Lionel Richie’s “Tuskegee” is Big Country Embarrassment

May 13, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  28 Comments

This album is not the worst album ever put out in country music, and to be truthful, it’s not even close. With the advent of country rap, “New Outlaw” country, and the laundry list approach to country music in general, pop country now finds itself in a bit of a haven from the harshest of criticisms.

What Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee album does hold the distinction of being is country music’s most embarrassing album put out to date. Never before for any album or artist has country as a community taken such a complicit, submissive role in an artist’s transition from pop.

From mainstream country media outlets covering this album incessantly from conception to release, from the 2011 CMA Awards giving Lionel an eternity in award show time to promote an album months from coming out, to the ACM Awards giving him a full hour-long special that was no more than an infomercial and mawkish tribute to a man that country music owes nothing to, to the country music talent that lined up to let Lionel use them to perpetuate this country music transition, Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee is the biggest ruse ever perpetrated on the people of country music.

But as I pointed out when declaring that Lionel Richie was not country, Lionel Richie isn’t using country music, country music is using Lionel Richie, because mainstream country music is embarrassed about…well… being country. And Music Row’s obsessive need for increasing sales and appealing to new demographics has made them short-sighted to the effect of what an aging pop star with pop songs being branded as country could do for the long-term of the country music brand.

Tuskegee is simply a rehash of Lionel’s Greatest Hits album, and this isn’t meant as a reductive statement, it is simply the truth. The album simply takes all of Lionel’s old hits from the heyday of his career and re-brands them by pairing the songs up as duets with pop country stars with minimal, if any attention paid to reinvigorating or differentiating the original compositions or approaches.

This album is positioned as a “tribute” to Lionel’s hometown of Tuskegee, AL, but the name is as far as this tribute goes, and just like with the music itself, it comes across as transparent, skin deep attempt to appeal to the country demographic without delivering on substance.

There is some country music instrumentation on this album, some soft pedal steel and such. But they are conveyed not as essential elements of the music, but as overlay to pop compositions that are balanced out with the use of synthetic pop elements as well. In an ironic twist in the current country music landscape, country artists who want to transition into the crossover market tend to eliminate all steel, fiddle, and banjo from their music. But when a Lionel Richie or a Darius Rucker decide to transition from pop, they will use a little steel or banjo to attempt to veil the truth that the music is indeed more indicative of the previous genre they’re jumping from.

With such heavy star power on this album, you would expect to be able to distinguish who Lionel’s duet partners were without consulting the liner notes. But this music is so soft, so produced and pallid, it is difficult to tell the difference between Tim McGraw’s and Rascal Flatts’ contributions, or Shania Twain’s or Little Big Town’s. About the only contributions that were easily distinguishable were from the oldtimers like Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson, and from Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland because of how grossly she over-sings on top of the pitch.

This music is not bad for what it is. Lionel Richie wrote or co-wrote most of these songs, and in their time and place, they are well-written, heartfelt songs that speak to everyday people and their emotional struggles and lives. I can see where this album would find appeal. Tuskegee is music for people that don’t listen to music. Lionel came to his success by talent, not by mistake or subversion.

However now in an attempt to rekindle his success, Lionel is resorting to subversion. Do we really need almost identical compositions of the same songs in a music world already beyond glutted with material? Why not try to make these songs country by introducing some waltz beats for example? Add some contrast and creativity to this album. At this point, the popularity of Tuskegee‘s previously-released material can only keep other artists and projects more deserving of attention farther down.

And make no mistake, Tuskegee is a monster of the country music world, and the music world in general. It has already been certified platinum, been #1 on both the country and overall charts, and it’s hard to argue that so far in 2012, it is not the biggest, most important release in country. It is not out of the question that in November, Tuskegee and Lionel Richie, whose already said he wants to make another country album, will be up for major accolades at the 2012 CMA Awards.

All these accolades are an embarrassment for an album that in the end offers virtually nothing new to the music public. This approach is not how the music industry will resolve its financial woes, it is what caused them.

Two guns down.

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28 Comments to “Lionel Richie’s “Tuskegee” is Big Country Embarrassment”

  • It’s a crass demo grab. Pathetic..


  • My first thought was to compare Tuskegee to Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. However, at the time, Ray was taking an enormous risk as an artist. Richie is taking a disappointing safe route as a matter of business. The comparison would be superficial. Aside from that, has anyone ever seen anything advertized online as often as this record? It’s EVERYWHERE!!!!


    • What Ray Charles did was record a love opus to Country music.
      What Lionel Ritchie did was allow himself to be ridden like one of gang bang porn starts so the industry could cash in on the novelty..


      • * one of those gang bang porn stars*


        • I think it is unfair to position gang-banging porn stars with this….


  • Absolutely a cash grab. Nonetheless, Lionel Ritchie’s work has a soothing elevator-music quality, sort of the musical equivilent of slightly chilled 7-UP when you have an upset stomach.


    • I’m not sure if the primary motivation here is cash, or Lionel’s drive to still feel relevant and to re-capture the public eye. Without question, he’s going to make a ton of money here, but he also already has a ton of money. They’ve also spent a ton of money on this release. These numbers are rarely released to the public, but I would bet dollars to donuts there has been more money spent on promoting “Tuskegee” than on any other album in the history of country music, if not music in general.


