The Unraveling starts with a Bible, passes through Armageddon and prayers and finally ends with a hesitant step toward resurrection.
Let’s just go all in and admit that we’ve reached the end times. With new album The Unraveling, DBT commits to showing that we’ve lost the thread, and it’s a vision as lyrically grim as it is musically inspiring. Songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley don’t tend toward the clunky, and first single, “Armageddon’s Back in Town” isn’t a simple politicized pronouncement. It turns, instead, into a song about personal guilt, and ambiguous but dark backstory driving a character’s flight. It could be the second half of a murder ballad; it could be an ill-defined metaphor for the US. By not being quite either, it works as an expressive indictment of everything that fits the time, Hood’s vocals both anxious and knowing.
Some songs get more explicit. On “Thoughts and Prayers,” Hood goes after the politicians offering empty gifts while ignoring the carnage around them. The song lopes, a mostly sweet groove carefully locked in. Hood, on the other hand, has had enough. By the time he’s telling his listeners where they can “stick” their “useless thoughts and prayers,” he’s crossed into full prophet mode. That approach moves into lamentation on “Babies in Cages,” as if Amos had had a Southern rock backing him with the blues.
Cooley matches songs with tracks like “Grievance Merchants,” a challenging look at the culture that promotes hatred and violence. There’s a mix of concern about guns, incel and more. The troubles never relent on The Unraveling, and the Truckers never shy from naming them. Even a less political track like “Slow Ride Argument” stays deep in its moment. Here, Cooley talks a listener out of taking violent action, a small hope for peace in a remarkably disturbed world.
Part of the force of the album lies in the band’s musical control. As frustrated, angry and sad as the singers sound, the group never becomes unhinged. The coupled guitars still rock, and still have plenty to say, but DBT retains an order in its sonics that highlights the outrage of the lyrics. The group stretches for eight minutes on closer “Awaiting Resurrection,” building toward an ultimate release that matches the song’s tempered hope amid evil and uncertainty. It’s strong songwriting well executed, not only in itself but as a summation of the album.
The Unraveling starts with a Bible, passes through Armageddon and prayers and finally ends with a hesitant step toward resurrection. Drive-By Truckers, whether from cultural context or something else, have frequently populated their albums with religious imagery. As their social awareness has matured (or at least broadened), they’ve headed toward an apocalyptic, a tumultuous vision not yet void of redemptive purpose.