Song Review: Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer”

Good grief, can we think of something to do right now that’s not boozing ourselves to death?

Brad Paisley has always had a knack for producing material that was clever, fun, and topical all at the same time (think songs like “Celebrity” and “Online”), so when I heard he was dropping “a fun & light hearted song with tempo & relatable to our current situation,” I was genuinely excited: Could we get a song that winds up defining the coronavirus moment for years to come? The answer, sadly, was a definitive “no”: Instead of a timely, well-executed ode to solidarity while separated, we got a less-polished version of Thomas Rhett’s “Beer Can’t Fix” with a generic, tacked-on shoutout to the usual suspects, a song that doesn’t fit the moment any better than Rhett et al.’s “Be A Light” does. It’s not a bad song and it features some of the classic Paisley magic, but it’s hard to view this track as anything more than a colossal disappointment.

Paisley is one of the few artists left with a truly distinctive sound that you recognize the moment you hear it, but this mix blends in a little too well with everything else on the radio. The fiddle and steel guitar are still here (although the former gets very little screen time), and the electric axe that drives the song still has that classic Paisley tone (the same way Trigger always let you know that Willie Nelson was behind the mic), but the guitar and drums are really loud and overwhelm nearly everything else in the arrangement, except for *sigh* the token banjo that slow-rolls its way through the whole song. (There’s a mandolin here too, but it’s even less noticeable than the fiddle.) The overall atmosphere is bright and beachy (it’s not Luke Bryan’s “One Margarita,” but its not far off), but it doesn’t generate the energy I expected (saying this song has ‘tempo’ really oversells it), and the party-song cadence is eerily reminiscent of the Bro-Country tracks that drive us crazy in the 2010s (there’s just no groove here at all). I’m generally a fan of Paisley’s ear for production, but he whiffed badly here.

As a performer, Paisley is as charming and charismatic as they come, but after this many snake-oil salesmen roll through town touting alcohol as a miracle cure-all, you eventually start tuning them out. The song is not technically demanding and Paisley breezes through the lyrics effortlessly, and he make the narrator seem likeable enough, but after all the times I’ve heard this song and dance before, he just isn’t able to convince me to feel the good vibes and join in the fun . (I never thought I’d say this, but Bryan did a better job selling “One Margarita” than Paisley does pushing this song.) Yes, the lyrics give him almost nothing to work with here, but a) he can’t blame the writers on a song he co-wrote, and b) Paisley has set the bar so high for himself over the years (remember, this dude has dragged everything from “Mud On The Tires” to “River Bank” over the finish line) that his inability to connect with the audience on this song comes as a significant shock. After over twenty years in the business, it’s fair to ask whether Paisley has simply run out of ideas.

The most frustrating thing about the lyrics is that there are still flashes of classic Paisley wit here: For example, that “there ain’t no “U” or “I” in beer…but there’s about to be a lot of beer in you and I” might be the best line I’ve heard all freaking year. The problem is that these moments are few and far between, and we’re mostly stuck with stuff like this:

Wherever you are tonight
Whatever you’re going through
Grab a long neck bottle or a big ol’ pint
And let’s all have a few

(Editor’s Note: This is approximately where the writer fell to his knees and screamed “NOOOOOOOOO!!!” for twenty seconds.)

Everyone is pitching beer, whiskey and wine as a miracle cure for all the world’s ills (I’m surprised President Trump isn’t pushing alcohol alongside hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure), but as I pointed out three months ago in my “Beer Can’t Fix” review:

“Alcohol doesn’t “fix” anything: Not only is it a temporary respite from problems that will be patiently waiting for you when you sober up, it can often make things worse rather than better.

What makes things worse is the final verse, in which Paisley tries to shoehorn a belated salute to the heroes of the current pandemic, “the farmers and the first responders…the truck drivers shiftin’ gears, every nurse that needs a break.” However, because he spent the rest of the song featuring generic, overused imagery (the heartbroken slob, the crushed sports fan that feels stolen from “Beer Can’t Fix”) without mentioning anything even remotely pandemic-specific, this feels like a cheap, bolted-on attempt to tie the current crisis to a song that was written two years before it happened. Even for a guy who’s subjected us to “Country Nation” and “Heaven South” over the last five years, this move feels beneath Paisley’s dignity. (The fact that the “nurse” line is so long and was crammed into the song so tightly that I had to look up the lyrics to figure out what he was saying doesn’t help matters.)

Instead of the being the perfect song for the moment, “No I In Beer” feels like a track that should have been left on the cutting room floor. No one brought their A game to this mess: Not the producer, not Brad Paisley, and certainly not the writers of this frustrating mess. I never thought I’d ever say this, but Brad Paisley stepped to Rhett and Jon Pardi with this track, and he wound up the loser: Despite covering the same topic with the same flaws, “Beer Can’t Fix” is a far superior song on balance. It’s true that there’s no “I” in beer, but if Paisley persists in foisting mediocre mush like this onto the radio, there’ll be no Paisley in country music before long.

Rating: 5/10. Feel free to leave this off your playlist.