A disappointing drinking song? Hey, that’s what Jason Aldean does.
The sixth anniversary of this blog is coming up next month, and after you review this many songs you start looking for overarching narratives to explain things: Artist A is great, Artist B is terrible, Artists C through M are sleep-inducing, etc. Some artists, however, defy these easy narratives, and Jason Aldean is a prime example of one who is not easy to pin down. He’s had some quality single releases (“Any Ol’ Barstool,” “Rearview Town,” etc.), but he’s also dropped some serious stinkbombs (“They Don’t Know,” “We Back,” etc.) and his behavior off the field hasn’t always been exemplary, so after seventeen years in the mainstream, where exactly does this guy stand? Ideally his latest release “That’s What Tequila Does” would offer a sliver of clarity, but instead it just muddies the waters further. It’s a tale of love and alcohol that’s far more confusing than compelling, and instead of attracting or repelling the listener, it simply bores them.
The production here feels like a bit of a departure for Aldean, but the end result doesn’t sound any better for it. The specific pieces are exactly what you expect: We’ve got a clean acoustic guitar and a basic drum machine line for the verses (featuring Grady Smith’s favorite clap track), some heavier electric guitars and a real drum set for the choruses, and a few other assorted items (keyboard, steel guitar) that are mostly left in the background and often drowned out by the guitars. The tone, however, is exactly not what you expect: Darker instrument sounds and ominous vibes are Aldean’s calling card at this point, but despite having regular minor chords in its progression, the feel of the sound here is surprisingly neutral, and can even feel somewhat bright during the verses when the acoustic guitar is left to carry the melody by itself. It’s got too much of a placeholder feel to offer much support to the writing, and it doesn’t do anything to entice listeners to stay tuned in. There’s enough familiar stuff here to make this recognizable as an Aldean song, but ‘familiar’ and ‘ear-catching’ are two very different things.
I’m starting to think Aldean needs an antagonist in his songs, because without someone or something to focus his passion and/or ire on, he’s just not that interesting as a vocalist. (Come to think of it, he’d be the perfect singer for the Ex-Boyfriend country trend, and I’m surprised that he hasn’t jumped on that train yet.) He handles the track’s technical demands without any trouble and at least tries to bring his usual intensity on the chorus, but he doesn’t have his usual defiant, in-your-face attitude this time, and while said attitude has gotten him into trouble at times, without it his performance here feels uninspired and generic (it’s not whiny or aggrieved, it’s not moving or sad…it’s just kinda there). Even though he’s ostensibly the narrator here, he seems a bit disconnected from the story, and he doesn’t do a good job selling this tale to the audience (admittedly there isn’t much of a story here, but we’ll get to that). Just like with the production, Aldean doesn’t turn this track into an Aldean song—stick anyone else behind the mic, and it would sound the exact same.
The writing here is…well…okay, I’ll admit, I have no idea what the aim of these lyrics are, and that’s the biggest problem. The narrator has gone through a breakup recently, and has discovered that drinking a certain beverage brings back memories of the good times and deludes the speaker into thinking they can rekindle the relationship because “that’s what tequila does.” (Side note: Have we used up all the good hooks already? Because no one seems to have one anymore.) It’s all standard “still not over you” fare, but it’s missing a key component, one that every fourth-grader knows to ask about: Why? If you know that tequila is going to fool you into thinking you and your ex can make it work when it’s clearly over, why the heck are you drinking tequila in the first place? I mean, even if we set aside the question of why they’re drinking at all, there are plenty of other alcohol beverages out there that are capable of wetting your whistle, so why keep setting yourself up for sorrow by indulging a fantasy that’ll will disappear the minute you’re sober? I could maybe see the logic here if the narrator were trying to escape their pain and loneliness, but the song gives us no indication that they’re suffering while sober—we don’t get any details about the relationship or the other person or how the narrator normally feels or anything. It makes the whole song come across as an unforced error: They’re drinking because it’s a requirement for being a country artist, they’re drinking Cuervo because it’s one of the few things available on the genre’s libation list, and voila! Instant transportation to la-la land. The song’s goal goal may have been to make the listener feel solidarity with the speaker, but instead it destroys the narrator’s credibility and likeability: They did this to themselves, and if “that’s what tequila does,” maybe next time they should do/drink something different.
“That’s What Tequila Does” is a pointless, uninteresting song, the kind that takes forever to review because you’re forever getting distracted by things that are more interesting, such as doing laundry or watching paint dry. The production is flavorless, Jason Aldean is lifeless, and the writing raises serious questions that it doesn’t bother answering. It’s not a song anyone will remember a year from now, which brings us back to the question of how Aldean will be remembered when his career ends. In his history of modern country music, Zack Kephart noted that “Aldean’s success, in a nutshell, can be summarized as giving his fans exactly what they want,” and given that Aldean both rode and defined many of the trends of the 2010s, I’d say that’s a fair assessment of what his legacy will be. There’s no correlation between popularity and quality, and even though Aldean’s work has varied widely in the latter over the years, the former has never wavered, as he has never had a single peak outside the Top 15 on Billboard. That success is what will be remembered, even if some of his songs are far too easy to forget.
Rating: 5/10. Pass.