Okay, now Jason Aldean is allowed to say “We Back.”
If there’s one thing we’ve established over the last fifteen years, it’s that Jason Aldean is a serious dude. He’s at his best when his material actually warrants him leaning into that side of his personality (think “Rearview Town”), and he gets himself into trouble when his seriousness and aggression do not fit the moment at all (think “We Back,” which now appears to be settling for a #6 airplay peak after stumbling on its final ascent to the Billboard summit). This question is whether being serious is satisfactory seems to ultimately determine whether Aldean’s singles are any good or not, and the answer for “Got What I Got,” the second release from Aldean’s 9 album, is…surprisingly, “yes.” Sure, it’s just a love song on some level, but it digs a bit deeper than the surface-level Boyfriend country stuff we’ve been hearing a lot lately, daring to dive into the insecurities of its characters in a way I haven’t heard in quite some time.
By now, you don’t really need me to tell you what the production sounds like: It’s a Jason Aldean track, and most every Jason Aldean track nowadays is dark, unsettling, and reliant on hard-rock guitars and synthetic percussion. However, the general intensity of the sound is dialed way back this time around, making room for softer elements like the acoustic guitar strums that cover the verses. The power is delivered instead in sharp bursts with electric-axe stabs and beefed-up bass drums, and the whole thing, including the vocals, are drowned in echoey effects to give it some arena-ready presence (in truth, they really could have dialed this back, as some notes linger way longer than they should). The repeated IV-V-vi chord structure gives us a sense that we’re dealing with some seriously sinister elements here, which sets the mood perfectly for a dive into the fragile psyche of the narrator’s significant other. It’s nice to hear a mix that can impress the serious of an issue on you without shoving it down your throat, and it complements the writing instead of overwhelming it like Aldean usually does.
Aldean brings his usual macho swagger to the table here, but he deploys it a bit differently than on songs like “We Back” or “Rearview Town.” The song is not a technically demanding one and he has no trouble covering its range and flow demands, but instead of the overt aggressive and frustrated persona he defaults to, the former is cast aside and the latter is a bit more understated. You get the sense that this isn’t the first, second, or even tenth time the narrator has heard these questions from their partner, judging from his emphasis on the sharp, short responses. Otherwise, however, Aldean’s demeanor is more measured and calm as he runs through his argument one more time, and he gives off an air of unwavering confidence that makes you believe everything he says (which contrasts sharply with the insecurity and fear of whoever he’s taking to). That last bit is what makes Aldean’s serious demeanor work: These are real and scary issues for the other person, and Aldean’s attitude indicates that he realizes this and doesn’t take them lightly. He may not be the most flexible performer in Nashville, but what he does do, he does quite well, and when the material warrants it, it’s a potent combination.
I really like the writing on this track, mostly because of the excellent characterization it contains. In one corner, you’ve got a concerned, self-doubting significant other who fears that they are inferior to the narrator or somehow holding them back, leading them to ask questions like “do you ever miss bein’ alone?” Do you really think I’m where you belong?” In the other corner, you’ve got the narrator, who has absolutely zero self-doubt and is certain that they are in the right place (“When I got what I got, I don’t miss what I had”). While outbursts of “Hell no!” and “I ain’t playin'” suggest that the narrator is a little tired of the subject, their responses are direct and unequivocal (“Ain’t no second thoughts, no regrets, no kinda maybe, no wishin’ I turned back”), which is exactly what they have to be when you’re dealing with the severe insecurities of the other person. As someone who deals with these sort of folks of a regular basis (and is admittedly one of those people myself), that clarity and repetitive reassurance is crucial—if you’re not clear or consistent, the other person’s mind will immediately jump to the worst-case scenario (in this song’s case, the partner is worried the narrator will leave), and things spiral downhill from there. This sort of depth lets the audience that the writers put some real thought and care into the lyrics, and the effort is greatly appreciated.
“We Back” snapped what had been a surprisingly good run of singles from Jason Aldean, but “Got What I Got” gets him back on that upwards swing. The strong, thoughtful writing not only provides a great foundation for the track, it also plays to Aldean’s strengths much like “Rearview Town” did, allowing his serious demeanor and heavy, ominous production to be assets rather hinderances. Aldean will always be “too rock” or “too edgy” for the traditional country crowd to ever accept him, but when everything lines up like it does here, he can be as expressive and sincere as anyone in the genre. It’s an admittedly small wheelhouse, but it’s still a wheelhouse, and the results can still be enjoyable.
Rating: 7/10. This one is worth your time.
(You know, country music in 2020 has actually been pretty good thus far. It’s too bad everything else in the world sucks so badly right now…)