“Dust” tells the story of an interesting woman who is leaving her past behind her in the…dust.
I’m most surprised, and impressed, by the complete absence of a guy in this song. This girl’s leaving to get her life started, and sheds a tear for what she leaves behind, but knows her future is waiting in front of her. I guess it could be a guy she’s shedding a tear for, but it’s just as likely that she’s going to miss her family and the town she grew up in.
I’m still waiting for Taylor Swift to write a great song that has nothing to do with a guy, so I’m happy to hear a male act put one together, and one with only a token physical description (“baby blue eyes”) to boot.
That being said, the whole sound of the record is Bon Jovi lite. That would’ve been an insult to a country band not too long ago, but today, it means that the song is professionally done and not too cluttered. Nothing identifiably country about it, but then again, nothing identifiably bad, either. I’ll take it.
Written by Kyle Jacobs, Jon Jones, Josh Osborne, and James Young
On the eve of the Grammy Awards, music lost one of its greatest voices, as Whitney Houston died at age 48.
Her only tangential connection to country was a big one. Her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is one of the most successful singles in history, spending 14 weeks at #1 and pushing its parent album, The Bodyguard soundtrack, to sales of 44 million worldwide.
When Michael Jackson died in 2009, it was the first time it felt like we lost an icon of our generation. But Jackson hit the charts with his brothers in 1969.
Whitney Houston was all eighties. Everyone my age can remember the first time they heard her sing, back when “Greatest Love of All” and “How Will I Know” dominated the airwaves. There was no matching that voice.
In the years that followed, many superstars would surface who could hit the big notes like Whitney, but not one of them came even close to doing it with her soul and her style. She’s best known for her eighties pop classics and soundtrack hits from the nineties, but her best work was her underrated studio albums from the latter decade.
Watching the Super Bowl Half Time Show this year, I was again struck by how the eighties icons are surviving the test of time. Madonna’s still at the top of her game, as are U2 and Bon Jovi. Prince and Bruce Springsteen aren’t getting a lot of love for their new music, but are still amazing live and are still making excellent music.
But Michael Jackson’s gone, and now Whitney Houston is, too. There was something so unique about the eighties that produced these larger than life stars. I don’t know that the various mediums will ever be aligned well enough to create stars that big again. We’re always going to have ladies with big, booming voices, but there will never be another who makes our collective jaws drop like Whitney Houston did.
The Incredible Machine is a terrible album, an unmitigated disaster that manages to fail in ways that shouldn’t even be possible, especially on a mainstream album created by established professionals and released by a major label.
At its best, Sugarland has made successful music by combining clever musical arrangements with strong lyrical hooks, delivered by the inimitable vocal talent that is Jennifer Nettles. I would have deemed a full album being completely devoid of all three components inconceivable, but The Incredible Machine comes frighteningly close.
First, the arrangements. Look, it’s cool when an audience sings back to you at a concert. Heck, the Sugarland audience has been known to sing along with “Stay” and “Joey”, which are hardly your typical Bic light anthems. But on several tracks here, Jennifer and Kristian become their own audience, singing back to each other in chants best fit for a Journey concert.
And, oh boy, are they chanting back some inane lyrics. Sugarland make the fatal error of mistaking form for content. Yes, there’s an adrenaline rush that’s produced by Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer”, and Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” But that’s because the songs have a deeper meaning that resonates with audiences, not just because they simply can be chanted along with.
So we get the empty platitudes of “Stand Up”, for example, which impels us to do stand up and…do what, exactly? It unpleasantly reminded me of the high drama of primary season two years ago, when I stood there confused, wondering why I was supposed to be inspired by vague promises of change instead of hard work and proven results. The time for music lifting up a people into social action is largely behind us, but if you’re going to try to resurrect it, it helps to clue us in on what you’re impelling us to do. Unless you just want to feel important for five minutes in an arena, I guess.
So the lyrics aren’t what you’d expect from Sugarland, even on an off day, and the arrangements fall flat on nearly every track. But you still have Jennifer Nettles at the mic, so that must be a net positive, right?
