Perhaps the biggest difference between Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood and Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose — though there are many — can be found in the ways they handled albums that were long in coming. Rose obsessively retooled Chinese Democracy in 14 studios over 13 years, all the while stringing along fans with empty promises of a finished album. Hood was considerably more low-key about his solo project, Murdering Oscar. He wrote half the songs back in '94, recorded the album in 2005, and pretty much let it lie until he had the opportunity to release it this year. The only major change he made was adding one song.
"The thing about this record is, for the most part I left it alone," Hood says. "I wrote 'Pride of the Yankees' later, which I think that alone probably made it worth the four-year wait. ... This is possibly the most accessible record I've ever made. So it was always kind of funny to me that I had so much trouble finding it a home."
Given how many years have passed since Hood wrote the first of these songs (15) and since he recorded them (four), the album is a time capsule for his personal and creative life. "I would've given anything to have had the opportunity to make a record in '94," he says. "At that time, a day of studio time might as well have cost a million dollars for how broke I was and how far I was away from being able to afford it."
The early-'90s, pre-Truckers songs in the bunch are darkened by grunge's self-destructive angst and a young man's vehement rejection of domesticity. "Heavy and Hanging" is sung from the point of view of the electrician who discovered Kurt Cobain's body, with a leaden, rubbed-raw melody and guitar riffs sinking into a caustic sludge. "Belvedere" is a lascivious fantasy involving a schoolgirl. "It almost didn't even make the record," Hood says. "Even though I liked the song a lot, I wasn't really comfortable with what it said and how it said it." The disturbingly benign-sounding "Screwtopia" invites a woman to surrender herself to a lifelong suburban prison.
No doubt singing these songs now feels a little different for Hood. "Of course, the irony of that was not lost on me when I made this record in '05," he says. "It was two weeks before my daughter was born, and I would come home and my house was full of baby shit everywhere, strollers and assembling cribs and stuff like that, my wife in full nesting mode painting the baby's room. And I'm recording 'Screwtopia.'"
The newer songs, on the other hand, sound as though they're coming from someone who can actually imagine being contented with family life. "I Understand Now" puts a fine point on the change in perspectives. "Grandaddy" is nostalgic for the future joys of grandparenting. Together, the older and newer tunes make for a singular and jarring sort of symmetry.
Part of the appeal is hearing Hood incorporating genres that people don't generally associate with this purveyor of loose, muscular Southern rock. He admits to "running like hell" from grunge for years before giving it a second chance here. "There were so many bad bands that came along in the wake of Nirvana and Pearl Jam," he says. "After that, all of a sudden it was Bush and Nickelback."
Murdering Oscar is an occasion for contemplating why musical styles, songs, or life perspectives end up falling by the wayside. "Grunge was bound to have a limited shelf life, because once the flannel shirt came off, [there's] a real short shelf life," he says. "It's like, 'Dude, put a shirt on, and for God's sake wear some shoes.'"