Brad Paisley – Love and War
A decade ago the overweight bubba type in Brad Paisley’s “Online” marveled at how quickly a doctored selfie would get him dates. Now the practice creeps Paisley the fuck out. With a title format used by people on Facebook who have no idea how hashtags work, “selfie#theinternetisforever” scowls at a generation of narcissists and wannabes: “Now why you gotta tweet it/when you really oughta just delete it,” he huffs. The refrain is “You oughta be ashamed,” while the band shouts back “But you’re not!” and “That’s right!” like the audience at a congressman’s town hall meeting. But the arrangement doesn’t scowl: he pours his scorn into his typically scabrous guitar fills while the rest is a pleasant amble with fiddle filigrees, no different from, well, “Online” and every uptempo hit released since 2003’s Mud on the Tires. For Brad Paisley, anger is not an energy.
With Love and War, conscious of his waning chart success, Paisley makes an unambiguous drives for the fogey market: the ones who’ll check out a Sam Hunt track but won’t commit. On the evidence of “selfie#theinternetisforever,” he’s ossifying quickly, expecting the audience to give him a pass for using unpleasantness as a joke. Misogyny too. Every one of the scenarios Paisley mentions in its coda – wet T-shirts, making out with your professor, naked with an Irish setter, smoking in your third trimester – codes as behavior that only women, in his mind, would be foolish enough to flaunt on Instagram; a chorus of dudes, as aged as prime rib, shout “The internet is forever!” after each line. A generous reading would give Paisley credit for implying that the behavior is fine in the privacy of her own home, as his mom and dad might’ve told him, but the result is tendentious and gross. Fatherhood confers no special claim to sagacity, no matter how fleet those fingers.
Some of his talent for the bright conceit courses through “Go to Bed Early,” which isn’t about turning off the lights after a rerun of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman on the Hallmark Channel. But Love and War is stuffed with enough lethargic reprises to wonder if Paisley’s getting sated. “Last Time for Everything” is 2014’s “Beat This Summer,” itself a reprise of 2009’s superior “Water.” In 2007, a white male artist hiring Timbaland was a fusty gesture; I can’t hear his contribution to “Grey Goose Chase,” a pub crawl that Kenny Chesney would skip. On the other hand, Mick Jagger’s name in the credits of an atrophying male country artist should compel anyone to reach for Windex, and while producer Luke Wooten clutter the mix with truckloads of overdubbed guitars “Drive of Shame” emerges as L&W’s most charming song: the Jagger of “Far Away Eyes” and “Dead Flowers,” his low end scuffed and vowels more elastic than Paisley’s leads, is more at home with secondhand country tropes than his co-star — much more at home than John Fogerty on the title track, a Photoshopped version of himself, suggesting he should’ve sung “”selfie#theinternetisforever.”
Since 2009 the decline has been inexorable and inevitable. A palm reading suggests that citizens of deep red states recoiled from the unambiguous manner in which Brad Paisley embraced Barack Hussein Obama. I have a simpler answer: the songs he’s writing and playing haven’t been very good. 2011’s “This is Country Music” had a blinkered defensiveness; on 2013’s Wheelhouse, home of the moronic it-shall-not-be-named LL Cool J collaboration, his attempts to sound younger and lithe were at odds with the man who’d triumphed with songs about chilling out with his cool wife and brushing his kid’s teeth; comfortable with aging, self-conscious about the complacency enfeebling his scenarios, Brad Paisley was a songwriter to grow old with. On Love and War — incoherent title! — turning into Toby Keith and Clint Black is bugging the shit out of him. In this way, the situation is worse: there isn’t a hint of crank in him. What remains are unfocused tracks that define adulthood as a redoubt from which the occasional cloud of six-string noise emerges, tentatively.