Country music in 2018: “Man Artist feat. Woman Artist.” Wash, rinse, repeat.
This is one way to get Miranda Lambert back on the radio I guess, releasing Jason Aldean’s “Drowns The Whiskey” as a radio single. Too bad Jason Aldean has to be involved, and too bad the only way virtually any woman gets on country radio these days is being “feat.” by some swingin’ D. The whole order of how music is recorded and released in not just country, but in all popular music is being realigned, where it’s a just series of WAV files from different superstars being traded and swapped like fantasy football picks back and forth between Nashville and the two coasts until the ideal pairing for radio/playlist/chart placement is attained. It’s like the Marvel universe for music, and don’t worry, the moment when each song has six or seven superstars each a la The Avengers: Infinity War is in the offing.
Jason Aldean deserves credit though. He easily could have chosen this duet to be with some mega pop star you’ve never heard of with 17 million Instagram followers and an attitude like they deserve to be massive in country, similar to who we’re seeing most country males select for their duet partners these days. It’s nothing short of embarrassing that Miranda Lambert—the most awarded artist in ACM history—can’t crack the Top 10 without latching on to someone as unsavory as Jason Aldean. But the only way we’ll ever break out of this cycle is by country artists helping their own, not aiding and abetting the denizens of pop which only goes to promoting the wrong side of the radio dial.
The problem with “Drowns the Whiskey” is not the pairing of Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert, as unappetizing as it might be for some Miranda fans (most Aldean fans won’t care). The song is probably one of the better, and more country selections off of Aldean’s new album Rearview Town, though that may be more of an indictment of the depravity of that album than praise for the quality of this song.
The problem with “Drowns The Whiskey” is it tries to exist in two worlds, failing to appeal to either wholeheartedly, and in one of those worlds it is incredibly overwrought and formulaic. At its heart, “Drowns The Whiskey” is definitely a country song. It’s about heartache so deep, not even alcohol can numb the pain. This is the baseline for so many country songs over decades, and something better to hear than the happy and sunny disposition of so much of today’s country. But that’s also the problem with it. Perhaps to a 23-year-old whose grown up on Florida Georgia Line, a song like this feels unfamiliar and fresh. But if you’re an actual country fan who listens to actual country music, this song was overdone by 1984, and there’s plenty of other versions of it to enjoy by people not named Jason Aldean.
Also, the production of this song is all wrong. By trying to straddle the line between traditional and contemporary, you don’t really fulfill the wishes of either. The style is traditional, and even features a little steel guitar if you listen intently enough. But the electronic drums and synthesized music bed makes it entirely unappealing to traditional ears, while the fuddy duddy, mid-tempo nature of it will be found as fault by today’s “country” listeners of the radio mindset.
None of this will result in a bum track though. “Drowns The Whiskey” will shoot straight to #1 because it’s Jason Aldean. At this point, pop country is no more than cheering of laundry in sports. Artists like Aldean are rewarded simply for showing up and having a fan base. Unless you’re a woman that is. Then you’ve got to hitch your wagon to some puffy dude in nut huggers like Jason Aldean to make it past the radio oligarchs.
“Drowns The Whiskey” neither elevates Jason Aldean’s standing as an authentic country artist, nor does it drop Miranda Lambert’s standing as one of the more authentic artists from the mainstream. It has just enough from both sides of the country music divide to be rendered benign, unexceptional, and ultimately inconsequential in the grand scheme aside from getting both Aldean and Lambert to #1, and probably giving Miranda yet another nomination to look for come awards show time for “Musical Event of the Year.”
“Drowns The Whiskey” is just another single, but the production is really where it edges into the negative. It could have been a good introduction to the heartbreak of a real country song to this current generation of mainstream country fans. Instead they’ll just sing along mindlessly, picking up on buzzwords like “whiskey,” “Tennessee,” “girl,” and “80 proof,” without really consciously minding what the song is about. But ultimately there are much worse offenses out there to worry about, and much better songs out there to laud.