Album Review: Darius Rucker – Learn To Live
The barometer by which Darius Rucker’s stint as a country artist will be measured isn’t critical acclaim, but rather commercial success. Therefore, it shouldn’t be any surprise that Live To Learn doesn’t break new ground but treads familiar water, despite overtures to the contrary in pre-release press. Throughout twelve songs, Rucker demonstrates that he knows exactly what contemporary country is all about, going so far as to rehash common themes from recent popular songs.
On the album opener, “Forever Road,” Rucker showcases his ability to craft a hook by wrapping up a few cliche phrases with a kitschy line about sticking with his baby “down that forever road.” Indeed, every song on the album sounds as if it were crafted to be a potential single, with solid hooks and melodies aplenty, but at times the phrasing is more focused on selling those aspects at the expense of emotion. The following song, “All I Want,” however, doesn’t have any problem with emotion, rather, the attitude is a noteworthy highlight of the album as Rucker tells the wife he’s leaving that all he wants is “you to leave me alone.”
After the current single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It, which goes by the same title as a Bobby Pinson penned tune and is destined to top the charts soon, is the title track; “Learn To Live” is a prototypical country song replete with cliches galore and a little wisdom from Grandpa Campbell: “You gotta learn and live to learn to live.” And it’s at this point that a dearth of originality becomes readily apparent.
“If I Had Wings” questions the injustices of the world à la Clay Walker’s “A Few Questions,” but the song lacks focus with Rucker merely stating that he’d know the answers to all those questions if he had wings and could fly to heaven. Basically, the message boils down to the only thing standing between Rucker and ultimate knowledge is the lack of a pair of wings. The concept for “Drinkin’ and Dialin'” wasn’t all that interesting when James Otto did it on a song with a nearly identical name, “Drink & Dial,” but where Otto’s interpretation embraced the humor of the topic, Rucker’s interpretation is too straightforward to allow much room for fun–it’s more like a PSA. “While I Still Got The Time” recalls a few different songs when Rucker promises to change his ways on his 39th birthday, claiming “I’m gonna work like I don’t need the money/I’m gonna laugh like I’m not afraid to cry/I’m gonna dance like nobody’s watching/I’m gonna love while I’ve still got the time.”
“I Hope They Get To Me In Time” is easily the most bizarre song on the album. Rucker sings from the point of view of a man who’s lying in a wrecked car as his life flashes before his eyes while hoping that the paramedics get to him in time. It’s a little too over the top to elicit the emotional response it strives for, especially considering Rucker’s rather calm delivery. On top of that, the same scenario was done by the Canadian alternative rock group Bare Naked Ladies on a tune called “Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel,” and like the Otto song, their interpretation outshines Rucker’s because they understand the implications of singing about such a scenario and blend it with their off-color humor (it’s backed by circus music).
The overall sound of Learn To Live is pleasant, if not as country as Rucker insinuated, and the lyrics don’t exhibit many flaws, but the lack of originality, occasional cloudy interpretations, and obvious catering to commercial influences makes for an album that can’t be considered much more than good ear candy.
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