This story has been updated.
Alabama is getting ready to release what ostensibly is their first new studio album in nearly 15 years, yet the buzz around this upcoming project seems to be somewhere between muted to virtually non-existent. Over thirty #1 singles, three consecutive Entertainer of the Year awards back in the 80’s, and aside from the core fandom of the band, frankly nobody seems too excited, or even aware the new album is on the way.
Maybe that says something sad about where country music is today, or maybe it speaks to the mixed legacy of Alabama. The only reason Alabama wasn’t known as a pop country band in their day is because nobody really knew what pop country was during that era. Many of their hit singles were pretty simple compositions and concepts, and many were songs about songs, or music—“Song of the South,” “Mountain Music,” “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas.” But Alabama is also like the CCR of country; you start digging through their collected works and it’s just one song after another that was a super hit on radio, and reminds you of a by-gone time and a warm memory, just like a country song is supposed to do. They knew how to hone in on a good melody and put a popular sentiment behind it, and were as good or better than anyone at it in their era.
Alabama is easy to pick on and hard to hate, and they’re members of the Country Music Hall of Famers, and deservedly so. But I can’t imagine a more jarring and ill-advised way to end their 15-year recording hiatus than with the title track of their upcoming September 18th release, “Southern Drawl.” For the people who’ve been pointing to Alabama as the precursor of Bro-Country, well you just got a glowing piece of evidence toward your argument delivered to you on a silver platter, with fireworks shooting out of the centerpiece, sparklers lining the sides, and spotlights shooting straight down on it. “Southern Drawl” is a formulaic, aggressively laundry list, stereotypical Bro-Country song if there ever was one that is so embarrassingly pandering in nature it carries the unintended gift of accidental comedy.
From the “We Will Rock You” intro, to the obnoxious overdriven arena rock guitar, to the awkwardly and uncharacteristically non-synchronous performances by Alabama founding members Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, and Jeff Cook, “Southern Drawl” isn’t just bad, it’s something that makes you wish you could go back and completely erase it from your country music consciousness lest it run rampant through your memory and sully any rosy regards you had for Alabama’s past accomplishments. Yes, it’s that terrible.
If Maddie & Tae were standing to the side of the stage with their checklist, every square would be marked by the end of “Southern Drawl.” Beer, trucks, backroads, the interjected praising of the troops thrown in—it’s all here. Alabama even piped in a crowd cheering for them throughout the track. I mean the hubris of this thing. And listening to these guys trying to emulate the melody-vacant rhythmic pentameter of a modern Bro-Country song is like the country music equivalent of some 60-year-old original-era rappers coming out with clocks around their necks trying to perform modern hip-hop. Word to your mother. Alabama is just completely out of their element, and can barely keep up with the instrument track.
If you needed any more evidence that 2015 is the year of selling out in country music, this is it. Alabama waited 15 years to premier this? And the thing about selling out is that you better be successful with it because otherwise you alienate your core fans and still don’t reap the rewards of a commercially-successful move. This is the unfortunate place so many country artists who entered 2015 with their dignity still in tact are finding themselves in, and you can add Alabama to the list. “Southern Drawl” was premiered by Billboard on September 3rd, and by the time of this review, still hadn’t received even 2,500 listens on SoundCloud. 15 years, and this is the amount of enthusiasm and anticipation Alabama can draw for this song.
“Southern Drawl” will be one of the worst songs to be released in country music in all of 2015. The album Southern Drawl can only be better than this first song, because it would be impossible for it to be any worse. “Southern Drawl” not only fails to create any bit of interest for their new album, it even fails to live up to even the most modest accounts of Alabama’s legacy.
Two Guns Way Down! (0-10)