Sugarland Spells ‘Rock’ Bottom For Country

October 29, 2010 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  66 Comments

Normally I don’t pay much attention to the country charts or country sales numbers from top artists, but the current dynamic of new releases has made it an almost daily necessity as Music Row continues to stretch to boost dramatically slumping sales.

With every popularity cycle, there’s a new threat to the integrity of country music. At the end of last year it was Taylor Swift. Earlier this year it was the so-called “new Outlaws”  like Eric Church and Josh Thompson. Now Music Row has stopped trying to dress up pop music as country like they did with Taylor, or trying to capitalize on anti-pop country sentiment like they did with the new Outlaws, and are now going straight forward with pop, period, designed to sell out stadiums in the arena rock mold. No mandolins or fiddles buried deep in the mix like we used to bitch about; the country music fan has been so desensitized, the need for lip service has even evaporated.

At this is moment in time, right now, is where mass-appeal arena pop rock uses the term “country” and the infrastructure of country music to be disseminated. Almost a year removed now from Taylor Swift’s CMA for Artist of the Year, and Swift looks like a traditionalist compared to Sugarland, and their new unapologetically pop album The Incredible Machine.

Despite much controversy over this album and it’s single “Stuck Like Glue,” it is the #1 album in the country right now. One of the controversies is that some radio DJ’s are removing a horrific reggae breakdown in the single. This has caused some to warn about free speech issues, but some DJ’s are insisting they received the single pre-edited.

I could get the Kingsford out and roast this album all day, but y’all know that I am a biased hardliner. So lets see what some other critics say:

From CNN:

Most of us have by now come to accept that modern country music is more a state of mind than a particular sound, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Sugarland’s latest is essentially a full-blown rock album. If only it weren’t, more specifically, a Bon Jovi album. . . When having 15,000 fans wave their cell phones in the air goes from a nifty career aftereffect to the very reason for writing songs, it seems like something is amiss.

LA Times:

…subtlety, nuance and, most disappointingly, substance are checked at the stadium gate as the pendulum swings unmistakably toward sing- and sway-along anthems. The single “Stuck Like Glue” bursts with melodic, instrumental and lyrical hooks in a track as frothy as pop gets. Several other tracks show equally skilled production, but the appeal is all on the surface. . . The new stuff will most assuredly get audiences on their feet; whether it leaves them with anything beyond visceral thrill as they exit the arena is another matter.

Slant Magazine takes it even further, picking apart its substance as a country project, but also questioning its quality as a pop project:

Though its style alone makes it a sure bet to be hailed as progressive by those who only like country music that doesn’t sound a damn thing like country music, and just as sure to be reviled by country music purists, the real problems with the album are with its failures of execution and its inexplicable aesthetic choices. . . Many country fans are going to dismiss the album simply because Sugarland has gone pop, when the far greater issue is that The Incredible Machine is just awful of its own accord.

I’m sure there is a positive review out there somewhere, but I couldn’t find it … for the #1 album in the country! And what do we have to look forward to? Taylor Swift’s Speak Now which was released this week, and will surely claim the #1 spot and hold it for many months ahead. Even the one positive that critics are offering resistance, is counter-balanced by the majority of country fandom taking the Sugarland bait along with the sinker.

This is not John Denver and Olivia Newton John ruffling feathers by winning country awards like they did in the 70′s. This isn’t Garth Brooks flying over stadiums on wires. This isn’t Rascal Flatts rehashing classic rock songs, or even Taylor Swift playing with a fiddle player hidden in a dark corner. This is it. This is the bottom of the slippery slope, the payoff for years of desensitization and subtle creeping toward pure pop and arena rock where no more tributes to the traditions of country are necessary. Country is now the default term for any music with mass appeal made by white people.

Country is pop. Country is arena rock. And Sugarland’s Incredible Machine is country music’s ‘rock’ bottom.

66 Comments to “Sugarland Spells ‘Rock’ Bottom For Country”

  • something about all this reminds me of the NRA stickers that say “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”.

    someone help me out… “if country music is outlawed, only outlaws will like country”? i’m not sure that’s quite right, but i think it might be close.

  • Jesus, after listening to that musical tripe I can’t fathom how someone could possibly enjoy listening to it. All I could think during the “breakdown” is where the fuck is M.C Hammer? The song basically has no redeeming content and in no way shape form or fashion is it country in the least little bit. Absolutely Terrible.

  • I have said before (I don’t think it was here though) that the worst day in rock history was the day MTV debuted Nervana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit & the best was the day kurt Cobain died. Now we have seen the worst day in Country music history. Maybe it won’t take 6 or 7 years for the best.

