Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Bland, The Bad, and The Godawful: Worst Country Singles of 2012 (so far)

Warning: ranting ahead.

For the most part, I don't see the point of writing incredibly negative reviews of songs or albums. If I don't like a song or album I will usually just not write about it; I am simply not passionate enough in my hatred to waste the time. I understand the need for people to make a living and provide for their families, and sometimes that means you have to compromise when you don't want to. But the people on this list (and quite a few of those behind the scenes and not necessarily on the screens) live wealthy lifestyles that are incomprehensible to most of us. But they, or their label, or whoever, still choose to release the kind of garbage that is gobbled up by the masses all in the name of the almighty dollar -- and with the pure quantity of mediocre to bad stuff out there as evidence -- seemingly without a second thought. Anything even slightly resembling traditional or neo-traditional country music is getting booted out of the mainstream in favor of meaningless fratboy faux-machismo cock-rock, and the change is unfortunately being led by some of the format's neo-traditional stars of yesteryear.

With a tradition as strong and a fanbase as passionate as that of genuine country music (of all stripes), sometimes the creative sloths and posers just need to be called out. I am not saying that everything at mainstream radio needs to be pure country; not at all. But the format is in danger of being overrun by songs about trucks, songs about how "I'm countrier-than-thou and proud of it," and songs that sound like something Nickelback wrote at a session with flushing toilets in the background. Mainstream country music, to no one's surprise who has been paying attention, has become a parody of people born and raised in the rural areas of America's mountains and hills, pastures and fields. And I'm talking about people really from the country, not those in the public exaggerating a persona or attitude because they think it makes them badass or cool, and not those who wear a cowboy hat because it's part of  their "image."

For the record, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have no problem admitting that I was raised in the city by two parents who were both raised in the country. I have at times wished they had never moved away while at the same time understanding the desire within them that made it necessary. Country music is still what I was raised on, and my parents' roots and culture have had a profound impact on my life. And with a few detours along the way, it's still the music I love the most. So bearing that in mind, the following write-ups (which I'll admit are pretty rant-y) are not personal attacks on any one artist or fanbase, they are merely subjective personal opinions that very few will read. And trust me, I know I'm in the minority when it comes to these opinions. Also, for anyone who would say to someone like me, "Just turn off the radio," I'm well aware that there is great country music being made that, while it can indeed be bought and thoroughly enjoyed by the consumer away from radio's reaches, is still not getting the chance at mass exposure that it rightly deserves simply because it digs too deep and too far past the embarrassing cliches. The point, really, when all's said and done, is that country music is better than this, and this is what's being projected to the rest of the world.

Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw - "Whatever Makes You Feel Like A Rockstar" - Two of country music's all time bestsellers and highest grossers released a song about being rockstars, and inspiring their audience to do whatever makes them feel like rockstars. Because that is totally what country music is about. As long as they've been around, these guys may literally be the last great hope of keeping good music, at least a little bit of it country (see: "You And Tequila" and "Better Than I Used To Be"), on the radio, but they insist on most of their output being thoughtless garbage like this that may appeal to the masses and to humanity's need for escapism but in reality is more shallow than the shallowest pop song or a dried up creek. Though they reference the lowly people who "bust [their] butt all week" and apparently have nothing in life to look forward to but the weekend, the song is really an affront to those everywhere with "regular jobs." It's loud, pointless, offensive, faux-escapism. McGraw and Chesney can do better. Verdict: BAD. Sample lyric: Whether your pimped up hangin' in the VIP/ or way up high in the cheapest seat/ Hey pretty mama if you roll with me/ there'll be diamonds in the sky and the radio screen. What?

Tim McGraw - "Truck Yeah" - As much as I hate the song above, "Truck Yeah" is one of the worst songs I've heard in years and the worst single of Tim McGraw's career. Hopes were held high for McGraw's new stuff, as he was quite vocal about looking forward to the "creative freedom" he would have once released from the apparently lock-tight shackles of Curb Records. And this -- this -- is the colossal bag of crap that we get. Worse than Tim McGraw recording it is the fact that it took four people to write it. I could put a pen in the hand of a one year old and they could come up with something more creative than this. But what the songwriters did was come up with something that is the equivalent to what said one year old would release into his diaper and subsequently have the audacity to call gold. And the fact that there is banjo in the mix pisses me off all the more. (FYI: I'd rather listen to Rascall Flatts' "Banjo" than this any day of the week.) I know it's just one song, and his last single was really good, but McGraw has almost lost me completely with this one. Verdict: GODAWFUL. Sample lyrics: Got Lil' Wayne pumpin' on my iPod/ thumpin' on the subs in the back of my crew cab/ Redneck rockin' like a rockstar/ Sling a little mud off the back, we can do that. Yup, I am serious.

