Album review: The Bottle Rockets, Lean Forward (2009)


By Steve Newton

Back in ’94 Missouri’s Bottle Rockets released their second album, The Brooklyn Side, which scored North American airplay for the rollicking, cops’ll-get-you single “Radar Gun” but is best remembered for infectious rockers like “Gravity Fails”, “I’ll Be Comin’ Around”, and the evocative ballad “Pot of Gold”. Tracks like “Sunday Sports” and “Thousand Dollar Car” were keen-eyed, satirical takes on the questionable lifestyles and financial choices of your average small-town, beer-drinkin’, blue-collar Joe.

Hailing from Chilliwack, I could relate.

When I learned that the Bottle Rockets had reteamed with The Brooklyn Side producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel for Lean Forward I got to hoping that the mid-’90s magic might be rekindled; also encouraging was the CD’s cover shot of a vintage Fender amp with a mike jammed right up to its speaker.

Sadly, Lean Forward falls far short of being a guitar-rock masterpiece.

Things start off well enough with the highway ode “The Long Way”, which boasts singer-guitarist and main songwriter Brian Henneman’s playfully upbeat lyrics (“The long way isn’t the wrong way/And a wrong turn isn’t the end.”). The quality of the material drops a notch with track two, the middling “Shame On Me”, and—the social commentary of “Kid Next Door” notwithstanding—doesn’t get back up to speed until track eight, “Way It Used to Be”, a propulsive juggernaut of wailing guitars and pounding drums. The disc ends on a high note with the percussive and bouncy “Give Me Room”, but it’s too little too late.

Three memorable tunes out of 12 just doesn’t cut it.

The Bottle Rockets’ latest album may be a failure in light of past glories, but I’d be willing to wager that the St. Louis-based band is still an awesome force in concert, and worth the cross-border trek to Seattle’s Tractor Tavern on October 2.

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