  • If even pop-country can’t be called “country” anymore…. and we all know that pop-country really sucks. I haven’t had the doubtfull pleasure of hearing Sugarland, and reading the above sure makes me hope that the DJ on our national Dutch radio who really liked the country-sound of Taylor Swift, will not start playing Sugarland.
    But then, if pop-country goes completely to pop or rock, does that put the “country” back with its feet on the ground, maybe even opens the backdoor for the country-music we call the “real country-songs” (Dale Watson). The death of pop-country actually could save country-music. Call me a hopeless romantic….
    Triggerman, do you have some kind of a list of songs about country-music, in the line of Nashville Rash by Dale Watson?? I know a few, but I’m always interested in this kind of songs.

    • Nashville Rash, Country My Ass, Real Country Song – all by Dale Watson
      Trashville, Dick In Dixie, Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand) – Hank III
      Dark Bar & A Jukebox – J.B. Beverley & the Wayward Drifters
      If It Ain’t Broke – Whitey Morgan & the 78s
      Damn the Luck – Lucky Tubb & the Modern Day Troubadors
      50 Years Too Late, In Nashville, TN, This Ain’t Montgomery – Joey Allcorn
      My Outlaw Heroes – Red Eye Junction
      The Conversation – Waylon & Hank Jr.
      Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way – Waylon
      Family Tradition – Hank Jr.

      Some of these are a little stretch, but I consider all of them to be “outlaw” themes.

      • Good List Aran!

        • Thanks Triggerman.

          Ballad of Scumbag Country by Hellbound Glory
          Me & Paul by Willie Nelson are a little more of a stretch, but I still think of them in the same vein.

          • Thanks for this list, I’ll go check it out as far as I can find the songs.
            Fuck This Town by Robbie Fulks has been on my list as well. But I think there must be more.

      • Maybell’s Guitar – The Carter Family III

        “The music’s dead & cold down on music row Bill’s mandolin is silent Mother Maybell’s guitars sold. They traded country’s soul for a pocket full of gold…”

    • Murder on Music row was always one of my favorites:


      • Fuck my ears. I could only take 30 seconds.

  • This is a symptom of a far greater problem than people liking shitty music. The real problem is the systematic stupefying of our population being carried out by big money and huge corporations. It’s the same reason that so many people vote against their own best interests. Your average working man or woman lacks the energy and motivation necessary to have independent, intelligent thoughts because they’re too busy getting reamed at work and bombarded with media messages telling them to just enjoy their shit-sandwich lives, go to church, vote Republican and everything will be just fine.

    If I was that guy in the video, I would have jumped out the fucking window right after I smashed that asshole’s guitar.

    When a culture’s music is lifeless, dull, pathetic crap, that culture is bound for more trouble than just having nothing decent to listen to on the radio.

    • “When a culture’s music is lifeless, dull, pathetic crap, that culture is bound for more trouble than just having nothing decent to listen to on the radio.”


      Like I always say, this really has nothing to do with music. Music is just the excuse to talk about inherent problems throughout culture.

    • Dave, your comment just made me think of this Bill Hicks bit.

      “Go back to bed America, here’s American Gladiators.”


    • Man, you said it. I call it the “American Idolization” of music. Bad bad news.

      • huh…?

        • “the systematic stupefying of our population being carried out by big money and huge corporations.”
          “When a culture’s music is lifeless, dull, pathetic crap, that culture is bound for more trouble than just having nothing decent to listen to on the radio.”

          These are the statements specifically I was referring to. I think American Idol, dumbs down the music consumer, much the same way pop radio does, by shoveling a very narrow spectrum of music down the public’s throat until they think it’s what they WANT. “American Idolization” = dumbing down.


    • “media messages telling them to just enjoy their shit-sandwich lives”

      Sorry to be so late to the table, but this. This is the core of so much country music. Just listen to that “Alright” song by Darius Fucker, where he’s like “i can’t afford a restaurant, but I have a box of spaghetti and some cheap wine. I can’t afford to take you out on a date, so let’s go to the river and look at stars. I can’t afford a concert, so I’ll just listen to my cds. And it’s alright., it’s alright because I have a roof over my head and shoes under my feet.” I mean, WTF, that’s only “alright” if you spent the last two years homeless. For ordinary people, that’s considered “bare minimum” and probably “piss-poor”.

      • You know what my problem is with the whole, ” We’ll just go country ” thing?! Hootie jumped on that bandwagon and followed the money trail, and is now singing songs like this?!

        People who know what it’s like to not have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of don’t need pseudo-country singers reminding them how much they don’t have. The strategic formula of Holly-Nash is gonna come crumbling down (already is) and I am happy about it. But watch, like Triggerman has said countless times before, they’ll start bringing out the “real” country and act like they discovered it all by them lonesomes HA!

