Aldean Delivers A Wholesome Trip With ‘Night Train’
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
As hip-hop obsesses over the Lamborghini, country is perfectly content with its Chevys and Fords. Based on this distinction, the genre has long been criticized for being backward, unrefined, and out of touch. With American auto manufacturers now at the forefront of politics, however, the Chevy and the Ford have become painfully relevant symbols for the nation’s future. Country music’s fascination with the working class can no longer be dismissed as trite. Jason Aldean’s fifth studio album, Night Train, celebrates this American identity, and through its charming simplicity, makes a strong case for the country genre.
The Georgia native opens the album with “This Nothin’ Town,” a lively anthem tipping its hat to small town America. Aldean’s storytelling is most resonant when it pulls together tragedy and triumph on this track (“That old abandoned factory / Just got the wrecking ball / We threw a party in the parking lot / Just to watch it fall”). The track flirts with the stadium rock sound, neatly pairing Springsteen-esque instrumentals with country vocals, and frankly, it just works. The following track (“When She Says Baby”) is far less of an achievement. It’s one of those old-fashioned salutes to how a woman makes a man feel at the end of a hard day’s work. Next, please.
Every country artist seems legally bound to devote at least one track per album to his bittersweet longing for a simpler time. Aldean does just this with “Feel That Again” (“Give me some of that you and me / Some of that way back when / A little bit of wild and free / I wanna feel that again”). Although predictable, Aldean makes the kind of song everyone sings sound exciting. Just like a Ford, it isn’t innovative, but it gets the job done much better than most, a definite characteristic of the songwriting on Night Train.
“The Only Way I Know” testifies to the work-hard way of life “in the middle of nowhere.” It’s unapologetic, blunt, and represents just about everything great in country music. There’s a magical chemistry between Aldean and collaborators Luke Bryan and Eric Church, as they take what seem to be deliberate digs at Washington (“Full throttle wide open / You get tired, you don’t show it / Dig a little deeper when you think you can’t dig no more / That’s the only way I know”). It’s the lesson big banks and bureaucrats could learn from the blue-collar worker: Not happy? Work harder.
The lead single off the album (“Take A Little Ride”) is about precisely what you think it is. Yup, driving a Chevy has again been worked into a sexual metaphor. It’s been done by many men before him, but Aldean is hilarious about it (“Drop the tailgate down on a turn row / Watch the corn grow, baby, that’s a good night”), making it a welcome addition to the album.
“Night Train,” the album’s title track, strikes a more profound note: it’s the simple story of breaking daily routine to listen to “the sound of steel and old box cars.” For artists like Aldean, this is precisely what music is all about: the departure from the nine-to-five to something far more eternal. The human experience is timeless, and country’s an art reflecting that fact. “Staring at the Sun” works together several conventional metaphors to argue that love is a natural phenomenon (“She’s like finally coming home / Standin’ in the rain / Starin’ at the sun”). It’s simple, and that’s what makes it brilliant. “Black Tears” is the story of an erotic dancer, but more than that, it’s about the collision of the artificial and natural (mascara and tears), the conflict that makes us human.
The album fittingly closes with “Water Tower,” a somber salute to coming home. While most pop music favors departure, Night Train is most comfortable returning to where it came from, and while it’s no Lamborghini of an album, it never especially tries to be. It’s the Ford: simple, dependable, and something inextricably American.