Sugarland – “All I Want to Do”
I’ll say this much about Sugarland: they’re not afraid to be pioneers. Unfortunately, as much as “Stay,” with its sparse, acoustic and percussion-less arrangement, was an anomalous example of a great country song, “All I Want to Do” marks a new frontier for bad country songs.
There have not been many truly great country radio releases in the last several years, and most of the mediocre to bad songs share a common flaw: they aren’t particularly well or imaginatively written while the artists aren’t good enough and the arrangements aren’t country enough to rescue the lyric. Yet in even the worst of these songs, there was a discernable effort on the part of the songwriters to actually write a song, however fruitless their efforts became in the end.
However, “All I Want to Do” is not about words. I wasn’t in the room when this one was “written,” but I’ll bet that the writers, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush among them, spent more time getting the “oh oh oh oh oh’s” just right than they did actually composing the lyrics. The truth is that “All I Want to Do” is not a song, it’s a melody.
This criticism ought to be sufficiently damning in a genre as highly narrative as country music that how the “song” is performed hardly matters, but Sugarland fails even on this front, not because “All I Want to Do” sounds bad (in fact, it sounds rather good), but because this recording is just not something that’s made to listen to. It’s catchy, but not in a good way, in the “change the station lest this annoying song be stuck in my head all day” way. It’s the kind of song that you hum under your breath without really realizing what you’re doing and don’t remember doing once you realize that you’ve been doing it. It’s the kind of song that you’ll always be able to whistle but will never be able to sing, at least not with words other than “la la la” (or “oh oh oh”). In other words, it’s a pop song.
I consider Sugarland the best of the current groups or duos and an asset to the genre, but releases like this worry me. No matter how “pop” country music becomes, the genre can always be rescued from southern rock wannabes and poor songwriters. However, “All I Want to Do” is a significant step down the road to sound-good vapidity, the true pop world where lyrics are irrelevant as long as you can nod your head to the beat, and once that road has been traveled, I don’t think that there’s any turning back.
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