November 20, 2008
That patriotism is such a powerful fixture in modern-day country music can largely be attributed to the events of 9-11. In the early stages of the decade, the format issued jingoistic missives (“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”), sentimental dreck (“Only in America”) and fortunately, eloquent commentary (“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” all revolving around the public’s American pride in the aftermath of great tragedy. But even as time passed, country music’s artistic community continued to reaffirm their faith in God and country, using every opportunity to establish their fidelity to the most treasured of pure American traditions.
And just as the United States is now experiencing a clear identity crisis, the same tremors of change can be felt on Music Row, where the traditional sounds of yesteryear are increasingly drowned out by the bland rhythms and rhyme schemes of today’s polished musical product. Nashville’s schizoid nature has prompted an uncertainty, and ultimately, a desperation to define all that makes country music what it is while forgetting what it once was. In the past, textured interpretations of our social environment were standard operating procedure (Haggard took the temperature of the late ’60s with “Okie from Muskogee,” while Alabama’s “Song of the South” brought the Depression era into the harsh light of reality). Now, the messages are more blunt and built to prompt immediate, yet temporary response. Rodney Atkins’ release, “It’s America,” adds to the argument that country music is in danger of losing the creative direction and distinct narration that is its ultimate foundation.
Fresh off four consecutive #1 hits, Rodney Atkins aims to solidify his spot as one of the format’s most reliable talents with his new single release “It’s America.” It’s his everyman likability and convincing vocal that lift the song, but “It’s America” still suffers from being an all-encompassing anthem. He dares to define our “one nation under God” in a song of praise spouting hopeful optimism and heartland sentiment. While harmless, it furthers an incorrect notion: that emotional resonance can be attained in the space of a three-minute anthem that reads more like a weekly grocery list than a work of poetic art. The song’s chorus is a simple distillation of feel-good nostalgia and obvious imagery, with Atkins singing, “It’s a high school prom, it’s a Springsteen song, it’s a ride in a Chevrolet/It’s a man on the moon and fireflies in June and kids selling lemonade/It’s cities and farms, it’s open arms, one nation under God, it’s America.”
In turn, the verses are full of praise for the soldiers, farmers and flag-flying ordinary folks that stand as the cornerstone of the United States, but the song barely touches on the stories that make these individuals extraordinary. It merely grasps for catchphrases that are well-known to the radio audience, relying on this recognition to inspire brief moments of connection between the music and the listener. Few consumers won’t be able to latch onto at least one of these examples, but “It’s America” is a disposable effort that fails to construct any meaning behind the music.
Listen: “It’s America”