Lionel Richie’s “Tuskegee” is Big Country Embarrassment
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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May 13, 2012 @ 2:18 pm
It’s a crass demo grab. Pathetic..
May 13, 2012 @ 2:22 pm
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!!!!
May 13, 2012 @ 7:51 pm
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..
May 13, 2012 @ 7:53 pm
* one of those gang bang porn stars*
May 14, 2012 @ 7:32 am
I think it is unfair to position gang-banging porn stars with this….
May 13, 2012 @ 2:38 pm
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.
May 14, 2012 @ 9:15 am
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.
May 13, 2012 @ 4:49 pm
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…
May 14, 2012 @ 11:55 am
May 13, 2012 @ 6:01 pm
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.
May 13, 2012 @ 6:44 pm
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.
May 13, 2012 @ 7:09 pm
Thanks for reading!
May 14, 2012 @ 7:37 am
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.
May 14, 2012 @ 11:32 am
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.
May 14, 2012 @ 11:34 am
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.
May 14, 2012 @ 12:00 pm
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.
May 25, 2012 @ 3:49 pm
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.
May 14, 2012 @ 3:11 pm
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.
May 14, 2012 @ 3:41 pm
May 15, 2012 @ 4:21 am
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.
May 15, 2012 @ 9:29 pm
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.
May 16, 2012 @ 3:00 pm
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.
August 3, 2012 @ 2:05 pm
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.
January 23, 2013 @ 6:04 pm
well said james! so true.
February 18, 2013 @ 6:49 pm
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.
May 9, 2013 @ 10:40 am
So glad we all have different tastes…world would be boring if we all liked the same music!!! Awesome album!!
May 16, 2013 @ 10:19 am
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.
March 29, 2014 @ 3:53 pm
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
June 24, 2015 @ 9:50 pm
I’m not country but I was always a Lionel Richie fan. This album was awesome. It at least introduce me to country singers and how great they can sound. I know it’s not diehard country; however, it was for the artists having fun and for the fans.
July 8, 2016 @ 6:34 pm
Sour grapes to all of the haters out there. I love this album, beautiful voices and a great collaboration of artists.
William David Jewell
October 24, 2016 @ 9:46 am
Same Here Marie Frank.
Fans of Lionel’s music, as well as, of country’s pop flare, have so much to rejoice about! I find Lionel’s song well written, heart warming, and personal. Of course he wants to make money, he his a human being! This tribute, this consideration for another genre, yea it makes money, and I love it none the less. If you look around you can see most is devised from selfishness, or greed, but I choose to take Lionel’s album as a love for music, appreciation for other artists, a collaborative way to pull people from his genre into other fields of interest. I don’t know why this must be hated on so much. This thread appears almost prejudice because of how narrow minded it is.
Country is never going to be the same from decade to decade, listen to the oldies, but make way for more goodies.
Vyn Dyke. Spain
October 27, 2016 @ 3:59 pm
I’m ashamed to say I heard it for the first time this evening. I love it. LOVE IT. Tough shit all you oldies. The times they are a changing. Move on !
October 8, 2017 @ 8:33 am
I saw Lionel Richie and Friends and it reawakened my love for country music. I have always been exposed to all kinds of music but had drifted away from country. Now I am listening to Shania twain, Martina …Blake Shelton, Luke Ryan, Jennifer Nettles, Darius Rucker, Antebellum, the Band Perry and others every day. I check interview and read about them. You tube is a necessity and I buy their cds. I’ve bought 2 copies of Tuskegee CD and DVD in case one gets damaged.
October 8, 2017 @ 8:37 am
I saw Lionel Richie and Friends and it reawakened my love for country music. I have always been exposed to all kinds of music but had drifted a6way from country. Now I am listening to Shania twain, Martina …Blake Shelton, Luke Ryan, Jennifer Nettles, Darius Rucker, Antebellum, the Band Perry and others every day. I check interview and read about them. You tube is a necessity and I buy their cds. I’ve bought 2 copies of Tuskegee CD and DVD in case one gets damaged.
October 8, 2017 @ 8:46 am
If you listen to Lionel Richie on interviews you will see that he has a genuine love and respect for all the talented people he works with, even those who are just starting out. He learns from them and they learn from him, not just music but his approach to life and the profession. His albums are constantly including new materials without his turning his back on his past. He’ll never stop as long as he lives so let his music play on, play on….Tresa Hart-Williams
March 28, 2019 @ 6:42 pm
I think this article missed the point of the whole album. I don’t think the purpose of this venture was to make an authentic country album, and I definitely don’t think Lionel Richie is trying to officially enter the country genre! I think this album is for Lionel Richie fans, and it is a way to take classic Richie songs from the 80s and reinterpret them into a country-type sound with country artists. It is clear to me that the author of this article and many of the ney-sayers in the comments are not that familiar with Lionel Richie, or you would know that he wrote “Lady” for Kenny Rogers, one of Rogers’ biggest hits, and produced his country album over 30 years ago. Also, many of Lionel’s songs already have a country sensibility and sound to them, take “Easy” or “Sail On”, several years ago before this album ever came out my husband heard me playing the original Sail On from Lionel Richie and asked me why I was listening to country music. Lionel Richie is not just a soul/pop icon from the 80s, which it seems like you all are focusing on, but he is also a prolific songwriter and legend that goes all the way back to Motown, he is simply having a little fun with the songs that he wrote and reinventing them with some country legends who were more than happy to oblige!
August 19, 2022 @ 11:47 am
I just saw this article and I agree with you! I think a lot of these comments are from people that don’t know Lionel’s style or only know him from present day. He wrote Deep River Woman, Lady, etc which became country hits. This is nothing new for Lionel. It’s new for the people that have no clue how diverse his style is.
June 10, 2019 @ 3:27 pm
I like it… 😏
November 14, 2022 @ 6:35 am
WOW…very sad and rude…I love country music and I love Lionel Richie…the collaborations are awesome and very well done…god forbid two different genres sing together 🤦♀️