Without blinking, I can look you straight in the eye and tell you that Sturgill Simpson is one of the most musically-gifted individuals I’ve ever seen perform. If Sturgill was a baseball player, they would refer to him as a 5 tool guy. He can play, he can sing, he can perform, he can write, and he’s a good dude. But before this song, I probably would have listed Sturgill’s songwriting somewhere farther down the 5 tool list. Not that it was bad, but his stellar Telecaster work and unique vocals are what draw you in first.
The miraculous thing about “Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean” is how many subjects Sturgill touches on while saying so little. This ridiculous “new Outlaw” movement in country, how famous country sons dominate the independent country landscape, the way mainstream labels and producers manipulate artists, and how the system is rigged against authenticity; all these subjects are touched on in a song that when you really boil it down is actually a very personal story about Sturgill and his struggles and choices, and coming to grips with the inherent injustices in life and saying “that’s okay.”
“The most Outlaw thing that a man today can do is give a woman a ring.”
I’m not sure if “Life Ain’t Fair” will go on to be Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year, but I’ll go ahead and unilaterally proclaim this the “Lyric of the Year” (and this is coming from a man who never wants to get married). With a simple statement, Sturgill slays the ridiculous cocksure bravado that brays from the lips of mainstream country’s douche league to cover up for their personal insecurities and lack of authentic cred.
The magic of “Life Ain’t Fair” is the way it trivializes all the issues it raises by simply pointing out the obvious: that life’s unfairness is inherent, and complaining about it or using it as an excuse to not pursue your dreams is foolish. It’s cynical and inspirational all at the same time, and that feat of acrobatics can’t be performed without some acute dexterity and prowess with the pen.
A special note on this song: It was first released in a video through Music Fog in January. Then a couple of weeks ago Sturgill released this song exclusively through BandCamp as a precursor to his upcoming album. I’m not sure if it’s because my brain latched onto the original version first, but I tend to prefer the more open arrangement and the older lyrics of the first version. Sturgill’s guitar is too sweet to bury in a mix. It’s also worth noting that Country Music Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins plays piano on the studio version. But regardless of what version you are talking about, I give it…
Two guns way up!