Political concerns mix with personal
Unraveling calls to mind either a rope slowly coming apart, its once-unified smaller strands ceasing to work together, or a metaphorical unraveling of a puzzle, slowly piecing together a mystery until a meaning becomes clear. In their latest album The Unraveling, Drive-By Truckers explore both contradictory senses of the term by trying to describe and examine a seemingly incomprehensible political and social climate they find themselves in. Using the driving guitars, country-rock-hybrid sound their fans have come to love, the album is 42 minutes of high-energy and accessible storytelling.
The album opens with the tragic ballad “Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun” that grows more powerful upon subsequent tours through the album because of its tonal contrast but thematic harmony with the following tracks. The images in this track set the stage for the whole album: the photography of William Eggleston, parking lots alit with neon and a twenty-five-year-old on the run defined by her two possessions. The persistent piano chords push the song forward and the backing strings and ominous “oohs” reinforce the tragic “sirens’ call” that defines the story.
Besides the emotional complex “Rosemary” stands the more outwardly political anthems. “Thoughts and Prayers” call out hypocrites who respond to gun violence with “thoughts and prayers” but oppose gun control legislation. “Heroin Again” empathetically acknowledges the plight of opiate addiction. “21st Century USA” looks at the struggling small towns. The frustration at promises unfulfilled unites these songs and separate political issues. Whether it’s empty political gestures, deceitful “taste of heaven” in drug use or “working hard for shrinking pay,” the album sees people making an earnest effort but struggling nonetheless.
The album sounds down-to-earth and generally relies on simple melodies and a guitar-driven sound. It is more focused on evoking the somber feeling towards the state of current events that the band evidently feels themselves in. The album is certainly timely. In 100 years, The Unraveling could serve as a collection of the most pressing American political issues of today, a reminder of what kind of uncertainty people feel right now.
The Unraveling is not all gloom. Within the message of anxiety is a feeling that there will come a change. With an album so timely, it’s important to note that the frustrations of today did not exist yesterday and will not exist tomorrow, or maybe the next day.