Going Down In History
This venerable Anglo-American agit-roots institution’s reputation for propulsive, alcohol-fueled live gigs tends to overshadow the pithy songwriting skills of multimedia Mekon Jon Langford and his co-frontmen Dean Schlabowske and Tracey Dear. Despite the band’s combustible instrumental chemistry and the singers’ facility for spinning bemused humanist outrage into compelling punky-tonk anthems, the Wacos have had mixed success in capturing their controlled-chaos essence in the studio. But you wouldn’t know that from listening to Going Down In History, which delivers everything there is to love about the Wacos with admirable force and clarity.
The Wacos’ seventh studio effort, and their first collection of new tunes in over a decade, Going Down In History finds engineer Mike Hagler helping to give the Chicago-based quintet a sublimely focused sonic presence without sacrificing their raucous punch, balancing the explosive qualities of Langford and Schlabowske’s guitars with the brutal rhythmic finesse of bassist Alan Doughty and drummer Joe Camarillo.
Langford’s songs — e.g. “Building Our Own Prison,” “We Know It” and the title track — are bracing sonic slaps in the face. But Schlabowske’s tunes come close to stealing the show, with “Receiver,” “Lucky Fool” and the defiantly fatalistic “DIYBYOB” showcasing his gift for withering wordplay and infectious, fist-pumping choruses. Appropriately for a band that’s become a SXSW favorite, Going Down In History features a welcome pair of Austin-related tunes: an energetic run through the Small Faces’ “All or Nothing,” in tribute to departed kindred spirit Ian McLagan, and a hearty reading of Jon Dee Graham’s “Orphan Song,” which becomes a stirring anthem of political solidarity in the Wacos’ hands. — SCOTT SCHINDER