What happens in a small town might stay in a small town, but Jason Aldean wants no part of it.
As crazy as it might sound for someone who’s won the last three ACM Entertainer of the Year awards, Aldean feels like he’s flying under the radar right now. With the country music hype machine cranked into overdrive for artists like Luke Combs and Kane Brown, songs like Aldean’s last single “Girl Like You” are being greeted with a yawn and a shrug despite methodically marching to the top of the charts. (Luke Bryan and Thomas Rhett seems to be running into the same headwind, as if their consistent success has suddenly veered into monotony.) With his seat at the head table of country music suddenly being challenged by the new kids in town, Aldean is going back to what he does best for the fourth single from his Rearview Town album: Turning songs into much more dark and serious affairs than it necessary. “Rearview Town,” however, is the rare track that actually benefits from such an approach, gaining an unsettling amount of depth as it peers into the resigned anger of its protagonist.
The production is exactly what you expect from a Jason Aldean single: Hard-rock guitars cranked up to 11, a mixture of punchy real drums and a cold synthetic drum beat, and as many dark tones and minor chords as the producer can stuff into the mix. I’ve heard doom and gloom from Aldean’s arrangements before, but this one feels different: There’s a raw desperation to the sound that feels genuinely unsettling, taking a generic small-town brokenhearted narrator and leading you to question their stability. I didn’t “hear a lot of hope and optimism” in the Zac Brown Band’s “Someone I Used To Know,” but that song is positively giddy compared to “Rearview Town,” where I’m legitimately wondering if the narrator is about to hurt themselves or others around them. The tempo is slower here, but even that plays into the song’s mood, making the treatise feel measured and premeditated even as the anger burns just beneath the surface. This was a lot more powerful than I expected, and it leaves a strong (and concerning) impression on the listener.
Aldean is the equivalent of a LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out GuY) relief pitcher in baseball: He’s not a flexible performer and his repertoire isn’t huge, but he does one or two things really well, and taking songs to new levels of melancholy and seriousness in right in his wheelhouse. This tends to work against his material more often than not (“Girl Like You” was supposed to sound sexy, not serious), but on the rare occasions that everything lines up, it can take a sad, painful song and drive it to new levels of tenebrosity (now there’s a word I never expected to see in a review). Despite the foreboding atmosphere, Aldean sounds completely comfortable from start to finish, handling the song’s range and (nonexistent) flow demands without breaking a sweat. Where his angry delivery felt unwarranted on a song like “They Don’t Know,” here it becomes the perfect vehicle for the song’s emotion, and while the listener doesn’t end up sharing the narrator’s anger, they feel its heat strongly enough that they start hoping someone talks this guy off the ledge. Aldean’s best work tends to have an edge to it, and this one’s edge feel a lot sharper than the others.
On the surface, this is not exactly a subtle piece of writing: This narrator is not happy about their recent breakup, so much so that he’s tearing up pictures, flipping off signs, and abandoning their beloved hometown, which he now refers to derisively as a “rearview town.” However, a closer inspection leads to a surprise: While it’s love (or a lack thereof) that’s driving them in the moment, the lyrics include a few details that suggest this geographical breakup was years in the making. The dust clouds, “rusted plows,” and narrator’s declaration that the town “ain’t nothin’ what it used to be” paints a picture of a eroding farm community with a bountiful past and absolutely no future. For all the narrator’s rage and impulsiveness, this rural disillusionment comes as the biggest surprise: Country music has always deified small-town life, and while other artists have covered this topic recently (Sam Hunt on “Break Up In A Small Town, Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell on “What Happens In A Small Town”), none of them even entertained the thought of leaving home. (Then again, digging through really old country songs turns up a fair amount of tales about people who are driven to ramble by lost love, so maybe it’s just a extreme throwback or something.) It’s yet another signal that this guy has come wayyyyy off the deep end over this breakup, and combined with Aldean’s poignant delivery, it really makes the audience stop and pay attention.
I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of “Rearview Town,” but given my previous reviews of Rearview Town material (both “You Make It Easy” and “Drowns The Whiskey” were decent), maybe I should have been. This is the sort of dark, ominous song that Jason Aldean is perfect for, and he, the writers, and the producer conspire to take the user for a trip that is memorable, slightly uncomfortable, and overall pretty powerful. Combs, Brown, and their contemporaries may be grabbing all the headlines nowadays, but Aldean demonstrates here that there’s a reason he’s got all those trophies on his shelf.
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.