We’re just gonna go ahead and say it: Go-Go Boots is arguably the finest work we’ve seen from the Drive-By Truckers. And by arguably, we mean that if you were to give us a book deal and a case of beer we’d argue about it til the money ran out and the hangover wore off – over their ten previous albums there have been enough moments of raw, unbridled brilliance to fill more than a few volumes of criticism. But for this moment – a gray cloudy day before the birds have come back and flowers begin to bloom, in the heart of a nation in flux, more confused and scared that it has been in generations – Go-Go Boots, with all its stripped-back rawness, understated arrangements and weary world views, is the right album at the right time.
It’s an album for a depressing time in a depressed nation, but not one that wallows in its misery or tries to drag you down with it. It’s more of an album that puts its arm around your shoulder while you stand by the window waiting for the postman to maybe, hopefully, possibly bring that check that will keep the lights on and the pantry stocked. It’s an album that feels your tension, your stress, your worry and says “Yeah, things are pretty screwed, but it’s not the worst and it’s not forever.” Go-Go Boots is a tour through the dark, destitute, and desperate – it’s a Noir classic that fits alongside the work of hardboiled legends like Raymond Chandler and Jean-Pierre Melville. Frankly, it doesn’t come much more hardboiled than the combo of “Go-Go Boots” and “The Fire Poker,” a two-part tale of a marriage gone really, really wrong.
And like Melville’s classic 1970 French Gangster film Le Cercle Rouge, Go-Go Boots builds its stories with moribund attention to the smallest details; small motions replace major actions, and the gaze of the narrator lingers long after most people would have turned their eyes. Go-Go Boots inhabits a world in which the fields are plowed under for winter, the sky is gray and there’s plenty of time to ruminate about the wrong you’ve done and the wrong that’s done around you. “I Used To Be A Cop” – one of the album’s standout tracks – features one of the most foreboding first verses in recent memory, and a resolution that’s as haunting as it is ambiguous. “Where’s Eddie” – yet another winner sung by bassist Shonna Tucker – begs more questions than it answers, conveying a forlorn sense of worry to the listener without filling in the back story, drawing out both sympathy and skepticism. “Assholes” is a pretty hilarious piss-take on oversensitive music industry types overreacting to fairly mundane bullshit, and while we can’t confirm if it relates to a specific story, we can you tell there’s a hundred out there like it, and we’re glad it’s been preserved for posterity. “Cartoon Gold” – a jaunty country number from founding member Mike Cooley – is just that, a collection foibles and follies running through the narrators mind as he sits in the “bar in L.A. after dark with [his] sunglasses on.” The wry humor and chuckle-worthy turns of phrase that are sprinkled throughout Go-Go Boots – even the darkest corners – are what make it the kind of holistic view of the human condition that rarely rears its head in rock and roll music.
But that should come as no surprise to longtime fans, who’ve seen the band develop from sorta-tongue-in-cheek outliers to pillars of 21st century American music, or anybody that’s seen the recent Trucker documentary The Secret To A Happy Ending, a fascinating – if rather fanboy-esque – overview of the band’s decade-plus existence. For folks new to the Truckers, intrigued but a little overwhelmed by their rather expansive catalog, this is the album to start with. If you dig what they’re doing there’s ten other albums that will blow your wig dome. And if you don’t like it? Well, we can still be friends – but you’re gonna have to bring us a book deal and a case of beer. We’re gonna have a lot of arguing to do.