American Saturday Night
Anyone who has been following my reviews and commentary will know that popular mainstream country music has really been wearing thin on me. As much as it may seem to some people that I enjoy harping on mainstream artists, I truly do not. The fact is that it is pretty disheartening to me, because mainstream country music is where I came into this music that I regard so highly. Therefore, its marked decline is discouraging to say the least.
One of the few mainstream artists that I’ve been able to enjoy in the past few years has been Brad Paisley. His last regular album, 5th Gear was a disappointment for me, however. So, I anticipated this new album, American Saturday Night with both excitement and trepidation, especially since I was not impressed with the lead single, the generic “Then.” I knew that if I ranked it with 5th Gear, Paisley would end up being yet another current artist that I’d have to write off, which would tragically leave me with one less mainstream artist I could embrace—something my short list could not afford. To my relief, not only does Paisley’s new release not rank as low as the aforementioned album, but it may even surpass, Time Well Wasted, the Paisley album that I’ve touted as his best for the past few years.
American Saturday Night is lyrically, sonically and thematically engaging. While Paisley’s jocularity is present in some songs, it is not as overwhelming as it has been in the past. Likewise, while the album is not devoid of weak moments, the over all product is tight and solid. The typical topics of love, love lost, relationships and, of course, fishing are covered on this album. However, Paisley adds other layers, which includes a tangible sensitivity and social consciousness that have, admittedly, been largely absent on previous offerings.
In the soon-to-be forgotten department, the cliché ridden “Then”, heavy handed “No” (which takes the spot of the spiritual track that traditionally appears on his albums) and smugly juvenile “The Pants” are the lowest points on the album. While energetic songs such as “Water”, “You Do the Math” and “Catch All the Fish” are lightweight fare, they are at least listenable enough to take their rightful places as fun frivolity. The most amusing song in that category, however, is the title track. “American Saturday Night” explores the tendency for ethnocentricism in our country. In listing everything that happens on a typical American Saturday Night, he exposes our inclination to forget that we live in a melting pot of diverse cultures, therefore, most things that we own or do are taken from those cultures: “You know, everybody has something that they’re known for/Ah, but usually it washes up on our shores”
The most melodically pleasing song on the album is the somber, but groovy, “Everybody’s Here.” While Coming off of an assumed breakup, he realizes that he’s physically in a room full of people, but emotionally absent. He observes, “Well, I guess the land of the livin’ ain’t no place for a heartbroken zombie like me.”
The soaring high points of this project are the tastefully produced “Anything Like Me” and the sonically and socially ambitious “Welcome to the Future.” “Anything Like Me” is a tender reflection on what it will be like to parent a son who will be a lot like him. “Heaven help us if he’s anything like me” Paisley fearfully sings with a hint of pride.
“Welcome to the Future” is Paisley’s most ambitious undertaking. It is presented in three parts: “welcome to the Future”, “Welcome to the Future (Reprise)” and “Back to the Future”, an instrumental. “Welcome to the Future (Reprise)” leads into his fatherly “Anything Like Me”. With just an acoustic guitar, the 1:28 song sweetly chronicles the events leading up to his relationship with his wife, Father of the Bride actress, Kimberly Williams:
“I went to see Father of the Bride
With a girl back home
We broke up before the sequel
So, I went to that one all alone.
I wondered who I’d wind up with
And what would our kids look like?
Well, I guess I got my answer
As I tucked ‘em in tonight
Hey, I don’t think dreams come any truer.
Boys, welcome to the future.”
In recent interviews to promote the album, Paisley has explained that “Welcome to the Future” was partially inspired by being in Time Square on the 2008 Election night. He notes that no matter what side of the aisle one was on, it was impossible not to feel the palpable excitement from the people as history was made. As the first two verses focus on the advances in technology that once were unimaginable (Pac-Man on cell phones and video conferences), the third verse addresses a much more important point of progress:
“I had a friend in school,
Runnin’ back on the football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For askin’ out the homecoming queen.
I thought about him today
And everybody who’s seen what he’s seen
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream.
Hey, wake up Martin Luther!
Welcome to the future.
Hey, glory, glory hallelujah
Welcome to the future”
While there’s still straight up fun to be had on American Saturday Night, it displays a maturity that does not necessarily exist on his prior albums. Additionally, the project consists of crisp and muscular production that still manages to demonstrate that Paisley is not ashamed to prominently feature traditional instrumentation. Steel guitar, fiddle, banjo and dobro are all given ample room to coexist with Paisley’s signature progressive guitar work without feeling like an afterthought. Moreover, Paisley and his producers introduce new sounds to his productions that could be alienating to some, but ultimately turn out to be refreshing and even invigorating.
