I’ve said before in this series that one of the enduring questions with the Bottle Rockets is “is Henneman singing from his own point of view, or voicing a character?” And that, if it’s his own POV, the stretch when the songs for the Rockets’ first two albums were written must have been a really weird time in his life.
Because once again, “I’ll Be Comin’ Around” is essentially a song about being horny; the speaker’s propositioning someone who’s partnered up, and saying that he is 1000% OK with any relationship configuration that gets him in the (back) door. I was going to reproduce a couple of verses, but it turns out that these are in fact *all* of the words to the song:
If he ever changes him mind Thinks of leaving you behind Or if you just want something more When he steps out the front door
I’ll be coming around Knocking your backdoor down I’ll be coming around Knocking your back door down
If he ever breaks your heart Decides he wants to make a new start Or if you just want to be vile When he steps out for awhile
The speaker’s ready to get together if the target’s partner strays, or is up for whatever “if you just want to be vile.”
The weird thing is that this song that exists in the shadow of at least two different flavors of infidelity (one of them self-described as “vile”) somehow comes across as really wholesome, partly on the basis of Henneman’s gleeful deliver and partly on the basis of the relentlessly cheerful major-key musical arrangement. Wordless sections dominate vocal sections, including a repeated bridge that ticks along like a cheerful machine.
The tension makes the song; if the Rockets are usually very good at pairing form and content, setting them at odds here kicks the song into an interesting psychological space and makes you somehow low-key root for the vile homewrecker. There’s a lot of infidelity in country music, but it isn’t usually this cheerful.
The extent to which “knocking your back door down” is a euphemism is, I guess, up to the filthy-mindedness of a particular listener.
If The Brooklyn Side is essentially The Bottle Rockets with somewhat better production values, the pattern holds here. Contemplative acoustic opener gives way to big electric bar-band rocker (just a touch more polished this time).
“Gravity Fails” (note that Spotify misnames the song as “Gravity Falls,” which I’ll take as emblematic of the general way the Bottle Rockets don’t get the respect they deserve) is not a great song, in the sense that it doesn’t have anything profound to say about the human condition, but it’s a lot of fun and it rocks the house. As is often the case, the Bottle Rockets are here to examine the mind of a man trapped by his own desire to wander. It doesn’t quite have the chainsaw guitar of “Gas Girl,” its counterpart on the first album, but it’s got a driving beat and Henneman sells a lot of very convincing urgency with his voice. You know you’re an expert as using your voice to its full effect when you can deliver
Baby I’m saying please, please, please Down on my baby blue blue jeans Maybe it’s something in my genes Maybe it’s something in my jeans
and have it land. A quatrain like that could be dire in the hands of a novice, but that last line still brings a surprised smile to my face every time I hear it, after nearly 30 years of listening to this album.
Uncharacteristically, it opens with an instrumental riff that the song returns to periodically, establishing the mood of minor-key urgency that dominates; there’s a tension between this and the bright major-key shimmer of Henneman’s guitar solo in the middle. I’m not sure exactly what the thought process behind this must have been, but it gives the song texture.
Again, not one of the great songs of all time, but a really enjoyable little gem showing how fun the Bottle Rockets could be in their standard Best Possible Bar Band mode.
The Brooklyn Side sounds
exactly like what it is: a natural continuation of The Bottle Rockets, but with more budget to spend on studio time
and better gear. Recorded at Coyote Recording Studio in Brooklyn (the album’s
title appears to come from the climactic line of “Sunday Sports,” but there’s
kind of a chicken-and-egg question lurking here) in 1994, Brooklyn catches the band in the same form as their first album,
just a bit more polished and better produced. The collection of demos on the
combined reissue makes it sound like many of the songs come from the same
creative burst that populated the first album.