Wrong. I don’t know the Jennifer Nettles on most of this album. She yells at me, can’t enunciate, uses odd accents, and often sounds like she has a head cold, the latter being very pronounced on the could’ve-been-good-if-it-was-sung-better “Tonight.” I can only shake my head at the sad truth that the woman who once broke my heart singing about “Pictures, dishes, and socks” can now repeat the same word a dozen times in the title track without me being able to decipher it once. (The word is “calling”, by the way. Not that it matters, since it doesn’t make sense anyway.)
I can’t think of an album that has ever disappointed me more than this one. Having loved Love On the Inside and Live on the Inside, and simply adoring lead single, “Stuck Like Glue”, I really thought this was going to be good. The charm of that lead single, which brought reggae flavor firmly over to traditional Sugarland territory, had me thinking they could be country music’s Blondie, innovative in their integration of other genres without sacrificing their own musical identity. They decided to be its Starship instead, rejecting everything that made them distinctive and relevant and embracing a musical style that they aren’t even able to do competently, let alone do well.
Where were the adults to tell this A-list act that the music wasn’t working? Why even have a record label anymore, if they either can’t hear the sound of their top act throwing their careers away or don’t have the gumption to stop them before they do? This is a poorly conceived and poorly executed album. Even one of those would be bad enough, but the two of them together is worse than tragic. It’s a disgrace.
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 4: #140-#121
#140 “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
Bon Jovi featuring Jennifer Nettles
Packed as country music has been lately with rocked-up little singalongs, perhaps it was only natural that one of the leading bands in rocked-up little singalongs should cross over for a bit to show everybody how it’s done. It was newcomer Nettles, though, who stole this show, driving Bon Jovi’s ditty home with an infectiously joyful performance. – Dan Milliken
“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
Peak: Did not chart
The arrangement is cool enough, but it’s Cash’s stoic, slicing vocal performance that makes his version of this song so memorable. – Tara Seetharam (more…)
Anyone who reads Bob Lefsetz' “The Lefsetz Letter” knows that Lefsetz is a fairly new country music fan, but a passionate one all the same. I frequently disagree with his current assessment of country music, particularly country radio (although recently he has clued in to its frequent vapidness and monotony), but he's a fantastic voice out there championing country music.
In a recent letter, he made some interesting statements about his desired role for the future of country music (i.e. the classic rock of the future). After approvingly citing the recent Newsweek article which bemoaned the current state of country music, Lefsetz stated:
blockquote>Country used to have an edge. My buddy Pete Anderson would love to bring it back. But I’m thinking we’ve just got to move the needle a little bit, and suddenly we’ve got the rock business we used to have, the one that triumphed in the seventies.
He went on to state:
If they just took off the cowboy hats and lost the banjos they’d be closer to Lynyrd Skynyrd than Dolly Parton or George Jones. When are the country acts going to go after their rightful audience, boomers who lived through the seventies and younger people who want melody!
The future is in country, or something quite like it.
It’s not the final resting place for has-beens like Bon Jovi or wannabes like Jessica Simpson, but a phoenix ready to rise if it’s taken seriously, adds a bit of true cred, emphasizes electric guitars and is willing to have an edge.
As fans of country, new and old, how do you feel about this assessment of the future of country music?
This is featured on the latest studio albums from both artists. It’s a high point on the Bon Jovi set, where Rimes injects some needed vibrancy with her soaring vocals. Tacked on the end of Rimes’ Family, however, it’s a low point, an unnecessary addition to a personal and fully satisfying collection of her own compositions. I get the whole synergy thing, and it’s a pretty good single, but when a masterpiece like “What I Cannot Change” is waiting in the wings, it seems such a waste of Rimes’ limited radio space to spend it on this duet.
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Bon Jovi has made a country album. Sort of. They’ve been backpedaling the notion that this is actually a country record in recent press, after teasing that they’d switched genres for more than a year. They even went so far as to speak at this year’s Country Radio Seminar. They’re doing the right thing by backpedaling, though. Not only does very little of this album resemble even the most pop/rock-flavored country, the overwhelming mediocrity of the material violates the most important cardinal rule of country music: it’s the song, not the singer, that matters.