Jason Aldean’s ‘Give a Damn’ Has Shifted
"I don't know what people are gonna like. What I do know is what I like, and I know if I can record an album that I think is cool, that I enjoy, I hope my fans are gonna like it too," Aldean says. "That's how I've gotten to this point — making music that I thought was cool and they've become fans of it. I completely get where he (McGraw) is coming from."
That's reflected not just in his albums (especially his last three, including Rearview Town, which drops April 13), but his single choices. It's one thing for an artist to hide his fetishes deep between two mainstream cuts and never play them live or (gasp!) release them to radio. But Aldean leads with them. "Burnin' It Down" was a slow, sexy, hip-hop-inspired burner that introduced Old Boots, New Dirt in 2014. "Lights Come On" (the lead single from They Don't Know) was closer to what fans grew to love about the country-rocker from his debut in 2005 through 2015.
"You Make It Easy" is a soulful, vulnerable love song that provides easy passage to his personal life — something he's rarely given in overt ways. All three singles earned their fare share of criticism on the way to No. 1, and throughout Rearview Town you'll search for some sort of "give a damn." It's not there. There's nothing that feels like a reaction. In fact, there is very little that he does that seems directly tied to his previous successes, either — Aldean doesn't do sequels.
"Obviously you want them to like it, but you can't make it [music] to please someone else," he says. Any artist with seven hit studio albums will remind you that success is a moving target, because things change year to year. Trends change. Socio-politics and other genres influence personal tastes, which change. Copycats burn up a well of good ideas. Perhaps most relevant? Artists change.
Now 41, Aldean has been a radio mainstay since he was 28. He tells Taste of Country he's more interested in deep, resonant lyrics now than he was when fans first met him. The lighter stuff just isn't working for him any longer.
"Even like a ‘Hicktown,’" he admits, "I probably wouldn’t cut that song today just because I’m not 27, you know what I mean?"
"Johnny Cash," "She's Country," and "Crazy Town" are three more rockers that became radio hits based on brut power and aggression. They're thrilling live songs, and fans will get their fix with tracks like "Ride All Night" and "Girl Like You" on Rearview Town, but the signature moments are more well-rounded.
"There's a song called 'Better at Being Who I Am' on the record that's maybe one of the most well-written songs I've ever recorded," Aldean shares. "Your world and mine are world's apart / This square peg, round hole thing's too hard / Being something I ain't never had a chance / I'm better at being who I am," he sings to close the chorus.
The ballad is one of several traditional country interruptions on an album that genre-hops. "Drowns the Whiskey" with Miranda Lambert will find a place in the hearts of fans of the old hits "The Truth" and "Laughed Until We Cried."
"Country music is really what I love, and I always want to make sure I don't get away from it," Aldean assures.
The title track is the most personal song on the album, but no lyric comes across as acutely biographical. There's not a song inspired by last October's attack at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas; the album was nearly complete by the time a gunman opened fire while he was on stage, the two-time ACM Entertainer of the Year says. Missing also is reference to his baby son, Memphis.
"I think every album has parts of it that allow you to look into what's going on with that particular artist at the time. Whether it's 'You Make It Easy,' which reminds me of my wife ... There's always songs like that that you can somewhat get a glimpse into the artist's life."
Song to song you might still have to squint to get that glimpse into Aldean's life and strategy. The wide lens offers a clearer picture.