Ah, that great rock clich�, “telling it like it is” always strikes fear into any respecting music hack. There is thought to be some misguided dignity in cutting through the trappings of rock frippery, the tight trousers, wasted looks and generally louche behaviour to the core values of ‘strapping on a six-string after your honest days graft to bark about domestic misery set to powerchords and beer-drinking’.
You might as well nail your colours to the mast of the sinking ship Pub Rock. But let’s face it; the world would be a duller place without the grease-painted monkeys larking about for our amusement, and besides, if you want blue-collar rock, methinks Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young have been there and done that in some style.
Sadly, no-one’s told the Bottle Rockets, happily pottering along with this, their seventh album, in which the former roadie for Uncle Tupelo (Brian Henneman), produced by Afghan Whigs producer Jeff Powell, carves out an album packed full of rural country-rock melodies and scuffed romanticism… it says here.
With nods towards the hewn-in-rock blue-collared-country of Neil Young’s compadres Crazy Horse, early Wilco and even the supergroup of Golden Smog, this is an earnest workman-like affair full of the rugged reliability of a four-by-four or some kind of prehistoric rock tractor.
This is essentially an air-guitar album of alt-country drowned in feedback and the pathos of age and a lived-in life for forty-something men to get their plaid shirts and beer paunches sweaty over. Middle Man is an ode to yearning for a life of “If I could be a little bit,” but realizing they are (duh) stuck in – go on… can you guess? Yes! – the middle! Sludging along like a truck down a muddy path, it is the sound of guitars pulling teeth along an overgrown clattering path of inevitability. I’m sure there is an audience for this ‘party music’ who like to ‘rock’, but musically and imaginatively it is a poor echo of what it would like to be.
Happy Anniversary does spit and snake with some real bitter energy in all its gnarled and scuffed regret. Unfortunately there’s not a lot beyond the mere workman-like to these tracks to set them apart from the pack. Feeling Down, with its close harmonies and semi-acoustic stroll, sounds like an Everly Brothers reject.
Alas, this credo of keeping it real makes for frankly stinking lyrics: “You’re unpredictable like a car on ice, you say wild stuff, you never say it twice” (on Mountain To Climb). The ‘experimental’ Align Yourself is just a nasty, stupid list of (flicks peace sign) ‘corporate pigs’. Where I’m From is a gentle acoustic respite that barely stirs itself from its slumbering pace to be of any interest: “Where I’m from’s not where I’m from anymore.” Zoysia dribbles along on the familiar path with burblings of cod-psychedelia, “zoysia grass” (a brand of creeping grass to all you horticulturalists out there) and – erm – “cutting your lawn”. Rock indeed.