sure as hell doesn’t write like Patterson Hood, and that can be hard. But TBTD, despite three different songwriting styles, all works together, and for me, Go Go Boots doesn’t, and it’s down to one thing: the majority of Patterson’s songs on the record.
Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a Cooley girl through and through, because I think he’s a spectacularly compact and concise and clever songwriter, and that I generally enjoy what Shonna does, some of her songs more than others, but in general I like her stuff reasonably well. Patterson, though, has always been hit or miss for me, because he writes these huge story-songs and sometimes they work, and sometimes they turn into the arrangement of “Goode’s Field Road” on Brighter Than, which I swear has taken years off my life. And I feel like the flaws on GGB are those songs: I feel like the flaws are the back-to-back seventeen minutes of wanking that Patterson does with “Used To Be A Cop” and “The Fireplace Poker”, neither of which are bad songs, exactly, individually, but in the middle of this album, combined with “Ray’s Automatic Weapon” and “The Thanksgiving Filter”, those two songs drag it into a place that makes me skip tracks.
A place that makes me skip Patterson’s tracks — at least the ones over 5 minutes. I know that he’s said this was their murder ballads album, but the thing is, it’s not: it’s Patterson’s murder ballads record, and if I wanted to listen to that, I want to listen to a solo Patterson album. It isn’t what I want from a Truckers record. I think that those four songs I named above, while all of them have their own positive merits, drag this album’s pace down, and I think that they don’t fit the tone of what everyone else is doing — and I do love what everyone else is doing, including, even, Patterson, sometimes.
I love the shaggy beach feel of Patterson’s album opener “I Do Believe” — I even really enjoy title track “Go-Go Boots”, even when it feels like a retread of “The Wig He Made Her Wear” (which is a better song). “The Weakest Man” is probably, even though it’s years old, one of the best if not the best song Cooley’s ever written, and that little sexy shuffle he’s given it with the band (and the accordian; who gave Cooley an accordian for Christmas, you guys?) just makes it all that better; “Pulaski”, another oldie-but-Cooley-goodie, works just as well with the band as it ever did solo (also has accordian, what the fuck — can we get Jay on the accordian live, please?). I like “Dancin’ Ricky” a lot, and I love Shonna doing the Eddie Hinton cover “Where’s Eddie?” — the spot about two minutes in where she just starts wailing raises the hairs on my arms every single time I listen to it. Patterson’s lead on “Everybody Needs Love” is even fantastic.
Those songs don’t match Patterson’s other stuff on the album, though — slower stuff, draggier stuff, story songs in eight minutes instead of three. It isn’t an album that fits together. It feels like The Fine Print — a b-sides and sloughed off tracks album, not a real release. It’s not a bad album, and I know I’m in the minority of Truckers fans in feeling this way, but I do. There are parts I love, and Truckers completists should and will have bought it.
But I still think that The Big To-Do is maybe their best album ever, and I am still a complete A Blessing & A Curse apologist, so what do I know? It’s your call. I just think this album could have been better if somebody’d finally edit Patterson Hood.