  • C’mon. Lionel’s soul music was MOR pap. You didn’t really expect his country album to be anything else? Perhaps Billy Ocean can make a country album next. I’d rather have George Clinton or Lee Scratch Perry make one, though. Those guys might turn out a disaster, but at least it would be an interesting disaster. A really interesting disaster.

    It’s not like Lionel is Ray Charles or Otis Redding. I don’t even think he’s Phil Collins. Maybe Michael Bolton…


  • Lionel Richie will always be a pop talent from the 80’s. He is a talented vocalist and pianist and probably is more talented than many proclaimed “country” singers on the charts, but he still ain’t country. Triggerman, you are so right. Why would anyone who had major success want their songs watered down this way. It is embarrassing to everyone involved.


  • I always appreciate the amount of effort and sincerity you put into your reviews. Very well written. Thanks for the insight way beyond the generic over generalization of many critics.


  • The problem is this music is not meant for country music fans. This album is for 13 year old girls who are told what to buy and who have no clue who Lionel Ritchie even is. The few who do probably know him as “Nicole Ritchie’s dad.” This is just another in a long list of embarrassments from Music Row, but guess what it went platinum, so we can be expecting more of this crap. What sums up this album is ” Tuskegee is for people who don’t listen to music.” Great review keep up the good work.


  • Sorry man, but this is no worse than anything from clowns like Kid Rock and Jason Aldean and that fat fucker, Colt Ford.

    Lionel Richie was smart enough to know where the money is hiding…in the same female white audience he appealed to 30 years ago. Sissy music never fails to attract a following whether it has slide guitars or not that that’s the last demographic actually BUYING recordings anymore.

    To me, “Not Country” covers a lot of ground; like being born the pampered offspring of country royalty and dumbing yourself down to appeal to trailer trash and skin heads.

    “Not Country” is inauthenticity. By that standard there is very little actual “Country” left anywhere.


    • We need an edit function on this blog so we can fix all the f-up’s after we post…..I’m too sloppy to get it right the first time.


      • Well luckily I do have an edit button and got your back ;)

        I agree it is no worse than Jason Aldean or Colt Ford. And in some respects, it may even be better. That is why I started this review out as I did.

        You’re totally right, the female demographic is the last bastion of music buyers left, and we should get used to the lion’s share of popular music from now on pandering to them.


        • Dude, I totally get what you’re saying, but don’t slander us like that. I am female and I wouldn’t touch this shit with somebody else’s ten-foot pole.


  • Haven’t listened to it and definitely don’t intend to, this review sounds like the album is exactly what I expected it to be. I’m guessing you haven’t noticed yet but you might want to take the “t” out of “Ritchie” in the article.


  • I think the reason people aren’t buying music nowadays (or less of it) isn’t because of what is produced, it is because of piracy/file sharing, the ability to buy each song on an album individually, and places like youtube where you can hear the song legally, for free.

    Lionel Richie wanted to go country because he is too old for pop. At this point I wouldn’t say that he has gone country. He sang all his songs the same way he did on the pop version.


  • Haha, that album is terrible. I don’t know what else to do except laugh. However, I will say that Lionel is aging well, I really like that photo of him and the design of the cover artwork. Shame it’s wasted on him and this silly release, really.


  • Simply put…the mainstream country music establishment is, and has been for the last couple decades, the whore of music genres…they’ll take on anyone as long as it pays.


  • Isn’t is great that we all have different opinions? And isn’t it great that we all don’t like the same music? What a boring world this would be if everyone like only one type of music. All that being said, I grew up in the 80’s and I listen to all kinds of music…..50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, country music, christian music. I think this album is great and have enjoyed listening to it.


  • well said james! so true.


  • I just cannot believe the negative comments about Lionel Richie’s new music venture. I simply love his music, and it appears that some country artists do also. Hurray for those artists who aren’t afraid to venture into recording timeless classics with a classic himself.


  • So glad we all have different tastes…world would be boring if we all liked the same music!!! Awesome album!!


  • I actually really like the album for what it is, but it most assuredly isn’t country. But very little of what hits country radio anymore is. I’m no purist though, I think country music’s heyday was in the 90’s with bands like Alabama, Brooks and Dunn, Sawyer Brown, Diamond Rio, Blackhawk, Clint Black, Trisha Yearwood, Reba, Shenandoah, and even Shania, Martina, and Faith and many more I sincerely miss (miss since even those still with us aren’t doing the same thing any more).

    I have and listen to the old stuff, but honestly it isn’t my favorite and I think Mandy Barnett can out Patsy Cline Patsy Cline.

    We’ve never had so much talent so well developed and so poorly utilized.

    The points of displacing artists who earned the spot is so true and certainly this is gross commercialization. In the end though music row is catering to the worse tastes we have unfortunately developed. Shame on all of us. Shame on anyone that bought Big and Rich’s first album and allowed the hoards of trash in the door.


  • Are you kidding me? It is sold out at every chain store like Walmart, Target, Kmart! I had to go to FYE to purchase the CD and I hate the mall!!!!! I played it for co-workers who hate country and they loved it so much they were like where can we buy this cd??? Stop critizing a country spin on the most beloved songs for fans is the best ever and for non fans too


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