Divine Providence might cause some serious confusion amongst those whose only previous exposure to Deer Tick has been through their 2010 downbeat, deep-blue third album The Black Dirt Sessions. Just who are these lunatics boasting about being “grown men… who act like kids” - as the slightly over-egged “boys are back in town” aggro of opener ‘The Bump”s bar-room boogie puts it?
Despite what the country and folk stylings of the Providence, Rhode Island quartet’s earlier output might suggest, the booze-splattered, foam-mouthed, guitar-thrashing beer monsters who populate these celebrations of unhealthy lifestyles and resolutely un-adult activities are in fact every bit as authentically Deer Tick as the ragged and raw heartbreak-merchants who were in charge on Divine Providence’s predecessor. The pain-blasted, weary-hearted laments on Black Dirt Sessions were, in fact, something of a departure. Now that the hangover has faded, the band’s back in party mode, intent on recreating and capturing their raw and sweaty onstage energy in the confines of a recording studio.
Often, the mission’s a success, creating at least one classic addition to the canon of booze-fuelled rock ‘n’ roll primitivism. A riotous ode to getting hammered, the Ramones-saluting ‘Let’s All Go to the Bar’ is defiantly, proudly dumb, about as subtle as a sledgehammer battering down a locked saloon door, but way too much fun for that to matter. Rain, hurricane, nagging parents, existing acute intoxication: nothing’s enough to discourage the band in their campaign to get wasted. Again.
If novelty tunes and booze talk was all Divine Providence had to offer, its appeal would rapidly diminish. Thankfully, Deer Tick are clever enough to occasionally view the world without beer goggles. Not all of the serious fare works – both the Beatlesian grand balladry of ‘Electric’ and the stark ‘Chevy Express’ (reminiscent of Wilco’s ‘Via Chicago’) are hampered by inexcusably clunky lyrics. But the likes of ‘Clownin’ Around’ – a spooky procession of ghosts, devils and death set to a gracefully gliding folk melody – and the brilliantly unsteady power pop howl of ‘Make Believe’ – fortified by scruffy guitar solos and frontman John McCauley’s increasingly throat-shredding delivery – make up for most of the missteps.
Divine Providence isn’t always clever – the drink-sodden macho bullshit that keeps cropping up isn’t always offset by enough humour. Neither is it exactly a treasure chest of innovation: it’s telling that Deer Tick have chosen to end the album with an un-credited, ramshackle gallop through ‘Mr Cigarette’ by the Replacements, another band prone to hiding their bruised hearts under a tsunami of booze. Then again, brains and originality aren’t everything in Deer Tick’s line of business. At their best, Deer Tick deliver a timely reminder that fun doesn’t necessarily have to translate into a shortage of substance.