Caustic Resin’s Keep on Truckin can seriously fuck with your head. A pounding, balls-to-the-wall paean to the lost art of the guitar, it bears all the hallmarks of vintage AOR rock, albeit stretched (sometimes to the breaking point) out to the eight-minute mark. But you will, mark my words, never hear this heady stew on mainstream radio. You could also be forgiven for thinking that a release from these Idaho natives might sound like their kissing cousins, Built to Spill (Resin’s main man, Brett Nelson, moonlights as one of Doug Martsch’s guitarists). But there is Nelson, sounding eerily like the dangerous, Sabbath-era Ozzy on the thunderous “Wizard of the Upper Snake River”. The wall of wailing guitars that forms that song’s rhythmic layer might as well be sirens alerting you to the violent car crash that Keep on Truckin turns into on almost every song. The ghosts of Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid lie next to Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s indulgent six-string work, which itself lies atop Built To Spill (circa their painful but rewarding Live album) and Jimmy Page’s toughest work from Physical Graffitti. Like I said, car crash.
But there’s a reason people slow down to watch these bloody messes on the freeway, even when they are in a major hurry to get somewhere. And that is because there’s something addictive about the sheer size and strength of the imagery, something painfully addictive about the impact it makes. This partially explains why I can’t stop listening to Keep on Truckin. For starters, Brett Nelson’s got king-size balls — the same ones Martsch showed on Built to Spill’s Live album — if only because he didn’t blink an eye when putting these songs together. They’re patently indulgent; half of Keep on Truckin‘s songs are about seven minutes long (the entire disc has only nine songs, while the finale, “8th St.”, is simply a filler tune) and the rest sound like they’re having a hard time sticking to five minutes or less. Which works fine, because like Nelson screams on the stream-of-consciousness masterpiece, “Drive #49”, “Realize, it’s freedom”. In other words, the nomadic spirit that infects every tune on Keep on Truckin is perfectly content with destroying guitars and eardrums while simply not giving a fuck what anyone thinks about rock convention.
Conveniently enough, Keep on Truckin kicks off with “People Fall Down” (“and they don’t get up again”, Nelson moans, sounding like he stepped right out of Sabbath’s “War Pigs”), a mostly two-chord, wah-pedal frenzy buttressed by descending toms and wailing guitars. Its clever structure mirrors the song’s sentiment perfectly: the tune falls down and down upon itself, never really surging forward, until it abruptly collapses on a gorgeous reverb strum. Then it crashes with aplomb into the next song, “Message To Shareholders,” which is twice as hefty and diverse as its predecessor; if you weren’t paying attention, like I wasn’t, it might just sound like one long song (see what I mean about not giving a shit about rock convention?). Its epic bombast is like a blast of Marshall stack noise, blowing away whatever hushed moments stuck in its middle. Potent shit, and you’re only up to song two.
By the time the brilliant, measured “Fry Like Ace Jones” comes along, your ears will be ready for a break. A gorgeous mixture of poignant slide guitar, acoustic fingerpicking and sloppy yet plaintive vocals, “Fry Like Ace Jones” shows off Caustic Resin’s formidable balancing of melody and musicianship. It’s easily the catchiest tune on the album, and if classic rock stations weren’t such wimps, they’d probably sandwich it between the Stones’ “Wild Horses” and Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman”. It’s also the album’s only relatively mellow moment, up until the penultimate song, “Viva La Causa”, a downtempo deliverance from the sheer noise and strength of the rest of the album. Its heartfelt rumination on prejudice (“They had hard times/prayed for good times/they had all kinds/of real world tastes of bigotry”) swells and recedes in concert with the soft/loud paradigm perfected by countless other bands. But, unlike many bands practicing that method (namely, any so-called emo punk band on MTV) something about Caustic Resin feel real. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re so interested in atmosphere.
No matter where that feeling originates, it can be felt in full rock majesty on Keep on Truckin‘s cleanup hitters, “Drive #47” and the title track (which is a second or two shorter than ten minutes!), “Keep on Truckin”. “Drive #47” is a vicious downstrummer, threaded through with low register distortion and relentless skin-pounding, full of E-string power and aggression. “Keep on Truckin”, meanwhile, is classic rock at its finest, a complex mixture of acoustic strums, lyrical optimism, multi-layered guitar accents and lyrical optimism (“Driving straight to hell/Wash your hands of all that scary smell/I’ll never get no rest/All I can do is do my best”). It reads like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” for the flannel generation left for dead by teen popsters and American Idols, a requiem for a long, lost rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
Maybe that’s what Nelson is doing here, as he asks us to “keep dreaming . . . /keep believing . . .” on an album called Keep on Truckin. And while some might feel this album is bloated with self-obsessed solos and too-long tinkerings, I can’t help but feeling it soak into me every time I put it in the computer and listen to it. And I’ve been doing that a lot lately.
Bottom line, Keep on Truckin is a throwback, a meat-and-potatoes release for music fans sick of lightweight crap. It’ll fill you up like a gas tank and maybe give you the mileage you need to get through the day. If it doesn’t, then it might not be for you. It’s that simple.
Keep on rockin’.