Before listening to it, I anticipated a bit more of Waco Brothers’ country routes to reappear, but instead, punk rock makes its resurgence. However, genre won’t be my focus after listening to this album.
I was pleasantly surprised by the infusion of upward, punk guitar riffs that bring you into “Going Down in History”, juxtaposing the phrase, “We know it isn’t working, but it’s all that we got left” in “We Know It.” The band maintains the edgy, Rolling Stones sound that they’ve intermingled with the fiddle and the harmonica since its inception.
In the same way, Dean Schlabowske of the former Wreck matches up Chicago’s rock flavor with the garage punk sound that inspires Singer and Guitarist Jon Langford. A taste of country is still there, but using less of the respective instruments than usual.
Waco Brothers depicts a new scene through instrumentation. The first four measures of “Building Our Own Prison” feature a guitar riff that sounds like the repetitive motion of planting one brick above another to build a prison cell. Singer Tracey Dear joins Schlabowske and Langford in creating a hammering chorus to complement the construction of this tiny, suffocating room.
This album’s chronology of titles seems to cover all chapters of a moment in the band members’ lives. It begins with “Diybyob,” a rock anthem that celebrates and hopes for change, and ends with “Orphan Song,” a Jon Dee Graham cover, a title that reflects on the music before it.
The title, “Had Enough,” marks the midpoint of the album, and laments a monotonous life pattern.
But, the song, “Receiver,” introduces a mechanic angle on the memoir. “I am connected by a wire/to a machine that tells me I’m alive” are words that bemoan the robotic quality that the band members are beginning to experience. Langford highlights qualities of a record player as comparable to the machine that he, Schlabowske and Dear personify. The reason “Receiver” comes third on the album is probably that the band evolves into machines right at this point.
As each band member progresses through life with age, each song on “Going Down in History” follows them. In the title song, Langford exchanges shouts of “Commit to something drastic/you’re going down,” with the lighter, happier voices that repeat the words, “you’re going down.”
Although a sense of urgency is apparent in his voice, the bright calls that respond to Langford’s are telling him to be optimistic – that, even though this chapter hasn’t shown an incentive, there is something to look forward to if he takes advantage of it, and “commits to something drastic.” The theme of optimism here rolls with Langford’s shouts when he finishes the same verse with “you’re not going down in history,” and moves on to mumble scientific and technological inventions that have been realized over the years. This song itself manages to summarize the whole album with the paradoxical turn from uncertainty into optimism and wisdom.
The movement of the guitar and drums that accompany those words are what convey a development from idleness into movement. As Langford is mumbling them, the drums carry the tempo of the song into the ending verse, and the guitar riff glides like those epiphanic thoughts that all simultaneously charge through Langford’s mind.
Closing “Going Down in History” with Graham’s “The Orphan’s Song” expresses the band’s gratitude in having one other to turn to. Although the band conveys a point of discomfort and need for something new on this album, this particular track reflects on what’s been said for the Waco Brothers’ collective efforts.