I am approaching this review with dread.
I have to do my first "bad" review. I refuse to just skip over this one. Why? Because I'm rather irritated by this album. It could have, no, it SHOULD have been so much better.
I'm also dreading this because I'm going to break some of my unspoken rules:
-Don't compare an album to a predecessor
-Don't lean too heavily on what my professional recording engineer husband says
and most of all...
-Don't talk about politics. Ever.
I bought this album as soon after its release as my budget would allow. Not only have I totally appreciated the Dixie Chicks in the past, but I knew that this was a Rick Rubin production, and he is one of my heroes. He has consistently brought out the best on the artists he's worked with. He is responsible for bringing Johnny Cash back into the recognition that he so very much deserved. I couldn't wait to see what he could do with an act as talented as the Chicks.
Boy was I wrong.
People, I don't know what your opinion of the Dixie Chicks are. Chances are you either love them or hate them because at this point I don't think there is much middle ground. But none of that matters now, because this album is lame.
I should have guessed from the packaging. The three women look beautiful, if perhaps a little too thin. They've always been presented glamourously but they're pictured here in as urban as setting as you could find. Dark, harsh lighting, posed in front of some very expensive black car, looking like Julia Roberts in movie star mode.
I should have known from the press before the release. "It's a rockier sound." Whenever I hear "rockier" used to describe something, I know, without a doubt, that it will not rock at all.
I knew it when I played it for the first time in my dining room...and turned it down. That's not a good sign. I turned it back up again. I got bored. I turned it back down. It failed the dining room test.
We took it on a car ride of over an hour. It sounded terrible. Even I, with my non-professional ears, could tell that the recording is a mush of noise. It's like every single track had to have each instrument and each vocal as loud as possible. It isn't that it's just not a pleasant listen. It's a painful listen. It failed the Jethro-Jetta test. Spectacularly, fully failed.
This album lasted the entire drive. There are 14 songs, each about four minutes long. It was torture. When would it end already??
While my husband was deeply offended by the careless handling of the entire recording process, we were both horrified by the complete lack of what made this act so great, and that would be MUSIC. It's not a very musical piece of work! Where are the melodies? Where are the banjo and violin and mandolin? Where, oh where, are the HARMONIES? Where is the complexity and the sensitivity?
Natalie's voice is a force to be reckoned with, and here it's treated like a weapon- it's a vocal assault. In some places the Autotune is so strong it could be a Cher track.
Lyrically it's bland. There is not much poetry here in any sense. The title track is basically a repeat of "Long Time Gone" from their excellent 2002 release, Home. Only this song doesn't have any of the previous song's cleverness or humour. My least favourite lyric is from a song called "So Hard" which contains the lyric, "It's so hard when it doesn't come easy." Oh dear.
A big deal is being made that each song was co-written by the Chicks. All I'm going to say about that is this: Writing songs is something to be proud of, but performing other people's well-written songs is nothing to be ashamed of.
The Dixie Chicks couldn't make another country record. They have lost their conservative Christian type patriotic audience, and they know it. After Natalie's public crack against The Prez, and the ensuing CD smashing parties and yes, the death threats, they are going for a different audience. Somehow, an idea has come up that moving away from country and into pop is a sophisticated career move. I see it as a totally commercial career move. By taking the risk of alienating part of the audience, an artist attempts to gain a wider audience. With some of theirs already done, this, as far as I can tell, is an attempt at a crossover.
It's so boring though, they might as well have hired Mutt Lange and done another boring Shania Leppard album. At least that way they would have had some catchy, scientifically developed hit songs.
This hurts me people. I really wanted to love this album.
I wanted them to be able to rise above the scandal. I wanted them to prove that America is a country built on freedom, like everybody says it is, and that you can criticize your elected leader and not be put to death.
It's much deeper than that though. Nobody is publicly put to death, but an artist can be commercially put to death. They can be frozen out by radio stations and record stores.
I have to say, yes, it was disrespectful and even rude for them to state that they were ashamed that Bush is from Texas. But that did not deserve death threats.
Just an extra note concerning Rick Rubin: What the hell happened???? Just week before, another of his projects, Stadium Arcadium by Red Hot Chili Peppers, was released, and it's brilliant. I'm not the only one who thinks so, it turns out. I can't figure out how he could go so terribly wrong with the Chicks. I don't believe it's because he's not familiar with country music. I'd like to once again point out the work he did with Johnny Cash, which was, for the most part, perfectly stripped down and essential.
Did he phone it in? Did he put an underling on it? Was he sick with a terrible head cold?
It's hard to say what caused this underwhelming, uninteresting, unlistenable disaster. I just feel that this is not the record I hoped the Dixie Chicks would come back with.