 Brantley Gilbert - "Kick It In the Sticks" - Brantley Gilbert is not even pretending to play country music. He's just backwoods-ing up the lyrics to his favorite Nickelback songs and throwing them out there to contaminate the country airwaves. This song honestly sounds like something I would listen to when I was seventeen and thought I was cool, angsty and angry at the world (or a girl). Jason Aldean has recorded many of the songs written by Gilbert in the past, but thankfully he's never recorded anything as bad as this or "Country Must Be Country Wide." I'm not even a huge Jason Aldean fan (though I do like several of his singles), but I think Aldean's got more talent, charisma, and country sensibility in his goatee hair than Gilbert does at all. Also, I've seen him live opening for Eric Church and the guy simply cannot sing. Of course, that might have something to do with the loud, obnoxious noises coming from his band behind him. How can anyone hear over that, even with a monitor? After this, I hate to say, surefire number one, I really hope Brantley Gilbert returns again to songwriting obscurity. Verdict: GODAWFUL. Sample lyrics: So pop a top and drop a tailgate/ Yeah we crankin' ACDC, Hank, Skynyrd, and George Strait/ Where's the girls? Bout to call them up/ A little southern drawl said "Hey trouble what's up?" I mean, lyrics like this are enough to make you think God himself has given up on country music.

Chris Cagle - "Got My Country On" - I think this actually came out in 2011, but still. Can Chris Cagle come off as any more desperate to be relevant again? Could he not make a decent living touring and playing to a couple thousand people a night who'd overpay to see him just to hear the three songs of his they know? Instead he releases a song about how country he is and how awesome the weekend will always be for the blue-collar working man. If that ain't jumping on the bandwagon of what's hot right now, then I don't know what is. Granted, of all the songs there are about the exact same thing, this one sounds better than most. It's just that it's completely unoriginal radio filler from a singer who obviously decided to try and take what he thought would be the easy route back to mild country radio success.Verdict: BLAND. Sample lyrics: Trickin' my truck like a cadillac/ crankin' it up in my cowboy hat/ Rollin' and bumpin' to the man in black. Gotta meet that "namecheck a country legend" quota, eh?

Blake Shelton - "Over" - I think that for me Blake Shelton may be getting easier to rag on because of his media over-saturation. I do like the guy; he has a great voice and has released some excellent tunes. But with "Over" he sounds like he's just trying to capitalize on the success of "She Wouldn't Be Gone," which was in just about every way a better song. He traded that song's passionate vocal for a vocal on "Over" that sounds like he's trying to overcompensate for his lack of passion. Strings cascade and swell throughout the song in an attempt to overcompensate for the song's hollowness and replace it with emotional over-manipulation. Shelton is far from the worst thing on country radio these days, I just wish he'd tell NBC and The Voice to shove it so he can maintain focus on his music, and get back to releasing songs in the same vein as "Austin" and "Ol' Red." I hope we don't lose him completely to lovelorn pop-rock. Verdict: BLAND. Lyrically, the song at least strives to be a little more poetic than is normal for the mainstream.

Craig Morgan - "Corn Star" - I do get the appeal of wanting to release a fun summer song, but as hard as this song tries to get you to like it with it's uptempo beat, light-hearted banjo melody, and "fun" play on words, I can't get over how bad and borderline offensive the trying-to-be-cute lyrics are. Some have called it disrespectful to farmers and women but I won't even go that far. Simply put, it's stupid, cliche, and wishes it was Kenny Chesney's superior "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy." I really don't know what else to say about it. As dumb and as giddy as it seems in embracing the lowest common denominator, it truly is a shock that it didn't catch on at radio. Mr. Morgan can do "fun" better than this; he has before. Verdict: BAD. Sample lyrics: There's gossip in town flyin' around/ she was sunset strippin' for tips in LA/ But that's just a buncha bean growers/ talkin' to the bean loaders/ Ain't got a clue about a corn star. All together now... what?

 Luke Bryan - "Drunk On You" - I used to absolutely hate this song. Let me get that out of the way first. Somehow, though, it grew on me without me ever trying to let it; it's just one of those songs that did, though it is not great by any means. But the reason I decided to still include it on this list is because of the line, "Girl you make my speakers go boom boom." That lyric right there might be worse than anything the Black Eyed Peas have ever put out, and that's saying something. I'm not sure what they could have used in its place, but I would honestly think it's a harmless and decent little love song without it. Other than that the song contains some fair (although admittedly silly as hell) lyrics, some banjo (of course at the back of the mix), and what seems to me authentic emotion. It captures the moment of being transfixed by a beautiful woman quite nicely, and Bryan even sings the words "Good God Almighy," a common expression of gratitude to the Creator when said beautiful woman captures the eye. But I just can't abide the "boom boom" line. And the whole storyline and Bryan's acting in the music video is pretty terrible and hokey, and I still hold "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)" against him because he sank to Brantley Gilbert-level bad with that one. But that's all beside the point. Verdict: BAD.

Dishonorable mentions: (These singers are too young and unproven for me to take seriously. I feel bad even including these little blurbs about them, but like it or not, they have become part of the current "bad mainstream country music" problem. Not to mention, they are in high school; don't quite think I'm in their demographic.)

Scotty McCreery - "Water Tower Town" - Just sounds awkward. He's got potential though. Live a little bit of life, Scotty, and get back to us.

Lauren Alaina - "Georgia Peaches" - I don't get it. Mercifully, it seems mainstream country radio programmers and your average country radio listeners (read: not American Idol fangirls) don't either.