Glory, glory hallelujah, Brad Paisley’s still in my future.
This is a very good album, but not one of his best. Too much drums, and a little too much down-tempo music. Also he’s dampened his “I ain’t worried about the PC thought police” attitude, meaning that the material, while excellent, is a bit on the bland side.
Still, a relatively poor Brad Paisley album is better than 99% of what passes for country music these days and I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album
A Paisley album just never excites me for some reason. I could not stand that THEN song and it stayed atop BB for 3 weeks. Boring song and it it’s been song to death and by Paisley on another song of his! Sorry, but he’s not a favorite of mine!
I’m excited to get this album. I think I’m one of the few people here that actually like “Then” so I’ve been excited for this album for awhile. I’m glad to hear you say that it’s better than 5th Gear which was probably my least favorite Brad album.
Brilliant review Leean, absoulutely brilliant. I’m glad Brad is still in your future :)…I like the album too, but not as much as you do..I think Paisley is a thoughtful and clever lyricist, and makes some important obeservations about life and culture, as you point out…And his line about the Zombie just kills me, lol!
But musically, melodically, I like Time Well Wasted more, and even 5th Gear…I think this album needed more melodically memorable songs.
Love the intrumental virtuosity as always, by Brad and his amazing band, who are his performing equals. I especially enjoy the closing intrumental on Water…brilliant stuff.
Wow LeeAnn. HOLY CRAP!! Even After I close down my site we still agree. Of all the projects out this year so far I was hoping this would be the one to help gain some critical acceptance within mainstream country and while I agree its far from his best, it certainly is deserving of the four-star ratin.g Nice review and THANK YOU for sheding some well needed light on the genre. it’s a great album.
I actually thought one of the problems with 5th Gear was the lack of strong melodies. To me, this album is much stronger in that regard. I still have to listen to Time Well Wasted again to compare the two, but I was impressed by the melodic diversity and strength here.
I agree that the drums are pretty prominent, but I think they enhance the productions and help drive the muscle of the album. I’m not adverse to well placed drums though. I wanted to be a drummer when I was a kid.
If you love this album, but think it’s by far not his best, you must be a huge fan.:)
A nicely written review. But I’m a little surprised that you give the album four out of five stars, given that you found three of the songs “soon to be forgotten” and three more “lightweights.” Seems like grade inflation.
The three lightweight songs are still good in my opinion, just not anything to write home about. The ones that I said were soon to be forgotten and described with uncomplimentary adjectives are the only three that I thought were bad songs. So, if I subtract the three songs that I could have completely lived without, that still leaves twelve songs that I either thought were good, very good or excellent. To me, that’s good for a fifteen track album. I liked it much better than an album I would have given 3.5 stars, but not quite enough to give it 4.5 and it’s certainly not close to perfect, which is what would have earned it 5 stars. So, 4 stars is about as fair of a grade as I can think of. I actually think I’m a tough grader. I almost gave this 4.5 stars (I vascilated between 4 and 4.5), but realized that would be too high.
I also was disappointed by “5th Gear”, although by most standards it was still a good record. “American” is far ahead of that, and I even like “Then”, but I have a personal connection to that. “Part 2” will remain my favorite Paisley CD, though.
Nice review, I completely agree except that I very much like “No”. Beyond that though, I agree.
You would be right on that note LeeAnn. Paisley was my first concert. I own every one of his albums and not once have I been disapointed. I agree that “Time Well Waisted” was probably his best with “Mus On The Tires” for me a close second. This album is great and it shows a lot more of Brad than anything else. But yeah LeeAnn, I am a HUGE fan!!
Thanks for the explanation of your grading Leeann.
Leann, this is a wonderfully written review.
However, I have to say that I have never been able to get into Brad Paisley’s music. He bores me. Always. His music always sounds dull to me, and his sense of humor just doesn’t work for me.
I will definitely give this one a listen after reading the review.
I feel the same way Martin does. Don’t know why but it’s just that way. Nothing exciting about him at all. He’s a sweet guy, but I look for passion and excitement…these 2, to me, Brad lacks.
getting dumped from your short-list for an album like “5th Gear” – you’d be surprised how many of today’s mainstream country stars would line up to feel your boot, leeann.
I agree. He’s definetly better than most of what is on the radio nowadays. Plus, I enjoyed the album throughly. There isn’t a single boring spot :)