There was a time when Lynyrd Skynyrd's music was tough. It had drive and force; it was impossible to ignore. But last year's Al Kooper-produced Nuthin' Fancy revealed the band's soft underbelly and Gimme Back My Bullets, produced by Tom Dowd, is an extension of its predecessor. It starts strong but fails to deliver.
The title track is powerful — relentless, a little dangerous — with lead guitar wailing urgently behind one of the angriest Ronnie Van Zant vocals yet recorded. Melodic, tumbling guitar figures introduce "Every Mother's Son," providing fuel for another standout Van Zant performance — this one appropriately understated and searching. The decline begins with the next song, "Trust," which sounds pushed out. J.J. Cale's "I Got the Same Old Blues" closes side one and is a mysterious choice. Similar in structure to the vastly superior title track, the Cale tune is given a brash treatment by the band but ultimately has no force.
Side two offers a pair of fine rockers in "Double Trouble" and the raucous "Searching," but three other songs don't register. I appreciate the sentiment Van Zant expresses in "All I Can Do Is Write about It" — i.e., keep the concrete out of the country — but his vocal here is punk, like the song's title, rather than heartfelt.
Dowd gets credit for coaxing uniformly inspired performances from the musicians (particularly Artimus Pyle, who comes on like gangbusters after sounding notably timid on the previous album), but neither he nor they can overcome such poor material, fully half of which I couldn't have imagined Lynyrd Skynyrd recording two years ago. There is inertia here. Lynyrd Skynyrd is a good band in limbo.