Brian Henneman masterfully sets the scene with “Bad Time to Be an Outlaw,” the pivotal track on Bottle Rockets’ new album Bit Logic. He tells the truth when he sings how Carrie Underwood doesn’t record real country music. “But she can afford when shit breaks down,” Henneman also adds, ruefully. Bottle Rockets must live on a low budget because they can’t in good conscience make the sort of faux-country music exemplified by Underwood and Thomas Rhett (another artist dissed in the song). The music this St. Louis band excels at is the honest, vulnerable and messy; a type that doesn’t usually go over well in prim and proper modern Nashville.
Lyrically, “Bad Time to Be an Outlaw” may be justifiably snarky, but the oddly named “Saxophone,” in contrast, is a sweet breakup song that details all the things one man likes to do without his (soon to be) significant other. And where “Bad Time to Be an Outlaw” is chugging twang, “Saxophone” is quietly meditative. It’s also sincere, sensitive and heartfelt. Another one titled “Human Perfection” includes just enough cowbell, and speaks of human foibles, as well as those rare cases of human perfection – such as when a favorite artist records the perfect song.
Carrie Underwood and Thomas Rhett fans likely won’t appreciate Bit Logic. Most of them would rather sing bumper sticker-ready choruses repeatedly, than expose themselves to Bottle Rockets’ sometimes uncomfortable vulnerability. They don’t know realize it’s human imperfections that give people character, and Bottle Rockets reveal plenty of recognizable character through their music.
The album’s title track longs for a more organic life. Nevertheless, Henneman knows the world is becoming more and more of a technologically advanced society. Over a bass-heavy, Waylon Jennings-inspired groove, Henneman sings, “You best be looking out the windshield not the mirror/To figure out the way to go from here.” Bottle Rockets might have an eye towards the future, but it’s the strong, time-tested traditional country musical values applied to Bit Logic that make it such a likeable album. Let’s all hope they sell enough copies of this album to make ends meet when shit breaks down.