Grim and Grimmer

The Drive-By Truckers’ The Dirty South

I’ve bought way too many CDs lately, and it’s been a mostly disappointing lot. But the Drive-By Truckers’ The Dirty South grabbed me almost instantly and hasn’t let go. The band became critical darlings with Southern Rock Opera and Decoration Day, but those albums to me showed potential without really delivering. By matching the greasy Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd with the righteous anger of Neil Young — an irony faced head-on in Southern Rock Opera’s “Ronnie and Neal” — the band hit on a promising formula. It all comes together on The Dirty South, which combines tough, swampy, but accessible rock with gritty, depressing, politically charged stories. The Dirty South is leaner than the Truckers’ previous two records, and at 70 minutes plus, that’s no small feat. But the album also highlights a problem for the band: The lyrics are so unrelentingly grim that there’s a disconnect between the joyfully body-rocking music and the shoot-yourself-and-get-it-over-with words.

A Perfect Circle’s eMOTIVe

Cover records are troublesome enough, but A Perfect Circle upped the dread ante with a concept cover album: eMOTIVe. And if the capitalization wasn’t frightening enough, the premise of the CD should scare away everybody else; eMOTIVe is 12 songs about war, peace, greed, and corruption. One more thing: Billy Howerdell, Maynard James Keenan, and company not only take on classic tracks such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going on” and Joni Mitchell’s “Fiddle and the Drum”; they deconstruct them, stripping away their most familiar elements and slowing the songs to dirges. On the plus side: It has a really cool hologram cover. I don’t know yet if the album’s any good, but after several spins, I’m not terribly inclined to return to it. eMOTIVe starts promisingly with the hushed, simple, and haunting “Annihilation,” followed by a beautifully ambivalent reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” (Most people will find this version sacrilegious, but because I generally don’t get the Beatles, I think it’s brilliant.) Over a deliciously minor-key arrangement, Keenan delivers the lyrics with a strange blend of hope, fatigue, resignation, and sadness that sounds much truer to me than Lennon’s treatment. The rest of the record, to put it bluntly, just sounds misguided and wrong.

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