Song Review: Reba McEntire, “Freedom”

I never thought I’d say this, but we really need to let the 1990s go.

The swing back towards a more traditional sound in country music has brought a bunch of aging neotraditional stars out of the woodwork for a piece of the action, from Garth to George to Brooks & Dunn. However, the results have been a bit mixed thus far: While George Strait hit his marks with “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” the other two have been offering up mostly reheated mediocrity (“Brand New Man,” “Stronger Than Me”). Now legendary country diva Reba McEntire is returning to claim some of the spotlight with a new album (Stronger Than The Truth) and a new single “Freedom,” and unfortunately this song is lot closer to the latter category: It’s a poorly-written love song that fails to draw its audience in and make them care, and while it’s a step up from the last Reba tune I reviewed (“Back To God”), it doesn’t add a whole lot to McEntire’s illustrious discography.

For all the neotraditional elements present in the production, I really don’t get a classic 90s vibe from this song. The song opens with a prominent acoustic guitar and some background “steel and strings” (although the fiddle here is buried so deep in the mix that it’s barely noticeable until the outro), pushing the electric guitars and drums aside until the chorus needs some volume and punch. Even then, however, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of energy here, and the sound feels more unremarkable than anything else, featuring a weird tone that isn’t dark enough to be serious but also isn’t bright enough to feel terribly happy. I liken it to a car revving its engine at a stoplight: It’s making a lot of noise, but it lacks any momentum and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. (I’m also not a big fan of the volume balance here, as McEntire’s vocals seem a bit too loud for the arrangement.) There’s something missing here, because the mix just doesn’t catch the listener’s ear and demand their attention, opting instead to just exist while its audience yawns and waits for the next song to come on. Where once people couldn’t turn away from a Reba McEntire song, they now can’t really be bothered to turn towards it.

I can’t say I’m particularly impressed by McEntire’s performance here either. While she still has most of the tone and earnest charisma that sustained her three-decade-plus-year career, this track has a nasty habit of pushing McEntire deep into her lower range (especially on the first verse), robbing her of her signature power and making her flow a bit choppier and more awkward than I expected. She sounds a lot more comfortable and confident on the choruses, but even then she sounds more matter-of-fact than truly happy, and isn’t able to transmit her elation at finding love over to the listener. I mean, I’m happy for the narrator and all, but I don’t really care about hearing her go on and on about her ultimately-successful quest for love. Just like with the production, nothing in McEntire’s performance really pulls me in and convinces me to pay attention—in fact, it mostly makes me think of all the McEntire songs I’d rather listen to instead.

Despite all the reservations I’ve offered up to this point, the writing is actually the weakest portion of the song, mostly because the hook is the most awkwardly-constructed setup I have heard since “Alcohol You Later.” The song starts by lamenting how bad freedom is without romance…and then suddenly freedom is awesome and “loving you feels like freedom”…and then suddenly it tries to connect it to patriotism and say that her relationship make her realize “why people died for it”?! (To be honest, this whole comparison feels like an insult to those who have actually gone to war.) Addressing so many different meanings and connotations of freedom just makes the listener’s head spin—for example, consider the bridge for a moment:

And all you had to give to me
Was the gift of being free

But weren’t you just complaining about how painful and costly being free was in the first verse? Good grief, make up your darn mind!

Beyond that, there’s not a lot to say here: Outside of the nifty “pull apart the bars because I couldn’t find the key” line, there’s not a whole lot of wit shown off here, and the imagery feels bland and boilerplate. If you are going to showcase an old-school powerhouse like McEntire, this is not the song to do it with.

In the end, “Freedom” feels like a last-minute attempt to cash in on neotraditional nostalgia and the legacy of Reba McEntire, and really doesn’t justify its existence. The boring sound, bland vocals, and outright bad lyrics make this a fairly uninteresting track, and not something that will convince listeners to stick around past the outro. As much as I loved the country sound of the 90s, with that decade now twenty years back in our rearview mirror, methinks it’s time to start thinking about constructing the future instead of trying to rebuild the past.

Rating: 5/10. Exercise your freedom to pass this one by.