The first step to recovery is admitting you
have were a problem.
Jason Aldean is rightly pilloried for being at forefront of the Bro-Country movement and still drops a occasional clunker along those lines (*cough* “They Don’t Know” *cough*), but he’s actually been one of the more interesting artists in the genre over the last couple of years, dropping solid tracks with some intriguing underlying themes such as “Rearview Town” and his most-recent release “Got What I Got.” He’s now returned with “Blame It On You,” the third single from his current album 9, and while it’s yet another interchangeable lost-love song in a format that’s littered with them right now, it’s got a couple of notable twists that help it stand out (slightly) from the rest of the trend. I wouldn’t call it a great song, but I’d call it a half-decent one, and something that might be worth revisiting now and then.
Let’s start with the production, which is pretty much the same backing arrangement Aldean always uses these days: Rough-edged hard-rock electric guitars that multiply as the song progresses, the typical percussion mix that starts synthetic and then brings in the drum set for the first chorus, and a few background steel guitar stabs for seasoning. At its core, it’s the same guitar-and-drum mix that the rest of Nashville is overly dependent on, but there’s an important difference here: The loud, rough guitars give the song a raw and powerful feeling that the slicker, toned-down axes in most other mixes do, and it accentuates the mood of the song a lot more (and a lot better) as a result. Aldean isn’t the most emotive singer in the world, so the guitars play a huge role in conveying the depth of the narrator’s pain and emotions and leaving an impression in the listener’s mind. (However, the same cannot be said of the backup lines buried in vocal effects, which don’t give off that same raw vibe and instead feel a tad overproduced.) Yes, it’s nothing different than what Aldean’s been giving us over the last fifteen years, but it seems to fit the subject matter a bit better this time around.
When a song isn’t necessarily in your wheelhouse, sometimes your best option is to force it into your wheelhouse, and that’s basically what goes on here. It’s a mildly-challenging song from a technical perspective (some of the faster portion require you to be crisp with your flow), but Aldean gets through it without any trouble. Instead of treating the track like the garden-variety tearjerker that it is, Aldean does what he does best, delivering a dark, dramatic, slightly-over-the-top performance (especially on the chorus) to make the track feel like some sort of rock opera. For once, his serious delivery actually makes sense here, teaming with the production to give the song a extra shot of emotion that the audience really feels, something that most recent songs in this vein seem to lack. Despite his generally-inflexible stage presence, I think Aldean elevates this song here simply by being himself and doing what he always does, reminding the world that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
The writing tells the usual story of a narrator trying to drink away the memory of a failed romance, but there’s a strong sense of self-awareness here that (yet again) is not found in most contemporary heartbreak tracks. What the hook lacks in strength, it makes up in straight talk: “I can’t blame it on you,” a realization that stands out not only because most of Aldean’s peers dance around this question or leave their answer ineffectively vague, but because it helps justify the raw sound and Aldean’s intensity: The narrator knows darn well that he was the one that screwed things up, and knowing that makes the pain that much worse. While going “on and on on why you’re gone” is unfortunately all the narrator ends up doing (they spend most of the song drinking like everyone else in the genre), just the simple act of recognizing the guilty party (and explicitly not blaming the other person) makes the narrator much more sympathetic in the eyes of the audience, which in turn helps them share in the narrator’s sorrow. It’s not a huge step up, but it meshes well with the rest of the track to make it an interesting listen.
In a veritable ocean of heartbreak, “Blame It On You” is a well-constructed offering that stands a cut above the rest of the field. The symbiotic relationship between the sound, the singer, and the lyrics provide just enough of a unique angle on a common theme to catch the listener’s attention and hold it from start to finish. After fifteen years and nine albums, it’s time to recognize that Jason Aldean will be one of the artists from this time period that we’ll be talking about for a long time, and if he stays on his current trajectory for a while longer, the eventual retrospectives may have more positive than negative things to say about it (which was probably not the case in the “Burnin’ It Down” era). Much like with “Drowns The Whiskey,” it doesn’t matter if you do what everyone else does as long as you do it better than they can.
Rating: 6/10. Give it a few spins and see what you think.