We love us some Drive-By Truckers and their southern-fried opera-writing ways, but Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is longer than creation’s long. Maybe longer. By our estimation, they could’ve chopped about eight of the 19 tracks and still had themselves a solid, ambitious record (there are songs from Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and bassist Shonna Tucker, so we’re sure they could’ve whittled from each stash, though Shonna only contributed three). Much of the muck happens in the middle: Brighter opens and closes strong. That said, it’s definitely better, grittier than the underwhelming A Blessing And A Curse. (That, and they have a song called “You And Your Crystal Meth” on here.) Complaints aside, the quintet oiled the works some backing up Bettye, lost some blood when Jason Isbell moved, and sound particularly seasoned.
The beauts include the awesome ragged glory of “A Ghost To Most,” the rip roaring riffs of “The Man I Shot” (hey, Black Mountain and the Heartbreakers), and the fuzzy swamp-rocker “3 Dimes Down.” On a quieter tip, there’s the lovely, rising-action, rock ‘n’ roll-lifer ballad “The Opening Act,” which is painterly and patient in its depiction of its chewy, beer-soaked scenery conjured with male/female harmonies, a Technicolor sunset, and lines like “There’s all this beauty and just enough time to figure out how to destroy it.” Love its spoken word line about the fat man who falls off the mechanical bull, the paramedics hauling off the “urban bovine Knieval” (R.I.P., dude). There’s pretty pedal steel on the whole album, but especially on this seven-minute track. Or how’s about the classic country of “Lisa’s Birthday” and it’s socialite dissing, and “y’all”‘s? We’re also big fans of previously discussed Shonna twanging “I’m Sorry Houston” and the also aforementioned shit-kicker “The Righteous Path.” Stay focused, Truckers.
A few tunes are boring, but the brief character study “Bob” is just sort of dumb. One of us laughed out loud at the “He ain’t light in the loafers” line that drifts into the repeated chorus: “He might kneel, but he never bends over.” Uhh… So, Robert ain’t exactly scared of women, he’s just got his own way of living. A sketch of a southern asexual? He hangs with his dogs and his ma, but he ain’t gay. So? That said, we do like that it’s followed by Shonna’s “Home Field Advantage” and its echo of “playing for the home team.” Outside of that, the latter also has a kick-ass rock-out exeunt.
Speaking of that sort of overlap — we read somewhere that the band didn’t intend for the album to be so long, that they felt it was interconnected as one larger work, found it hard to trim. “Brighter than creation’s dark” shows up as a line from Cooley-penned “Checkout Time In Vegas,” which opens with the laundry list of “bloody nose, empty pockets, rented car, a trunk full of guns” (a typical weekend around here). Hard to know what the entire narrative of the overall setlist adds up to … There are a couple mention of “Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife,” the numbing affects of technology, drinking and drugging (“Daddy Needs A Drink” is great, btw), beauty and madness, the dawn of grunge, the comforts and non-comforts of home, self-destructive tendencies (like riding off into “The Monument Valley” solo). So is it a personal history? Those are hard to whittle down, but maybe you should’ve tried a bit harder, gang, because it would’ve made the gold shine even brighter.
Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is out 1/22 on New West.