He may have been the runner-up on one of the weakest seasons of Survivor (finishing second to this strategic powerhouse), but Chase Rice has beaten tough competition from the likes of Jason Aldean’s “1994,” Parmalee’s “Carolina,” Ashton Shepherd’s “This is America,” Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here,” Krystal Keith’s “Daddy Dance with Me,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” for the title of 2013′s worst country single.
For all of the countless complaints about the rise of “bro country” during the past year, what much of the criticism of this trend has ignored is its fundamental anonymity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the notion of songs that champion tailgate parties or casual weekend hookups, as the kinds of experiences characterized in songs like Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” or “Ready Set Roll” are familiar to an audience that is not insignificant in size or purchasing power.
The problem, then, with this glut of frat-boys in their Ed Hardy gear and pick-ups– and what Rice and “Ready Set Roll” epitomize– is their interchangeability. Rice and his co-writers (usual suspects Rhett Akins and Chris Destefano) write almost entirely in clichés (“Yeah, we can run this town / I can rock your world / We can roll ‘em down, fog ‘em up / Cruise around and get stuck”), such that none of the experiences they’ve written about here are the least bit distinctive. But for a deeply gross line that goes farther in the objectification of women than do most songs of this ilk (“Get ya fine little ass on the step / Shimmy up inside / And slide girl, by my side girl”), there isn’t a single line in “Ready Set Roll” that couldn’t be exchanged word-for-word with lines from “Cruise” or Jake Owen’s “Days of Gold” or Cole Swindell’s “Chillin’ It” or Eric Paslay’s “Friday Night” without changing those songs in any meaningful or even noticeable way.
Setting aside the shallowness of the subject matter and Rice’s struggles with even basic syntax, it’s that lack of any discernible point-of-view that makes “Ready Set Roll” such appalling poor songwriting, the nadir of a trend that has quite rightly drawn the ire of those who value country music for its history of distinctive narratives, personal insight, and pure escapism that is still respectful of both craft and its audience.
And, thanks to a dated, cheap-sounding production job and Rice’s limited vocal ability, “Ready Set Roll” doesn’t even work as a throwaway, escapist single. The use of a digitized text-reader voice to bookend the single is jarring and adds nothing of value to the track. The most pedestrian of hip-hop beats drowns out the requisite handful of rote country signifiers, and the mixing sounds like it was made on a circa-2004 version of Winamp.
As he sort-of-raps his way through the track, Rice affects a throaty growl that unfavorably recalls Brantley Gilbert, and he dutifully emphasizes every syllable on the 2 and 4 counts without regard for whether or not native speakers of American English would emphasize those syllables. As co-writer for “Cruise,” Rice proved that he might be capable of writing a memorable hook, but there’s not one thing he and his alliance of bros do well on “Ready Set Roll.”
Written by Chase Rice, Rhett Akins, and Chris Destephano
Bear in mind that Blake Shelton isn’t just another country singer. He is the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year for both the ACM and CMA Awards, as well as the CMA Entertainer of the Year. Due to his position as a judge on “The Voice,” he is one of the most recognizable country stars around. Therefore, his new album Based on a True Story… isn’t just another album release. It’s an event. It’s a highly anticipated occasion. So how does Shelton kick off this record?
Backwoods, legit, don’t take no s*** Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit.
Those words of wisdom come from “Boys ‘Round Here,” the opening track and one of the worst country songs of recent memory, even by the relative low standards of country-rap. Sexist, crude and jam-packed with country stereotypes, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved, including Shelton, the songwriters (Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Craig Wiseman) the Pistol Annies who sing background vocals and even the guy who says “red red red red red red red red redneck.”
That’s the low-water mark for the album, though it’s certainly a harbinger for what comes after. For all the references to country songs and country living scattered throughout, it’s largely pop music, with some R&B and adult contemporary elements thrown in the mix. In other words, it’s an ideal country album for people who like Shelton as a famous personality but don’t really care for country music. The two most traditional-sounding songs (as well as two of the best songs) are available in the download- only deluxe version, so anyone who wants to avoid anything sounding like actual country music can easily do so.
There are plenty of other country singers who are employing pop sounds to reach a wider audience, so Shelton isn’t alone in that regard. The problem with True Story is that the songs are so pedestrian and unmemorable. “Sure Be Cool if You Did” and “My Eyes” are essentially the same song about picking up a woman, though at least the cheesy pickup lines are different. “Small Town Big Time” is essentially the same song as half of Jason Aldean’s back catalog – the bad half – with some Auto-Tuned verses thrown in for
“Country on the Radio” deserves special mention because it attempts to justify all of the hokey, redneck-centric songs that have clogged up the country charts for the last few years. Why are they all about dirt roads, pretty girls on tailgates and homemade wine? Because that’s how country folks roll, of course. That’s not exactly a compliment – country songs are so simplistic and shallow because country people really are that simplistic and shallow.
“I Still Got a Finger” is one of the few instances where the feisty Blake Shelton of old – before he became famous outside of country music circles – makes an appearance. Still, it has the feel of being forced, as if it was made to highlight Shelton’s smartass, uncensored Twitter personality without being too rude for a large audience.
“Grandaddy’s Gun,” written by Atkins, Davidson, and Bobby Pinson, is one of the highlights of True Story. Without pushing one side of the gun control debate like an Aaron Lewis or Charlie Daniels would do, Shelton sings about the sentimental value of an old battered shotgun and demonstrates that he is still an outstanding country singer when he wants to be. He does the same on “Mine Would Be You” from the dependable Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Deric Ruttan.
Shelton infamously said in his “old farts and jackasses” interview that kids don’t want to listen to their grandpa’s music and that country music has to evolve in order to survive. If that’s true, then this is the evolution of country music. It’s slick and mainstream-friendly, with Top 40 appeal. It features pop songs about how wonderful country living is. It’s occasionally raucous, but not enough to offend a focus group. It has some traditional country elements, but those are on album tracks that can easily be skipped over or not downloaded. If you happen to remember the great Blake Shelton songs like “Ol’ Red” and “Austin,” you’re clearly too old for this new country music.
In some aspects, Chris Young’s hook-heavy new single may come off as a calculated bid to regain the airplay he unjustly lost from country radio’s tepid response to the excellent but underappreciated “Neon.” Unfortunately, it’s hard to call him out for peddling safe material when I can’t get my toe to stop tapping.
“I Can Take It from There” illustrates how solid song structure and an inspired performance can lift standard country radio fodder from rote to memorable. The magic lies neither in Young’s come-on of “Grab a couple of glasses and a bottle of wine… Baby while you’re at it you might as well let down your hair,” nor in the song’s namedrop of Conway Twitty - both somewhat standard Peach Picker song fare - but in the way Young effortlessly makes the song his own. His energetic performance brings out an organic quality in the song’s pulsing melody, while cheeky-sounding fiddle hooks rip through the song, making ”I Can Take It from There” a most delicious nugget of catchiness.
Of course, “I Can Take It from There” might not seem to hold up well against the brilliance of “Neon,” but it’s worth noting that while “Neon” was a piece of country heartbreak poetry, “I Can Take It from There” serves
No news bulletin there. You need excellent singers to elevate good material to great entertainment. He’s able to pull off that trick with “All Over Me.”
Is it a future classic? Of course not. Heck, it’s not even a Summer ’10 essential track. But it’s an enjoyable listen, something it likely wouldn’t have been if co-writer Rhett Akins was still given access to a studio mic.
Written by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, and Ben Hayslip