Jason Aldean Keeps It Close to Home With ‘9’
With a staggering 21 No. 1 singles and six platinum albums to his name, Jason Aldean has long been a leading figure in contemporary country. Releasing collaborations over the years with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church, he has remained at the forefront of the scene, occasionally venturing outside his comfort zone, joining forces with artists like Ludacris. From his 2005 self-titled debut to last year’s “Rearview Town,” he has kept the hit songs steadily coming, and maintained a devoted fanbase with his signature strain of country. Aldean’s ninth album, simply titled “9,” is as straightforward as you’d expect from its title, showing the singer sticking to his guns, and churning out readymade country rock bangers. Rigidly adhering to the tried and tested, it offers close to nothing in terms of novelty, but shows a master of his craft still doggedly at it.
Opener “Tattoos and Tequila” begins guitars blazing, launching headlong into the beefed-up sound that prevails for most of the album. The song runs like a shorthand, streamlined ticking of all the main boxes, as Aldean declares himself heartbroken with only “tattoos to remember and tequila to forget.” With a line as snappy as this in the first song, there ought to be little confusion about what you’re in for. Sure enough, Aldea goes on to rhyme “whiskey” with “miss me” on “Blame It On You,” a catchy tune that stands out for its production, particularly some subtle, delayed vocal processing that makes all the difference. Then, “Champagne Town” overlays distorted guitar blasts on acoustic strumming, and locks into a jaunty groove that offers promise, only to be egregiously truncated by a hasty, generic chorus with the leading line, “So I’m here drinkin’ whiskey / In a champagne town.” What more, Aldean rhymes “whiskey” with “miss me” again — two songs in a row. Three songs in, and three types of drink mentioned so far, he seems well on his way to exhausting his subject matter of choice.
“Some Things You Don’t Forget” finds Aldean singing with extra flair atop guitar heroics, but again hell bent on forcing in a catchy chorus before giving the listener room to breathe. This makes it all the more satisfying when “Got What I Got” slows down the pace to a relaxed waltz, over which he comfortably croons, and lets the song follow its course with a little more restraint. The refrain here is especially infectious, and a prime example of Aldean’s knack for stringing together words that roll off the tongue and lend themselves readily to twangy tunes. Many of the songs in the set can be sufficiently summed up by their titles, for instance “Keeping It Small Town,” and it’s those with memorable zingers and flourishes that make the most impact, with the others often sounding like little more than easy filler. They’re at least effective in creating a vivid portrait of the life celebrated, as on “Camouflage Hat,” in which the title is one bit in a litany of signifiers like pickup trucks, tailgates, country boys, and country girls.
Midway into the album, it’s been a surprising while since the last mention of liquor, and Aldean takes just precaution with “Just Came Here to Drink,” a song replete with steel guitar, a bit of banjo, and all the works. “We Back” swings back to center, perhaps the most mobilizing iteration yet of the hard rock country sound at the record’s core. When Aldean sings the titular line, you have to take him at his word, as he sounds just as he always has. “Dirt We Were Raised On” is essentially a thematic reprise of “Keeping It Small Town,” with some particularly colorful guitar work and such badass snippets as “Yeah, we drank on it / Cranked some Hank on it.” Needless to say, the following song, “I Don’t Drink Anymore,” comes as a surprise — that is, until Aldean rounds off his chorus, adding, “And I don’t drink any less.” It’s a variation of the same sentiment explored on the opening track, and a masterfully executed one.
Aldean keeps the catchphrases coming on “Cowboy Killer,” crooning, “She’s a cowboy killer in a shotgun seat” over a propulsive beat with guitars gone haywire, bending left and right with full countrified blues passion. “One for the Road” keeps things going steadily, with another especially catchy melody and the band reveling in an inspired afterthought. Guitars get particularly punchy on “Talk About Georgia, a nod to Aldean’s Macon, GA roots, giving a name and place to the romanticized “small town” archetype teased earlier. “The Same Way” keeps the guitars blaring, but ventures into uncharted territory with a trap beat, deftly incorporated into the arrangement in a way that effectively adds novelty without screaming for attention. Finally, “She Likes It” sums up the whole affair, with Aldean echoing himself in “Cowboy Killer,” singing of his cowgirl riding “shotgun next to me,” and rounding it off with another mention of whiskey.
At sixteen tracks, “9” can come across as a bit bloated. This is exacerbated by the predictability of its content. Perfecting a formula, and being able to successfully recast it time and time again is one thing, but there’s a point at which it simply gets lazy. Aldean has clearly set out to satisfy his regular fans with a new set of the same fare — and in this respect, he succeeds. Still, he could have packed more of a punch by ditching some of the filler, and focusing on the leaner tracks. There’s plenty to enjoy here, from the brash, jokey one-liners and catchy hooks to the thoroughly informed country instrumentation and driving hard rock energy. Altogether, however, the album thrives on clichés, which are better handled in smaller doses.
“9” is available Nov. 22 on Apple Music.