Bands change. Bands experiment. Bands have bad days. The Drive-By Truckers have already had their “bad day”—the middling A Blessing and a Curse—so I’m going to accept the second explanation. In fact, the celebrated alt-country/southern rock band has said as much—that this is their “Muscle Shoals soul” record.
Fair enough, unless that’s just an excuse for writing “sad old man music,” as some have dubbed Drive-By Truckers’ recent output. That accusation proves hard to dispute while listening to Go-Go Boots, waiting for the pace to pick up or even vary.
It’s difficult to stifle a yawn as the southern rockers, who once put their estimable rocking skills to work ripping through tunes like the feisty “Where the Devil Don’t Stay,” dutifully recounts the story of “Ray’s Automatic Weapon,” sounding as tired as I felt listening. DBTs’ knack for storytelling remains, but it seems their ability to mold these stories into catchy or interesting songs has gone on hiatus.
“Assholes” is another dullard, a plodding divorce tale—a professional split rather than a broken romantic relationship—that drags the crisp lyrics through a morass of a tune that’s the musical equivalent of slopping through gumbo mud. “The Fireplace Poker,” a lesser entry in the band’s ever-growing portfolio of murder songs, suffers from a similarly sleepy accompaniment.
Thankfully, there are undeniable standouts in the collection—mostly in the final third of the album. “Everybody Needs Loves,” almost as simple a song as its title would indicate, is a mellow country singalong that rises above the sameness of the album thanks to Patterson Hood’s cheerfully honest delivery and a welcome respite from endless lower tones prevalent through most of the proceedings. Mike Cooley’s “Pulaski” is a toe-tapping country shuffle that sounds like something from another era altogether. “Mercy Buckets,” a gospel-tinged ballad with Skynyrd-esque guitars, ends the nearly joyless Go-Go Boots on a sunny and spirited note.
Whether this is—as I expect it to be—a one-off exploration or a logical continuation of the post-Jason Isbell rut detractors claim the band is in, Go-Go Boots is a lethargic exercise, not nearly as soulful as they surely intended. The Truckers still sound as tight as ever, and their blood-stained lyrics may be even keener than usual, but a general lack of variation in tempo doesn’t suit them. That and the smoky haze of colorlessness makes Go-Go Boots a tedious listen.