The Waco Brothers have been standing at the corner of punk urgency and Three-Chords-And-The-Truth country for 20 years now. They started at a time when it was deemed patently absurd to mix the two types of music, but the Wacos knew the score; they are different sides of the same coin, the personal wrapped in the political. And instead of travelling calculated creative boulevards during their career, the Waco Brothers have explored dark alleys and winding gravel paths through nine releases, all with the headlights off and the pedal to the metal, worrying (or not worrying) about end results later. With a body of work known for the indelicate and raucous, this may be their most deliberate and punchy yet—no one’s more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose. The title can be read two different ways, after all.
With a devil-may-care attitude towards polish and finesse, Going Down in History captures the thrill ride rush of the Waco Brothers’ live shows. Through the improvisational and fluid approach they adopted at Chicago’s Kingsize Sound Labs with longtime collaborator Mike Hagler at the knobs, the songs took on a muscularity and cohesiveness of an album unlike any previous Wacos recordings. Their pioneering Cash-meets-Clash jet engine mash up is still there, to be sure, but the Wacos have turned their well-scuffed boot heels towards their roots as never before. They have gone back to the future, down in history to celebrate and transform that which came before them.
Going Down in History pulses with the energy and excitement of first wave garage punk and ‘70s glam that first captivated singer/guitarist Jon Langford (Mekons, Skull Orchard, Pine Valley Cosmonauts). “We Know It” and “Building Our Own Prison” are distorted T. Rex via Bo Diddley-beat punk that will get you grooving towards the end times. “Receiver,” a gritty pub crawl from Wire to Dead Weather, and the short-circuiting grind of “Devil’s Day” harken back to singer/guitarist Deano’s time in the Chicago noise rock scene with his band Wreck. The raspy, push and pull tension of the title track, with its hard-learned life credo “you gotta walk before you can fall down on your face” might make it the Patron Song of Lost Causes. At the heart of the record is the Small Faces’ “All or Nothing,” a liberating, sing-to-the-skies rock and roll masterpiece, brimming with jagged guitars, booming drums and rousing organ. Ian McLagan, The Faces’ keyboardist (who died in 2014), was both hero and friend to the Wacos, and the song is permanently dedicated to him. Wrapping up the album is a cover of Texas songwriting ace Jon Dee Graham’s “Orphan Song,” cementing the Wacos’ cosmic link between Chicago and Austin.
With an improbable longevity, an impeccable rock and roll resume, and a go-for-broke live personae that can distract from the sharpness of their subject matters, it can be easy to take the Wacos for granted. But what was true at the beginning of the siege remains so today: in these fraught times, no one’s out there writing and performing with the political and personal so intertwined. Like a strange, colorful and possibly poisonous toad that lies dormant in the mud of an Amazonian rain forest, only to emerge when it seems like it’s necessary, the Waco Brothers are back, and, perhaps, we need them now more than ever.