Monday, October 26, 2009

The Bottle Rockets - Part 2- LEAN FORWARD album review

The bottle rockets released their most recent album, Lean Forward (Bloodshot), on August 11th, 2009. This album was scheduled to be recorded in December of 2007, but due to general burn out and road weary band members was put off until the summer of 2008 in the midst of the Bottle Rockets 15th Anniversary Tour. In 2008 the band played 15 headlining shows for the entire year. They opened up two contests on their message board. The first contest you could enter to win 'Bottle Rockets For Life', every album that has ever been released or ever will be released and two tickets to any show they headline forever. The second contest was a slightly used Creston custom made electric guitar. Brand new except that Brian used it at every show during 2008.

Why do I mention these fun facts? Because it's a key to the success of the album. Brian has mentioned that at the end of 2007 the band was weary from playing more shows to less people. Something he called playing to 'dwindling returns.' But after allowing his message boarders to write the set list to every one of the 15th anniversary shows, playing to sold out shows across America, and connecting more viscerally with their fans, the Bottle Rockets hit the studio with Eric 'Roscoe' Ambel producing to record one of their strongest efforts to date. And with albums such as The Brooklyn Side, 24 Hours A Day, and Zoysia that is saying quite a bit.

Lean Forward starts off with the song, 'The Long Way.' This song sums up the attitude and plight of the band. With a chorus that says in part, "The long way isn't the wrong way, and a wrong turn isn't the end." the band sums up their attitude of perseverance in the odds of the changing music business and rough economic times. With all the inherent obstacles of being a band trying to breakthrough in these rough times, The Bottle Rockets seem to finally have found the right path.

'Hard Times' is the perfect song for these times. With it's funky rhythmic intro and classic guitar hook, 'Hard Times' is easily one of my favorite songs on this disc. It's a song lamenting the rough time many of us are facing now, but it holds at it's core an optimism that we can all make it through. With lines like, "I'm not broke down, I'm just out of gas" Brian uses car imagery to really *ahem* drive home the point.

The car imagery and analogy continues in 'Nothing But A Driver', a song about driving other people's cars for a living, and 'The Kid Next Door' which features the lines: 'Sitting there all alone, Parked out back like his tombstone, A black '02 Camaro, With a silent kick ass stereo." 'The Kid Next Door' is a song about war that really gets the listener thinking but it does it in such a way that does not come of as overtly political or preachy. Brian took long time collaborator Scott Taylor's lyric and molded it into a moving tribute to the kids that fight for our country.

Keith Voegele makes an impact with back to back songs 'Done It All Before' and 'Open Your Eyes.' The former song is musically an upbeat pop rock gem, but lyrically it seems to be an ode to the morning after a night of drink. It's ultimately hopeful, but it has a touch of 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' disguised as a bouncy little tune. The later song is a love song couched in failure. Lyrically it resonates of past mistakes in lines such as, 'Opened up my eyes to fear of rejection, Through the error of trials I learned my lesson' before giving credit in the chorus to the unnamed 'you' for learning those lessons. 'Open My Eyes' is a slower, sadder song musically but a much more upbeat song lyrically than 'Done It All Before.' Keith has ability to fuse together contrasting emotions to make something greater as a whole and the album is stronger for the diversity he's added to the songwriting.

After listening to the album for a couple of months and seeing the band live twice in the past two weeks I've come to appreciate how this album works as a whole. Upon first listening I had a few favorites, 'Hard Times' 'Shame On Me' and 'Give Me Room' all were immediate likes. But as time has passed and I've settled into listening I've discovered that there aren't many weak tracks. The band has taken the concept of distance, be it literally in songs like 'Get On The Bus' or figuratively as in 'Solitaire', and made a conceptually consistent album that is musically and lyrically diverse yet still easily seen as a whole. This album bears repeat listening. There are lots of nuggets both musically and lyrically that really come out after it seeps into your mind. And best of all, these tracks work beautifully live. Do yourself a favorite and catch The Bottle Rockets live when they are near you.

In closing I'm including a message from Brian as he posted on The Bottle Rockets Message Board:

Here's who did what.
The way we credit things, lyric writer comes first, music writer second (Except for "Shame On Me" where Keith came up with the chorus, and "Give Me Room" where John came up with the guitar solo, and chord progression beneath it...).
One writer means he did it all.

"The Long Way" Mark Ortmann/Brian Henneman
"Shame On Me" Brian Henneman/Keith Voegele
"Nothin' But A Driver" Brian Henneman
"Hard Times" Brian Henneman
"Done It All" Keith Voegele
"Open Your Eyes" Keith Voegele
"Kid Next Door" Scott Taylor/Brian Henneman
"Way It Used To Be" Robert Parr/Brian Henneman
"Get On The Bus" Brian Henneman
"Slip Away" Mark Ortmann/Brian Henneman
"Solitaire" Joe Flood/Brian Henneman
"Give Me Room" Joe Flood/Brian Henneman/John Horton

There's always cross-pollenation with the music, for instance, I don't come up with Mark's drum parts, but, the credit goes to whoever "establishes" what the song is.
If you just heard Mark's drum parts, you probably wouldn't recognize the song.
If you can play what you came up with on acoustic guitar, by yourself, and have it recognized as "the song", you get the music credit.
My guitar solo is not considered a co-write on Keith's music for "Open Your Eyes", but, John's contribution to "Give Me Room" was too big to go uncredited, that solo is my favorite part of the song, and I sure as HELL wouldn't have thought of those chords.
It a "curve" grading system, and it pretty darn accurately represents who was responsible for the big picture of what made the song "what it is"...

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