Nothing Much Goin’ on Around Here: Jason Aldean Makes Nowhere Big Business
He doesn’t sing about much. Not really. Back water towns with water towers, driving with no place to go, working with one’s hands, no real arc for what the future holds, needing to believe and finding little to put one’s faith in. An American Dream that’s faded, now torn and shrinking. The will to survive when thriving seems beyond possible, but without the Springsteen heroics of a blue collar flipped up to the cold wind.
Except for Jason Aldean and his tribe, who most certainly are in the 47%. They’re the weeds in the cracks, post-rural teens and 20-somethings refusing to buckle, even if their future is being traded away, jobs being sent to where labor is cheap and the people doing it live like dogs. In the final verse of his new Night Train’s “Nowhere Town,” he celebrates yet another nail in the coffin of in their future. But rather than rage, there’s an almost unaware notion of making the best of what can’t be changed: “That old abandoned factory just got the wrecking ball/We threw a party in the parking lot, just to watch it fall.” Do they know? Understand? Care? In the face of inevitability, there’s no rage in the face of fate, nor is there any sense of what’s driving the erosion of what was once the American Way of Life for a 18-25 year old with a high school diploma, a strong back and the will to work.
Listen to Aldean’s records, there’s a sonic aggression: guitars stacked, power chords layered thick and hard on top of each other, even the stabbing way Aldean’s unexceptional tenor pushes through the bombast that says everything. Not since Trent Reznor gave another generation of alienated youth a nonverbal place to put their rage have young people watching the future shrink had such catharsis from their music. Aldean and producer Michael Knox have more than delivered. Sure, you could write volumes about the lyrical clichés, the notion that many songs are retreads of 80s and 90s hair metal (“Wheels Rollin’,” with its careening guitar outro, evokes the Outlaws’ “Green Grass and High Tides” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” while working a solid morph of Seger’s original “Turn The Page” through a steroidal rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”) and the awkward country-rap “event” with fellow outliers Luke Bryan and Eric Church feels forced where his breakthrough “Dirt Road Anthem” felt inspired and real. But that would miss the point.
No, this is about the sound. The bottomless well of fat waves of big, booming production: crashing drums shoving the guitars and Aldean’s shameless vocals forward. Like Garth Brooks, another populist theatrist, Aldean will hurl himself at a lyric and wring it dry; his voice loud, rippling, forceful. For the nonagrarian Southerner – more often living above the Mason Dixon line – that release is most needed. Hate crimes on the rise; teenagers walking into schools and shooting up the place, luring kids away and brutally killing them, bullying, cyber and otherwise…thank God for Jason Aldean and a place to get it all out.
And his numbers prove it: 400,000+ CD sales his first week and two upcoming sold out shows at Boston’s legendary Fenway Park. “Take A Little Ride,” already a multiple week #1, is jubilant, euphoric. Not quite a “tramps like us” celebration, but the notion of freedom behind the wheel. It is the one place where everything can be right. Aldean and his ilk know it. Reach for what you can, ride it for all it’s worth. And at a time when country – the “She Left Love All Over Me” genre of yore — has become oddly non-contact, Aldean has no fear about going in skin deep. “When She Says Baby” is all about sex as salvation, while “Night Train” tackles killing tedium and finding release out in a field “with a blanket and a fifth of Comfort, something to knock off a little of that edge” listening to that metaphorically connect train drive through.
When interviewing Aldean in 2007 for The Los Angeles Times, he had no problem looking me in the eye and telling me Kenny Chesney was just too old. It wasn’t about disrespecting his elders, it was recognizing there was a deeper dissonance among his generation – kids for whom it wasn’t all rum drinks and sandy beaches. With the hard knocks raining down, the toughness Aldean espouses may well reflect the state of the country. Looking at the election, the attack ads and extremism, he sure seems to understand the power of the pump and the punch. After all, the numbers don’t lie – and this year’s CMA Awards nominations sure seem to back up the notion that the future might just be Macon, Georgia made.
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