By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
I like the song that goes, "I miss her a lot, but at least she took the little Chihuahua"that's just attitude too, but it's funny. Otherwise, I'm fed up with this album's attitude. (I don't seem to mind the similar attitude last year in Merle Haggard's "Wishing All These Old Things Were New"maybe because it's his kids, not the suits, who represent the new world; and they're bugging him to give up smoking. And he's sitting around watching Cops and seeing some guy get hauled off to jail, and Haggard's getting pissed at the TV crew for making a display of someone else's misfortunes"and they show it all on TV just to see somebody fail." So he's presenting a vivid world of sitting on couches and smoking cigarettes, not just the fact that they symbolize "real life.")
What depressed me while listening to Anderson was how he seemed only to be looking out at something when he talked about the world, without believing that he could shape the world. The world isn't a result of his life. The world is something that's been done to him.
Of course, you could say that this attitude permeates the whole genre. Country is the most alienated and defensive music in existence. Evenor especiallyall the "new country" happy-romance songs and boy-meets-old-girlfriend songs, I sat behind you back in geometry class, etc., which have the sense of "I'm a normal person portraying what life is like for normal people," "these are our experiences (as opposed to those of people not like us)," the sense of trying to fend off alternativesfor instance, Tim McGraw's "Something Like That," Phil Vassar's "Carlene," and Martina McBride's "Love's the Only House," all of which sound good, have interesting lyrics, but still the air of "here I am embodying a particular point of view." No doubt you can say the same about half a million hip-hop songs, and punk songs, and heavy metal songs. Nonetheless, the alienation in country seems more entrapping. When alienation doesn't recognize itself as such, portrays itself as normality or realness or deep-rooted moral wisdom or the life of the common people, it gives me the creeps. And maybe the gangstas and punks and metalheads are every bit as self-deceiving, but at least they know that their roles are roles, are problematicand imagine they're creating rather than just defending those roles. (Maybe the fact that the roles are being played for shock effect also makes them "fun," like, "Wouldn't it be fun to come off as a gangsta-punk-metal monster?")
McBride's "Love's the Only House" contains the heartfelt (and to me utterly hilarious) line: "We got teenagers walking around in a culture of darkness living together alone." The thing is, in the song it's not her culture, her teenagers, her darkness.
I don't know that country's alienation has a bad effect on the music, however. It constrains the music, but constraints aren't always bad. For instance, the Carrying On album by the duo Montgomery Gentry rocks even harder than Anderson's while, like Anderson's, calling out to the country tradition; and again like Anderson's it wallows in the same alienation, to the point of being proud of itself for its dumbshit attitudes. Strangely enough, I like it a lot, and it irritates me a lot less than Anderson's, despite having lyrics that are far more reactionary. Maybe its obviousness, and the simplicity of its moral incoherence, makes it less irritatingmakes it funny, actually. Really, a Madison Avenue hack could've come up with a lot of their words. Like, OK, we'll sit him there in his overalls, and when the girl gets too hoity-toity with her pink Chablis we'll send her on her way, and she'll go out West and listen to some "hip-hop mess" (sipping Chablis with her homeboys in Compton?); then we'll bring her back when she finds out her country boy is the best. Then we'll do some rote ambivalence about a wild-drinking boy tryin' to stick with a church-goin' babe. Then some blank lyrics about him driving his love away. Then stuff about how happy they are not to be in an urban life and its gang wars. Then stuff about good ole bootleggers, stuff about broken hearts and whiskey, stuff about stayin' with the plow, keepin' the country life.