Drive-By Truckers: “The Big To-Do”

I've said this before: IT'S A MONKEY WAVING A TOP HAT!!! What part are you not getting excited about?Album name: The Big To-Do
Artist name: Drive-By Truckers
Genre: Rock
Released: 16 March 2010
Label: ATO
ZME Rating: 8/10

It’s all about “Birthday Boy” this time. On every Drive-By Truckers album, there’s one song that, quite helpfully, doubles as a litmus test as to whether you’ll like happily gorge yourself silly on what they’re dishing out. On Gangstabilly, their rough-and-ready debut album, it was “The Living Bubba”, probably the quintessential DBT song to this day; on Southern Rock Opera, the band’s 2001 breakthrough, it was “Zip City”; and this time, on their eighth record, it’s “Birthday Boy”. Which, as we’ve previously noted, is available as a free download. So you go have a listen, and if you’re interested, I’ll be waiting here with a review. If not, I’ll still be here, but I’ll be fixing you with a condescending glare and accusing you of smelling like a dead tramp.

So – The Big To-Do. I’ts not the DBT’s best album. We should get that nice and clear right off the bat.  In fact, relative to their back catalogue, it’s actually a rather middling effort. But this is a band with albums like Decoration Day, The Dirty South and Brighter Than Creation’s Dark to their name: saying The Big To-Do isn’t the very best DBT album is a bit like saying the earth’s sun isn’t actually that big a star. It’s still quite capable of frying your poxy human skin from a squillion miles away.

The songs are almost uniformly excellent: “Daddy Learned To Fly” barrels along on a classic radio rock bent; “The Fourth Night of My Drinking” manages to be both very funny, and quite sad, without forgetting to be tuneful too; “It’s Gonna Be (I Told You So)” is just plain fun. There are some slight stumbles – “You Got Another” is pretty, but goes nowhere (like a supermodel in a coma), and “The Wig He Made Her Wear” (a swampy murder n’ sex song based on a true story Patterson Hood saw on Court TV) seems more interesting in theory than in execution – but overall, the quality never really sags anywhere south of “very good indeed”.

Probably the biggest problem the album faces is its pacing towards the end. The Big To-Do closes with a trio of songs (“Santa Fe”, “The Flying Wallendas”, and “Eyes Like Glue”) which, while perfectly wonderful songs taken individually, make it seem like the record crawls to a finish. Perhaps a “Decoration Day”-style guitar tear-up that the end of “The Flying Wallendas” begs for would have helped matters. The road not taken, etc.

But enough prattle. You’ve listened to “Birthday Boy”. You know whether you like it or not (and if you don’t, see how I damn your eyes). And that’s really all you need to know. I could tell you how the brilliantly cathartic “This Fucking Job” is a timely spiritual sequel to “Hell No I Ain’t Happy”, and how its twin song on this record, Cooley’s excellent boogie “Get Downtown” is a masterclass in effortless, natural dialogue. I could tell how you the record suffers slightly on account of the lack of country stylings, but makes up for it by rocking harder than any DBT album in years. I could tell you how it’s seemingly a more successful iteration of the “let’s be less wilfully esoteric” formula that debuted on A Blessing and a Curse. But you already know whether you should buy the album, so it would be so much extraneous information.

And if I start just giving out unnecessary tidbits of trivia, I’ll probably end up telling you about that time I found a massive festering pustule on the bottom of my (snip! – Ed)


1 – Daddy Learned To Fly

2 – The Fourth Night of My Drinking

3 – Birthday Boy

4 – Drag The Lake, Charlie

5 – The Wig He Made Her Wear

6 – You Got Another

7 – This Fucking Job

8 – Get Downtown

9 – After The Scene Dies

10 – It’s Gonna Be (I Told You So)

11 – Santa Fe

12 – The Flying Wallendas

13 – Eyes Like Glue

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