        AND . . . if Hootie even wrote those lyrics, then I’d like to know why he’s so broke when he has all that support and backing from music row.

        Anyone? Anyone?

        • I by no means am a Rucker fan (nor was a Hottie fan) but we need to be careful of the accusations we toss around and we can’t think that there is no way someone can be “real country” if they didn’t start out in country.

          Perhaps Rucker has always been a country music guy, but his path took him through Hottie. I don’t know. I am not going to pretend I know him enough that I can say he doesn’t know what struggle is like or he is just cashing on country.

          Let’s not forget Conway Twitty was a rocker before he was country Conway. Other legends weren’t always their legendary self either.

          We have to be careful not to forget some of the past just because it doesn’t look so good.

  • Just kill me now. As the great Dale Watson sings… “that’s country my ass…”

    • …with HANK III sittin in! RIGHT?

  • What’s the deal with the singers’ voice? It sounds thick, like she’s singing loud, but it is still devoid of any edge or imperfections. It’s like it’s been computer generated, I guess.

    • Yeah, her voice drove me crazy too. Sound like she’s signing with her jaw unhinged, like she has her mouth open as wide as possible and singing on top of the note instead of on it. Autotune makes appearances on this album.

  • That was the best article I have read on here in 8 months of viewing this site. Well done. “This is the bottom of the slippery slope”… Perfect.

  • “Our culture has been bled, and poetry is dead. Police beat it to the ground, and shot it in the head.” -Star Fucking Hipsters

  • aaaaHaaHa ha… Lets all paste handcuffs, a skull ring and a wrist tattoo on “HAPPY FACE” and make HIM an “OUTLAW”, WooooHoo! TRASHVILLE just gave us the formula to make a (COUNTRY?) hit. We’ll rule the airwaves now! nnyah-ah-ah-ah-ah…

  • I showed the video to my mom. In less than 1 minute she walked away shaking her head. She said only one thing “That’s dumb”.

  • This is bad for all music what American music has become in general is bad have you tryed to listen to a rock station and music critics are starting to see that nothing on the radio reflects real country music.

    reggae breakdowns were cool for the clash because the clash were a punk & reggae group and it should be left to reggae & ska bands not sugarland and autotune thats just another disgrace all by itself all of music needs saving not just country even punk music has been taken over by these emo kids.

    • Nothing wrong with reggae, or reggae breakdowns. What is wrong with the reggae breakdown here is not that its reggae, but that it is in horrible taste, and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the song whatsoever.

      Reason reggae and punk work so well together is because they have the same chord progression. The bones of the music are the same. Reggae and country, not so much.

      • Exactly I’m a punk just as much as i am a hillbilly i own as many Jimmy Cliff & Ramones records as i do Johnny Cash & Bill Monroe but i heard this shit and it was so bad i went deaf for a little while.

  • I can’t even watch it . . . I’m too scarwed.

  • I was wondering what’s your take on Taylor Swift’s Speak Now album, which also seems to be veering toward the pop arena, much like the Incredible Machine?

    • I might have a full blown review for Taylor’s new one coming up, and Taylor doesn’t need to veer anywhere to be pop. But honestly, Sugarland is a step worse than Taylor. Taylor is what she is, and her new album really doesn’t mark some sea change in sound. Sugarland used to have at least some semblance of roots in their music, now their is nothing. They’re not even being themselves, which is the greatest sin.


  • on the amazon charts for progressive and outlaw country, it had our album listed as #9 on the bestseller chart…i was thrilled to see that..then i looked at it and saw sugarland at #2, and did my own recalculations…the way i figure it, we’re at #8.

    • See, that’s the problem. As I always say, pop music has its place in the world. Someone has to make music for 14-year-old girls to sing into their shampoo bottles to. But that place is not country, and it knocks all the real country artists fighting for attention down a notch. Pop charts are for pop. Country charts are for country. Why is this so hard to understand?

  • godammit I can’t even finish listneing to this shit.
    This trash makes “Twinkle Little Star” sound like
    a classic rock anthem.
    I literally could puke after what I have hear here.

  • P.S. I love ya Triggerman, but currently I am actually angry
    at you for introducing me to this tripe, this whore of a
    song that is beyond repulsive.
    If I was suicidal this would be the one that would place
    the shotgun in my own mouth.
    This feeling will pass, but this ficking shit is so bad I
    cannot even put it to words.

    • haha . Nice Pete. By the way, your new album is your best to date! Love the punk rock edge. I played a tune on the last episode! Great stuff.

      • hey thanx Josh, glad ya like and thanx for the continued support..
        I agree, I have higher hopes for this than any of my previous
        and the verdict seems to be coming in that way.
        This one was a longtime in the making.

      • listening to the episode now Josh, and am reminded that i need to listen to your shows more often..great music! …and “renegade” after waylon..don’t see how it gets any better, thanx bro!

