Song Review – Jason Aldean’s “The Only Way I Know”

jason-aldean-the-only-way-i-knowI know a lot of folks are going to roll up on this review hoping to see a crime scene unfold, hoping that I show no mercy and draw blood on this embarrassment of American country music. But the truth is, I don’t have much to say about it. I’ve got no dry powder here. What could be said that hasn’t been said many times before to the point of being redundant, or that isn’t obvious to the clear-minded listener? And the truth is this song is bad, but it’s not awful. There’s nothing really offensive here. It’s more par for the course for today’s country music. It’s this, or Taylor Swift. That is what passes for variety for mainstream country music fans these days.

“The Only Way I Know” is the self-coronation of Jason Aldean, Eric Church, and Luke Bryan as the new male country music superstar triumvirate. Not entirely off base considering popularity, influence, and commercial success (though Blake Shelton might have something to say about that), this songs and these artists are a fairly spot-on illustration of where corporate country music is today. It’s hard to think that Jason Aldean could loosen his standards any more, but that’s the way his decision feels to include Luke Bryan in this collaboration. Meanwhile what happened to Eric Church being an Outlaw and a rebel? Wasn’t it folks like Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan he was calling out in his song “Lotta Boot Left To Fill?”

Get-ups, gimmicks…
Pretty boys acting tough…
And if it looks good on TV. It’ll look good on a CD.
Shape it up, trim it down. Who gives a damn ’bout how it sounds?
You say you’re the real deal. But you play what nobody feels.

Yep, pretty much sounds like what we’ve got here.

Some have been accusing this of being a country rap song. I’m inclined to respectfully disagree. The verses feature talking and not singing, but they don’t feature the type of cadence that usually connotes rap. As I’ve pointed out before, spoken word and rap are not always the same. You also don’t hear the same hip-hop references to things like booming speakers, or the Ebonic/urban jargon or purposeful mis-speaking like in Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah,” Blake Shelton’s “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” or Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” This song is simply the generic arena rock approach to popular country music that happens to include speaking parts, possibly to benefit from the popularity of the country rap trend, but technically not part of it.

It’s not really a typical “laundry list” country song either, where countryisms are rattled off like rounds from a Howitzer. It has some of those elements, and make no mistake, the lyric “full throttle” is no less cliché these days than “pickup trucks” and “ice cold beer.”

Some critics have tried to glean a message from this song and Jason Aldean’s music as a whole, but they’re missing the point. Aldean isn’t trying to say anything here, he’s simply trying to release a song that will be commercially successful. It happens to be that the message of the song itself is a pretty straightforward story of people from the country working hard and pushing themselves. Aldean doesn’t deserve praise for this because he didn’t write the song. Nonetheless, the lyrics are not terrible.

Jason Aldean has been successful enough now that he doesn’t have to chase the trends, the trends chase him. He’s been making the same generic arena rock and calling it country for many years now, and just happens to find himself as the beneficiary of the flight from substance in popular country music. He’s a shallow man, and this appeals to a shallow world. But “The Only Way I Know” is not Jason Aldean’s worst, nor is it country’s.

1 1/2 of 2 guns down.

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