April 14, 2009
The contrast between “For My Broken Heart”, a #1 single for Reba McEntire in 1991, and “Strange,” her new single, speaks volumes on how the portrayal of women has changed in country music over the past two decades.
When “For My Broken Heart” peaked, Reba McEntire was at the height of her amazingly long run as the genre’s most successful female artist, but she was also the last of the truly great heartbreak queens. When she goes to bed with grief over being left, she wakes up the next morning and notes, “The sun is blinding me as it wakes me from the dark. I guess the world didn’t stop for my broken heart.”
Eighteen years later, she’s going to bed with a heartache again, and the sun is waking her up in the morning once more. But “strange,” she now sings, “talk about luck! I woke up and the sun was shining. I oughta be in bed with my head in the pillow crying over us, but I ain’t.”
As far as empowerment messages go, “Strange” will certainly make a listener less likely to wallow in sorrow, but I have to say that it doesn’t make for a better Reba McEntire record, since she does heartbreak better than anyone. That’s not to say she can’t she do sassy uptempo material well. She just doesn’t do it very well here.
A big part of the problem is the production, which never shifts gears as the song progresses. There’s no room built in for her to apply her stylized vocals, so rushed is the lyric. That would be fine if the backing track did some of the heavy lifting, but just like Reba’s performance, it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no sense of tension or release. The verse about wallowing in bed with Kleenex and chocolates is delivered no differently than the verse which has her showing her former lover that she can care less that he’s gone.
Reba McEntire is simply too good of a singer to require such a loud and cluttered production, let alone one that restricts her ability to let loose as a vocalist. Even the good licks that she gets in are inexplicably drowned out by loud guitars. That in-your-face wall of sound has made Jason Aldean a mint, but it has no business on a Reba record. It’s disappointing.