  • This is absolute, pure, SHIT! Someone probably said that already. I don’t know how it’s possible, but this song gets fucking worse as it goes on. I feel embarrassed for THEM listening to this. It’s that fucking bad.

    • I’ll take your word for it, Felix.

    • Felix, it’s so fucking horrendous i want to stick my head in a stove

  • I disagree with this article about the “rock bottom”. I think “mainstream music” can, and will, get much worse. Who would have predicted this ten years ago?

    The trick is caring, which I don’t. If someone digs this stuff, then knock yourselves out. I choose to not pay attention, and instead devote my time to things I like to listen to. To each his own.

    • Mainstream music probably will get worse, but my point was even with previous versions of pop country, there was at least some element of country thrown in there, however contrived it was. Now there is nothing.

      And yeah, I choose to spend my time listening to other stuff as well. But if the “other stuff” can’t make any money, then at some point it will cease to exist as these players get older, have kids, and need to support families.

      • Good point Triggerman. I hadn’t thought about it quite like that before.

      • Exactly, Trigger. That’s why it does indeed matter that in spite of all the good music which can be found “underground”, on the internet, etc, that none of it is getting play in the “mainstream”, i.e., country (or so-called “country”) radio.

        Prog rock is still being made-very little of it, to be sure-but who knows? Who will ever hear it? I’m not sure anyone’s missing much-the heyday of the really great stuff was the Seventies-but if there were to be an unknown prog band of real genius out there, how could they last and inspire others, when others will never hear of them? (And that’s ignoring the issue that arguably, rock has died). Music has to come from underground for oxygen, or it will suffocate, or look like those puny plants which hardly get any sunlight. I wish with all my heart that it didn’t matter, but eventually, it does.

        • Although bluegrass has managed to thrive outside of the mainstream. I’d have to ponder more to work out just how it has managed to do this. Maybe the fact that a lot of the greats, as in founders, have only until recently been there to help keep the flame alive, and it never really came from into the mainstream (discounting the fluke of “Oh Brother”), so learned to somehow survive on the moon.

  • [...] is groundbreaking with either this Jason Aldean single or Colt Ford, or the new Sugarland album for that matter. These acts want to use their wildly transparent reaches into the pop market as [...]

  • That song Stuck Like Glue sucks even for a pop song.

  • When I first saw the video to this song on GAC a couple months ago, I texted a buddy saying we have reached the bottom. This is the bottom. This is where any stretch, by anyone to make this album/song “country”, won’t work.

    I never understood the draw to this band. Ever. You can excuse artists like Swift, Chesney, Shania, etc… I mean, they had either some talent, some look, some voice, something that a large fanbase liked… these two have none of anything. They gained fans by a duet with Bon Jovi.

    Just like Garth may have been the spark for a new wildfire back in 1989-90, this is the water on that fire that has raged completely out of control. It has imploded on itself and these two are to thank.

    So for all real country fans, don’t be upset, don’t curse them, but say Congrats Sugarland! and thank you, you have put an end to pop country. Your climb to the top has been recognized and your so awful, no one will want to make music that is remotely associated to your sound.

    • Man I hope you’re right, but I was saying the same thing about Taylor Swift a year ago. I know I’m kind of contradicting myself here, but in the few days since I wrote this, I can truly see how things might even get worse.

      • Taylor was for teenie boppers. Had a run, but she has to come up with more than a break up at 15yrs. old to keep things rolling through another year.

        Sugarland is a fucking joke.

        I can’t imagine going to one of their shows. I seriously wouldn’t go for any less than someone paying me $1000.00. Is that a sellout? No, I would just take the $1000, drink like it was a DAC show and end up not remembering a thing anyway.

        • I don’t know man. They’re saying the album she released last week has already sold a million copies.

  • “Down with Pop Country” Down with Country and pop for that matter! People are so critical about sugarland. The steampunks say they are not steampunk enough. Mainstream idiots say its weird. I agree they shouldn’t call it country, but at least they are trying something new!

  • All I want to do-Oooooo-ooooooo-Oooooo is punch a small child after listening to that. Their first “hit” record was awful, this is beyond bad…it truly insults the intelligence of music lovers.

  • All “country music” sucks. It’s fucking horsehit noise. Sugartits is the worst of the worst. Having to listen to this inbred drivel everyday at work is making me lose my mind. I hope all you cowboy hat wearing retards enjoy slopping around in the pigsty your tasteless lame ass fucking music. Stupid goddam sister fucking hillbillies.

    • Please learn us what good music is then, Ropeagoat.

  • Aaaa get me some earplugs

  • Country music drives me to drink and jump
    off a bridge……hey i think there is a song here

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