Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Bottle Rockets

  • Bottle Rockets [ESD, 1993] ***
  • The Brooklyn Side [ESD, 1994] A-
  • 24 Hours a Day [Atlantic, 1997] A-
  • Leftovers [Doolittle, 1998] ***
  • Brand New Year [Doolittle/Mercury, 1999] ***
  • Songs of Sahm [Bloodshot, 2002] A-
  • Blue Sky [Sanctuary, 2003] A-
  • Leftovers [New West, 2004]
  • Zoysia [Bloodshot, 2006] *
  • Lean Forward [Bloodshot, 2009] ***
  • South Broadway Athletic Club [Bloodshot, 2015] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Bottle Rockets [ESD, 1993]
roadies' band, blunter, rockinger, and more realistic than their bosses in Uncle Tupelo would stoop to ("Kerosene," "Got What I Wanted") ***

The Brooklyn Side [ESD, 1994]
More raucous and pointed than such fellow Midwestern alternacountry-rockers as the Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, and Blood Oranges, these citizens of Festus, Missouri will hit you where you live when they lay out other people's pains and foibles--the welfare mom on Saturday night, the Sunday sports abuser, the constable with his radar gun, the local Dinosaur Jr. fan. They also speak plain truth when they criticize their car. And if they seem to relive cliches when they confess their many romantic errors, how do you think cliches get that way? (Including this one.) A-

24 Hours a Day [Atlantic, 1997]
Like Wilco, only not so generically or formalistically, this is a rock band. They love Lynyrd Skynyrd; they love the Ramones. Their country leanings merely ground their commitment to content--Brian Henneman's savory sense of character and place, the every-word-counts delivery that lends his singing its specific gravity. Going for simple, they pay a price in detail this time out. But the likes of "Smokin' 100's Alone" and "Perfect Far Away" would be pretty damn rough for Nashville. And "Indianapolis" is the sequel all us "1000 Dollar Car" fans were waiting for even if it was written first. A-

Leftovers [Doolittle, 1998]
honky-tonk romance, laborious dirge, and caffeinated double-time the quality outtakes you'd expect, dining-car praise song and Chattanooga chantey the lost oddities you'd hope ("Dinner Train to Dutchtown," "Coffee Monkey") ***

Brand New Year [Doolittle/Mercury, 1999]
Bitchin rock move, but any band that boasts about not using a calculator cares less about history than it believes ("Gotta Get Up," "Headed for the Ditch"). ***

Songs of Sahm [Bloodshot, 2002]
Not a band out of songs mining a B hero's book--a concept album about the alt-country process. It isn't Rootsman Sahm the Bottle Rockets care about, it's Sir Douglas the Hippie--a simple Texas boy high not just on anything he can smoke or gobble but on the fellowship of strangers he knows would groove on him even if he wasn't slightly famous. "Mendocino" and "Stoned Faces Don't Lie" glow with possibility, evoking '60s utopianism far more concretely than any precious latter-day studio psychedelica. But it has to end. "You Can't Hide a Redneck Underneath That Hippy Hair," Doug realizes. "The changes in this city made a fool of me/I got too free, forgot I had a family," he admits. So, he concludes, "I'm Not That Kat Anymore." Out of options, he turns into an icon whose conjunto country r&b will always be longer on rep than edge. For a taste of the wildman the young Sir Douglas was, try the Music Club comp Son of San Antonio. But believe that Brian Henneman's interpretation says more about his character and his fate. A-

Blue Sky [Sanctuary, 2003]
The Drive-By Truckers having jumped the Bottle Rockets' claim as the social-realist Lynyrd Skynyrd, volunteer producer and neoswamp axeman extraordinaire Warren Haynes avoids a dick-size contest by accentuating their strength--Brian Henneman's Midwestern declarative. Since as border staters they've never defined their roots regionally, Haynes is free to nudge them folk here and rock there. "Lucky Break," about a disabled construction worker who's finally getting his government cheese, sets the tone. And if on one song Henneman enjoys a little wallow in gender-role truisms that have lost their laugh value, the very next track he's got it down: "Came home drunk looking for a fight/She was sober and calm, does that make her right?" A-

Leftovers [New West, 2004]
See: Blender review.

Zoysia [Bloodshot, 2006]
"If I could be a little bit younger/If I could be a little bit older/If I could be a little bit friendlier/If I could be a little bit colder/Then I could be a little bit better" ("Zoysia," "Middle Man"). *

Lean Forward [Bloodshot, 2009]
"The long way isn't the wrong way," insists a driving record that includes one about taking the bus ("Kid Next Door," "Nothin' But a Driver"). ***

South Broadway Athletic Club [Bloodshot, 2015]
Alt-country vet Brian Henneman is one of those guys who likes writing songs too much to quit. Weary evocations of the persistence of Monday and airbag duty at the Chrysler plant convince you music isn't his day job whether it is or not. Similarly, the long-haul passion of "Big Lotsa Love" makes you hope the perfect breakup lamentation "Something Good" is just poetry he couldn't resist whether it is or not: "World turns/Rome burns/Can't you hear that fiddle sound/Time flies/Elvis dies/It's all over but the shoutin' now." If you notice the material weakening toward the end, give him a break. He's beat. A-

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