Yes, it’s another serious song from Jason Aldean. The difference is that the seriousness actually feels warranted here.
Jason Aldean’s defining characteristic as an artist is that he sings as if there’s a giant black cloud over his head at all times, and the quality of his songs tends to hinge on how well a track meshes with that negative energy. “You Make It Easy” was okay, but didn’t feature enough darkness to mesh with Aldean’s style, while “They Don’t Know” went too far in the other direction and contained too much self-righteous anger to be enjoyable. His best work blends a bit of sadness with his natural delivery (see: “Why,” “The Truth,” “Any Ol’ Barstool”), and thankfully that’s what we get on “Drowns The Whiskey”: A clever take on an old story that takes advantage of Aldean’s serious style.
The production is primarily guitar-driven, with a dark, rough electric guitar covering the melody, a louder, cleaner guitar adding some stabs for effect, and a steel guitar generously heaped on top for extra atmosphere and a suitable solo. (An acoustic guitar eventually jumps onto the melody as well.) The track is backed by a real drum set, and while the beat feels a bit too busy and complex for to match the smooth, melancholic feel of the guitars, it’s unobtrusive enough that it doesn’t disrupt the song’s atmosphere. The minor chords are here, of course, but there aren’t many of them, and the overall chord structure is surprisingly conventional, making the mix heavily reliant on the instruments to set the mood. For the most part, the musicians are up to the task (however,the rapid-fire repetitive tones that open the song and pop up occasionally feel out of place), establishing a mood with just the right amount of darkness and keeping the focus on the lyrics where they belong.
Aldean is kind of a one-trick pony when it come to his singing style, but portraying a memory-haunted mess is right in his wheelhouse, and he does a nice job making the character feel genuine and believable. The song stands as a great example of keeping a singer within their comfort zone: The range isn’t too wide, the flow isn’t too fast, and the emotional demands are fine-tuned to play to Aldean’s strengths as a performer. It’s also a great example of how to properly feature a featured singer: This is the best I’ve heard Lambert sound since I started this blog, and her vocals are set at the perfect volume to capture her distinctive tone without overwhelming Aldean’s lines. For such a disparate pair, Aldean and Lambert have a surprising amount of vocal chemistry, so much so that I wouldn’t mind hearing them team up in the future. After all the complaining I’ve done lately about unconvincing artists, hearing these two perform was a welcome breath of fresh air.
The lyrics put a clever twist on a tired topic: Lots of singers try to drown the memory of a former love in alcohol, but I’ve never heard anyone flip the phrase around and highlight “how your memory drowns the whiskey.” I also like the direction of the verses (unoriginal as they are), telling the Jack Daniels folks that the whiskey ain’t workin’ anymore and declaring that the memory is so strong that other women in the bar don’t even get the chance to test their might against it. There’s just enough detail here to set the scene, and just enough wit in the writing to refresh a time-honored trope in the genre and make it connect with its audience.
I’m not sure if “Drowns The Whiskey” is great at anything, but it’s pretty darn good at most everything, and its consistency helps it stand out from its peers on the radio. It’s a step up from “You Make It Easy,” and together the songs make me wonder if it’s worth taking a closer look at Aldean’s Rearview Town album. I’ll gladly let this song drown all the mediocrity I’ve heard lately.
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.