Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Tattoos On This Town”

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August 22, 2011

Those blessed dirt roads make a return once again on Jason Aldean’s latest single, sans the hick-rap this time around.  “Tattoos On This Town” is a simple small-town nostalgia trip that should fit in nicely with the current trends on country radio, and no doubt supply Aldean with another chart-topping hit.  It comes as a pleasant surprise, however, that this particular offering displays a notable level of creativity while largely managing to steer clear of the clichés.

A common issue that plagues many of the rural small-town songs on country radio is a failure to pinpoint specific features of one’s hometown that make it special or meaningful to the narrator (“Small Town USA” is one notable offender in this regard).  “Tattoos On This Town” is different in that it highlights unique characteristics of the narrator’s hometown that bring back memories of his youth – black marks on a country road, the words “Ali, will you marry me?” painted on an overpass, and a rope burn on an old tree branch are all mentioned.  The narrator notes that, while his youthful exploits have definitely left some physical marks on the town he grew up in – like “Tattoos On This Town” - he also appreciatively reflects on how such experiences have shaped him as an individual.  Such specific lyrical construction supplies color to the song’s story instead of just leaving it as a vague, black and white template.

Of course, some of the typical Aldean criticisms do still apply.  Yes, the production is loud, as it often is.  But as it turns out, “Tattoos” succeeds due to the fact that it rises about the superficial idealization and cliché formulas that have bogged down a great deal of Aldean’s material.  This is one road that Jason Aldean would do well to go down further.

Written by Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley, and Michael Dulaney

Grade:  B

Listen:  Tattoos On This Town

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  1. Noah EatonNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, a B sounds about right for this one.

    I respect your well-written review very much here. That said, I first have to partially contend with your point about the track’s lyrical construction and “specific features”. While it’s true that we are supplied with slices of imagery through the rope swing, black marks and inscription on the overpass wall, and that’s indeed a step up from the general lack of imagery thereof………..the rest of the lyrics in the verses lean on the same, insubstantial rhetoric in the vein of “Yeah, this lil’ town changed me a lot!” without digging deeper.

    It’s most notably clear in the song’s two-line bridge, and the entire latter half of the second verse, where all we’re told that there isn’t a corner on this “hallowed ground” where he hasn’t laughed and/or cried on (or laughed until he cried, for that matter)……….and then goes on to say: “It’s where we loved, lived and learned real life stuff.” And why is that profoundly important? Because…………”It’s everything we’re made of!”

    The imagery in the opening verse and the beginning of the second half is a nice touch, but I respectfully disagree that “Tattoos On This Town” digs as deeply or transcends superficial idealization as you argue it does. By the final chorus, all we’re left hearing from the narrator is that everywhere he goes in town, it hims him right in his heart. We don’t expect a back story by any means of his most intimate, defining moments being born and raised in his hometown, but simply stating what hits him right in his heart as “it” just sounds like a lazy way to conclude and tie up a song.

    *

    The song’s production is interesting to me. There’s nary an acoustic guitar or keyboard in sight………yet the electric guitars refrain from shrieking into full-blown rawk mode. The track sounds notably apprehensive, just seems to have a precarious air to it that climaxes with this heightened urgency in Aldean’s vocals in the final chorus……..even though the lyrics don’t come cross nearly as so.

    So then why does the track sound as pensive as it does? Why is it driven entirely by electric guitars? My theory is that it is striving to accomplish two things: 1) make the song live up to its hardcore, bad-A title, and 2) highlight how haunting and possessive nostalgia can be.

    What “it” is that hits Aldean to his heart that perturbs him to singing the final chorus of this song as though there’s some sort of impending doom befalling? What “real life stuff” did Aldean learn, which may or may not be directly related to the apprehension in Aldean’s vocals late in the song? I don’t know for sure. At any rate, the sound works because, rather than bombast you with this wall of sound, it’s almost as though nostalgia has possessed the narrator like an exorcist………..and the electric guitars here more interpret, like Braille to the touch, the ache and pain that pleasurable memories can carve deep down in ourselves……….and putting into context how reflecting too heavily on the past, or looking over your shoulder, can curse anyone. That’s believable.

    *

    I personally preferred “Church Pew or Barstool” next, but this is a respectable track on its own and is surely Aldean’s best single thus far this album cycle.

  2. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    I probably would have preferred “Church Pew or Barstool” myself, but this was probably my second choice.

    It’s definitely not ground-breaking, and it could use a better chorus now that you mention it. But I do think it ‘fills in the blanks’ so to speak, more thoroughly than most hit songs about rural small-town dwelling, which I would definitely consider an improvement.

  3. Noah EatonNo Gravatar says:

    I do believe Aldean and Broken Bow made the correct choice releasing this on the heels of “Dirt Road Anthem”, honestly. One of the reasons I think this is because, like you said, at least this offers some visuals/descriptors from a songwriting front with regards to how the experience of living in small towns sculpt, and define, individuals.

    Even though I find “My Kinda Party” Aldean’s most consistently enjoyable record to date (the title track being the only one that literally makes me gag)………my main criticism of the album is that a lot of the songwriting that permeates “My Kinda Party” is essentially made up of festoons of platitudes and come across as thin as Kavli crispbread. “See You When I See You” sounds rather pleasant and accessible for sure, but when you count up all the words it consists of, there are not that many at all and makes for a ho-hum listen. Same rings true with “Just Passing Through”. Both regurgitate expressions that have been uttered time and time again to death, which is completely fine if they continue to be uttered………..but the problem is neither song offers any clever or unique take on either sentiment, and would be forgotten not long after peaking if ever released. Both songs also sound too breezy and melodic as follow-ups to a…………..breezy, melodic third single.

