So here we go again. Another new Jason Aldean album, and another machine gunning of blistering arena rock guitars, braggadocios rural boy aphorisms, self-aggrandizing affirmations of what a badass he is, with very little substance or sincerity delivered between the lines to find enriching. For 15 songs it is relentless, with one of the few saving graces being that no single track stretches over 3 1/2 minutes, and once you’ve heard one, you’ve pretty much heard them all so you can skip around. One after another, it’s low-pitched verses about how hard or badass it is being from the country, leading into doubled up choruses that rise as predictably as the sun into massive Richie Sambora-style cacophonous lyrical and sonic platitudes.
Among other fair criticisms, Jason Aldean has turned in a record that challenges the once thought unattainable achievement of matching Chris Young for the most formulaic and creatively-static “country” music release in history. The guitars are loud, and the drums are punishing, one song after another. At this point, a Jason Aldean record is little more than a collection of new material for him to parade out at live arena shows. Want to know why rock is dead? It’s not just because acts like Limp Bizkit and Nickelback killed it. It’s because Jason Aldean and other arena rockers posing as country acts infiltrated the space, corporatizing and homogenizing it for Music Row’s devices.
Jason Aldean fans don’t listen to records as cohesive works encapsulating the creative muse an artist is immersed in at a given point in his or her career. It’s basically a merch play to hopefully get autographed, and a way to catalog the current radio singles. One new wrinkle to the material on Rearview Town is that Jason Aldean now has taken electronic drum beats and other digitally-produced enhancements and interwoven them with the live instrumentation. The rock drums are still there, but to keep up with mainstream country trends, they add in computerized ticks for that additional over-the-top texturing and busy-ness. It’s all just a mash of sounds coming at you, including in some songs these strange feminine (or synthesized) sighs and calls like something you would hear in the soundtrack of a 90’s-era war strategy RPG or 1st-person shooter game. Jason Aldean is the Vin Diesel of music.
And to top it all off, Aldean also re-introduces the always-polarizing element of rapping in certain songs. The purveyor of the first mainstream country rap hit “Dirt Road Anthem” returns to this approach in what will likely be a radio single, “Gettin’ Warmed Up,” and in other places.
But let’s also give Jason Aldean some due credit. One of the reasons he’s so consistent throughout this record and throughout his career is because he knows what he does well, and sticks to his guns. And yes, he does do what he sets out to accomplish very well. You listen to a Jason Aldean record or see him in concert, the blood will get pumping. He’s singing to the “work hard, play hard” crowd who busts their ass at jobs they hate all week, and want artists like Jason Aldean to help them unwind and swell with pride, and he delivers.
The other consistency in Aldean’s career is his slightly deeper understanding of the rural dwelling condition compared to some of his other pop country contemporaries. Where others love to portray country towns as a Candyland of bonfires, beer, and babes hanging out by the lake all day, Aldean often speaks to the forgotten nature of America’s farm towns, and the hard-fought pride furrowing the brow of the blue collar worker. In the title track of Rearview Town written by Kelley Lovelace, Bobby Pinson, and Neil Thrasher, Aldean sings of a frustrated rural dweller, heartbroken and out of dreams, not just demoralized by the disappearance of his hometown, but further depressed that he’s helping the statistical slide by deciding to leave himself.
Shoving the incredible amount of filler on this record aside, “Rearview Town” is one of a few more interesting moments on this record. So is the first single “You Make It Easy.” It also bucks the trend of sameness with its 6/8 timing, even though the lyrics are pretty stock. “Better At Being Who I Am” written by Casey Beathard, Wendell Mobley, and Neil Thrasher also speaks to something deeper, and something relevant to this record, to Aldean’s life, and to the pressures he’s facing through busybody journalists to speak out about certain things since it was he who was on the stage when the Harvest 91 Festival massacre took place in Las Vegas.
Jason Aldean may be as shallow as a kiddie pool, but it’s hard to portray him as not authentic to himself. And though his consistency is definitely a curse on this record and the creative assessment of his career, it’s also the reason Aldean has found commercial success, and a connection with his fans. They don’t want him out there crying crocodile tears, they want him helping them forget the problems of today for an hour or two, and to help recharge the batteries for another hard fought week.
Another point of intrigue on the record is Aldean’s duet with Miranda Lambert, “Drowns The Whiskey.” Though it might be a slight step up for Jason Aldean, and maybe not the slide some Miranda fans were worried about when it was first announced, the song is still an electronic drums-driven mid-tempo formulaic effort easy to forget, despite the steel guitar. How many times has this song’s theme been done, both in the mainstream and in independent circles? At least Aldean is dueting with a woman in country as opposed to using the opportunity to highlight a pop star like many of his country radio buddies.
Where some recent radio singles from mainstream stars have been a pleasant surprise, including Jason Aldean’s okay “You Make It Easy,” and some recent mainstream albums are at least showing a step in the right direction, you get just about what you expect from Aldean on Rearview Town, with the dogged consistency possibly being the most remarkable wrinkle. Rearview Town would be disappointing if you expected more from him, but you don’t. Because if we’ve learned anything over the years that you can count on, it’s Jason Aldean to be Jason Aldean.
1 3/4 Guns DOWN (3/10)
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