If you don't believe the Bottle Rockets are contenders for the title of world's greatest rock & roll band, you should check out their 1994 release, The Brooklyn Side
, the decade's best rock & roll record: an out-of-fashion, unhoped-for blend of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Clash, funny and scary and catchy all at once. It was so good it was released twice--first on the late, lamented indie label ESD and then again on Atlantic. That's why it took three years for the follow-up, which was actually recorded in July 1996, to emerge. Because less is at stake in the songs, 24 Hours a Day
isn't quite as good as The Brooklyn Side
, but it's a remarkable piece of work just the same.
Like the Blasters, the Bottle Rockets realize that roots are not an empty suit to hide in but a pair of shoulders to stand on so one can reach even higher. The four scruffy musicians from Festus, Missouri, can sound like fading Grand Ole Opry stars on an understated country song like "Dohack Joe," and they can sound like a Southern-rock bar band on an overstated rocker like "Slo Toms." These familiar formulas give the Bottle Rockets an entrée into the Middle America they spring from and speak to, but the band strips the forms of their predictability and sentimentality. The quartet plays with a sort of controlled anarchy, as if at any moment they might leap into epiphany or fall apart altogether--and that creates a suspense that makes you want to listen to each new measure. And lead singer/chief songwriter Brian Henneman is so quick to laugh at his own protagonists that the blue-collar romanticism of Mellencamp and Petty is boiled away to reveal lives as they're actually lived. --Geoffrey Himes