Last fall, Jason Aldean was performing on stage in Las Vegas when the worst mass shooting in U.S. history began. In the end, 58 people were killed and hundreds were injured. The country superstar and his band escaped the gunfire.
Many of those affected were surely Aldean fans. For his part, the native Georgian has since visited victims in hospitals and returned to Vegas to play a show. He has also discussed the incident several times, when he’d no doubt rather talk about something else. As he told Entertainment Weekly in March: “I’m just hoping that on this album cycle, we talk about whatever people want to know so we can go, ‘Okay, there’s nothing left to say, let’s focus on whatever we do next from here on out.’”
Aldean’s sprawling new album Rearview Town is his first major effort to turn the page. It was mostly completed before last Oct. 1, and its tracklist doesn’t include a song about the shooting. It is very much another Jason Aldean album, just like the past seven Jason Aldean albums.
That means there are red-meat arena rockers as far as the eye can see, themed around two topics: partying (“Dirt to Dust,” “Gettin’ Warmed Up”) and women (“Set It Off,” “Love Me or Don’t”). This is modern country music, stuffed to the max with crunchy riffs, hair metal solos and a few slide-guitar wails to keep things just twangy enough. Twelve years after Aldean helped recenter the genre, these sounds aren’t novel in country music. This is Aldean’s world; he inhabits it more convincingly than most.
To his credit, Rearview Town finds him still pushing and pulling on country’s expanded boundaries. Take, for example, the rapped interlude that breaks up the humdrum “Gettin’ Warmed Up” or the hyper-processed banjo sound that jumps right out of “Ride All Night,” an otherwise rote “let’s do it in my truck” country bumbler. Neither of those can quite rescue their larger song, but at least they’re ear-catching.
And then there’s “Like You Were Mine,” which finds Aldean in full exploratory mode, using Auto-Tune overtly and setting spoken-word verses against chunky guitars and a chirping synth. Those verses stand out so much, they’re like country’s version of Future’s falsetto “la di da di da” verse in “King’s Dead.” Is it a good idea? A bad idea? Who knows? But you’ll either love it or hate it. Mission accomplished.
Highlights of Rearview Town include a relatively self-aware song called “Better at Being Who I Am” that sounds more like classic ‘90s country than the current strain, as well as “Blacktop Gone,” with its alt-rock vibe and unconventional chorus-within-a-chorus.
But the best song here is also the most confounding. Sitting right in the middle of the album is “Drowns the Whiskey,” a solid barstool tune that pairs a gorgeous pedal steel guitar solo and a clever lyrical conceit with a skittering beat and repeated guitar line that sounds a lot like the song “Else” by indie-rock veterans Built to Spill.
Which would be the weirdest thing about it, except that it’s also a duet with Miranda Lambert, and she isn’t given anything to sing apart from backing vocals! If you’ve got a well-written country song about missing your ex and drowning your sorrows and Miranda Lambert is willing and able to sing on it, don’t you at least give her a verse? Even if it means a rewrite? It’s a head-scratcher, that’s for sure. Which means it fits in nicely on Rearview Town, an album that splits its time between scratching heads and playing it safe.