The title of Deer Tick's new album, Divine Providence, is a pun: The band hails from the capital of Rhode Island. But the other side of the pun is sarcastic. There's little on the album concerning divine providence or care. Nor is the band provident — frugal or prudent — about its talent and music. Group frontman John McCauley continues to sing as though the primary idea is to shred his vocal cords. And on this album, the idea is to convey something of the band's live performances, a headlong mixture of loud guitars and cover songs, plus originals that remind you of songs it might cover.
Deer Tick channels its inner Ramones in "Let's All Go to the Bar." The music on Divine Providence is pickled in alcohol; songs that don't contain references to drinking sound as though they were recorded under its influence, if not both combined. But it's not alcoholic music; that is, made without control or an awareness of what's at stake in committing to this pose. The booze fuels both frantic moments and more contemplative ones. This is the first Deer Tick album on which other members of the band besides McCauley regularly come front and center to sing. Bass player Chris Ryan does a fine job in "Clowning Around," a song about a guy who knows his jaunty exterior isn't fooling anyone close to him about the melancholy he's feeling or the devils that haunt him.
The prettiness of "Clowning Around" is an exception on this album, however. Most of the time, Deer Tick is happy to summon up the influences of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Replacements. (A bonus track buried a full half-hour after the disc supposedly ends is "Mr. Cigarette," written by The Replacements' Paul Westerberg.) Then there's Deer Tick's Phil Spector-meets-Rod Stewart mash-up, a fine mid-tempo rocker called "Main Street."
Still in his 20s, McCauley has been influenced by some good stuff — in concert, he's been known to have Deer Tick cover music by Hank Williams, John Prine and Michael Hurley. The group has occasionally done entire sets devoted to renditions of Nirvana songs, advertising these performances under the band name Deervana. You can listen to Divine Providence and dismiss it as a juvenile party record. After all, "The Bump" features the shouted chorus, "We're full grown men but we act like kids." True enough, as far as it goes. But as Deer Tick has proved in the past, and probably will elaborate further in the future, this is also a band, attuned to using its music to work out various kinds of pain — the pains you can't just numb with a lot of whiskey and some slashing guitar chords.
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