    “Tattoos On This Town” at least is backed by imagery/specifics, and would work as an effective addition to Aldean’s interpretive catalog in that it is driven lyrically, rather than by 3 Doors Down-esque guitar crunches in “My Kinda Party”, 80′s power-ballad histrionics in “Don’t You Wanna Stay” and rap-like vocals in “Dirt Road Anthem”.

    It’s also a good call in that Aldean, in the eyes of many of his earlier fans, has ran the risk of getting too “soft” in having multiple releases veer away decisively from his signature hard-rock country persona that he built his early career particularly on. There’s nothing remotely as loud as the title track elsewhere on the album, yet “Tattoos On This Town” is laced with dirty, distorted guitar riffs and licks even while functioning as a slower-tempo record. Emotionally, it comes off as edgy and theatrical, and will have no problem reassuring fans of his more harder-sound that he has abandoned that sound entirely beyond his live show.

  4. JakeNo Gravatar says:

    I wanted “The Heart Ache That Won’t Stop Hurting To Be Released” after “Tattoos” maybe he’ll finish off the album with it. Well hopefully anyways..

  5. Ryan RobertsNo Gravatar says:

    Ive liked this one from the get go. Glad they released it.

    Its funny , when this My Kinda Party album was first released at first i was so in love with this record and hoping it would go beyond the typical single release time frame perhaps even edging close to 10 singles(wishful thinking on my part ), but now I just want them to release Fly Over States at some point and move on. As a fan i’m ready for new music.

    P.S. Good to see you use your real name on here Noah !

  6. TomNo Gravatar says:

    …say what you want about jason aldean, but more often than not i enjoy his trademark “smear country”. this is a good song, which resonates with almost anybody, who hasn’t completely forgotten about those “good ol’ teenage days”.
    sounds like another aldean chart topper to me.

  7. Noah EatonNo Gravatar says:

    Aldean is hit and miss with me (I consider his current record his most consistently enjoyable to date).

    He has a limited vocal range, yet often he knows exactly how to make the most of it and finesse an emotive quality to his monotone delivery. In other words, Aldean possesses a knack at making the most of his lack of vocal flourish and being able to nonetheless emotionally resonate on more reflective songs to playing the role of a chicken-fried metal ambassador to varying success on the louder tracks.

    It’s much, for the same reason, why I find it easy to critique Aldean, since it isn’t like he’s the original of the muscadine wine-swillin’, Blue Hole Road Muddin’, Wrangler-wearin’ mototoned country rocker species. What makes Aldean more special and deserving than every other scattered, smothered and covered specimen of his kind? The fact he’s on an independent label? That his ears are pierced? That his earliest fans were perhaps a bit more persistent than the earliest fans of most other guitar-slinging country music performers?

    All in all, though, I have to admit Aldean hits a soft spot somewhere in me, even when he infuriates me half of the time with what he and Broken Bow service to radio. In spite of the amped-up arsenic he hurls to radio between better releases, I’m also of the opinion that Aldean’s albums nonetheless have less filler than most other established Country radio artists. “Not Every Man Lives”, “I Believe In Ghosts”, “Back In This Cigarette” and “On My Highway” all deliver as exquisite deep cuts that never became singles, and I’m beginning to concede the excellent “Church Pew or Barstool” and the strong “Texas Was You” and “If She Could See Me Now” will succumb to the same fate.

    Aldean’s music just is what it is, really: a melange of choice covers and interpretations given more of a rock treatment by his touring band. Which, fortunately, his choice of material has trended positively this time around.

  8. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    He’s definitely hit-or-miss with me as well, and when it comes to his single releases, he lately tends to miss more often than hit. But I agree with what you said about his vocal range – limited, yes, but he has demonstrated an ability to make the most of it, especially on a quality song like “Amarillo Sky” or “The Truth.” It’s mostly when he shouts out his songs that he loses me.

  9. Jenny189No Gravatar says:

    “Tattos” is a great song. It is evident from the reviews on this post that MKP is a great album and most of the songs could be hit singles. My personal favorite is “Just Passing Through” which is a very cool song. Jason’s vocals are great. But then again “I Ain’t Ready To Quit” is awsome too….

  10. RowdyRedNo Gravatar says:

    This song is my favorite JA single since “Amarillo Sky,” which is going back far too many years for someone as mega-successful as he is.

    I find him monotonous most of the time, between his very limited vocal range and his choice of material (not to mention melody — glad they didn’t recycle “She’s Country” for the umpteenth time).

    The admittedly vague imagery is nevertheless effective in evoking his sentimental journey (rather than going obnoxiously badass, his worn-out specialty). I find it really quite charming. The little couplet “It sure left its mark on us/we sure left our mark on it,” combined with the vocal delivery, make his trip down memory lane actually touching. There’s no swagger, no real damage in the tales of how his band of buddies left their mark, and that too is an unexpected departure.

    I will plead guilty to having judged Jason Aldean harshly based on his body of single releases, and that means that the album gems being discussed by others have eluded me. But that’s what happens when an artist becomes one-dimensional and that dimension is somewhat aggressively negative. I do enjoy this song more than anything he’s put out in almost his whole career, and I hope he continues in this direction for a while. I’m pretty sick of the urban/rural polarization that he, among many others, have indulged in for years, so this would be a great step (leap, in my opinion) in a new direction. More like this, Mr. Aldean.

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