Archives: Jason Aldean ‘Old Boots, New Dirt’ – Album Review
This article was first published on October 8th, 2014 on forthecountryrecord.com.
Jason Aldean is living proof that an ego can be an ugly, all-consuming thing. We’ve seen his often in the past couple of years, from the way he abrasively cheated on his wife (coincidentally discovered around the time of his last album release), filed for divorce, then began dating the younger woman he had been caught cheating with, suspiciously soon afterwards. We saw his ego in the clumsy way he handled the whole thing, the way he insensitively paraded his new girlfriend Brittany Kerr like a trophy wife all over social media (probably not too nice to see for his ex-wife and two daughters), the way he proposed to Brittany just before this new album came out. Then there was the release of lead single ‘Burnin’ It Down’, the way he used R&B and EDM to obnoxiously circumvent even his own music, never mind actual country music, the way despite a lot of negativity it has stayed at the top of Hot Country Songs for God knows how many weeks, the way he spoke defensively to the press time and time again about his music and his personal life. The angry, egotistical way in which he went on about his right to do things a certain way. That ego made him even less appealing, even more repulsive to his critics, and turned some folks against him. An ego does not do you any favors in the long run.
It’s difficult to separate someone’s personal life from their music. After all, songwriter or not, often that music reflects where they’ve been in their life since their last release (or at the very least, it should), and when someone’s personal life is paraded out in the public for all to see, we have every right to comment on it and connect it to the songs that person sings. Music is not just music, in a vacuum. It represents that person, warts and all, and can never just be “about the music”. But Jason Aldean knows that, as far as I can tell. The content on ‘Old Boots, New Dirt’ can be split fairly evenly into two categories; songs for his new wife, full of lust, parties, sex, drinking, and contributions from the EDM and R&B side of things, and songs for his old wife, full of regret, honesty, heartbreak and loneliness, his sound more representative of what we know of him already. Bridging the chasm between those two categories is the sense of starting anew and moving on, making the title immensely appropriate as he begins to tread new ground both personally and artistically (if you could call Jason Aldean an artist).
Of the former category, I have little positive to say. Tracks like ‘Tonight Looks Good On You’, ‘Laid Back’, ‘Burnin’ It Down’, ‘Just Getting’ Started’, ‘Show You Off’, ‘Sweet Little Somethin’’, and ‘Gonna Know We Were Here’ encase varying degrees of overblown, swaggery, self-indulgent mush, as much littered with the sonic trash that’s proving increasingly popular on country radio as it is Guns ‘n’ Roses-style excessive hard rock with some twang evident in there somewhere (hardly). It’s a bro-country mess with as much sexual objectification of women as you can shake a stick at, equal airtime given to driving, drinking, clichéd rural settings, partying and the actual explicit act of procreation.
Of the latter, my views become more complex. Tracks like ‘Tryin’ To Love Me’ and ‘If My Truck Could Truck’ seem to pay tribute specifically to his ex-wife Jessica, and do lay some genuine regret and heartbreak on the table. The latter holds some particular autobiographical references, especially to his two children, and seem to own up to the mistakes that he’s made. He goes further with ‘Two Night Town’, a place of depression and limbo where he drinks to drown his pain and sins because he can’t change his ways, while a couple of more conventional end-of-relationship, missing-you songs appear in ‘Miss You Girl’ and ‘Don’t Change Gone’. Bridging the gap between the old and the new are the title track as well as ‘I Took It With Me’ and ‘Too Fast’, moving on becoming the order of the day, his rearview in use but his foot on the gas.
So does it work? I’m not sure. For the most part it feels as if there are too many sex songs, and those songs are too explicit and creepy. It is crass and off-color to be so in-your-face about your new, considerably younger beau to your ex-wife and kids, particularly as she was the one who he cheated with. Everything is blatant, over-the-top, too far. It’s like a pre-mid-life-crisis where he reveals himself to be a true asshole. But as the album progresses, we hear more of his regret and life lessons learned. Are they really genuine? Are these songs advised by the label? Who can really ever know?
What I do know is having more than a couple of songs that I enjoyed saved Jason from me completely ripping into this record. He may not know what he’s doing, but someone else clearly does, and there is enough good (albeit barely country) music on here to balance at least a little of the awfulness. Too bad most of the first half of the album is utter garbage, huh.