I’ve been calling Luke Combs “Thanos” for a while, but does someone else deserve the title?
Don’t look now, but eighteen years into his career we might be seeing Jason Aldean at the peak of his powers. He hasn’t missed #1 on Country Airplay or the Top 30 of the Hot 100 with any of his single releases this decade, and his duet with Carrie Underwood “If I Didn’t Love You” wound up as one of the biggest hits of 2021. At this point in his career, Aldean has a strong sense of who he is as an artist and knows how to play to his strengths, and that’s exactly what he does on the leadoff single for the second half of his Macon, Georgia double album, “Trouble With A Heartbreak.” With his trademark ominous and hard-hitting sound, as well a surprisingly-decent message in the writing, Aldean continues yet another impressive streak, one of getting slightly-favorable reviews here at the Korner (even as I question whether he should be on the airwaves in the first place).
Generally, if you’ve listened to Aldean for any length of time you pretty much know what you’ll be getting from his production: The guitars will be hard-rock and hard-edged, the overall tone with be dark and foreboding, and the intensity will be cranked up to ten whether or not the song warrants it. This is still mostly true on this track, but there are some deviations as well: The amplified acoustic guitar that opens the track has a slicker, cleaner feel, and the classic Aldean guitars and drums that jump in on the chorus are noticeably dialed back, and lack the punch that his songs usually feature. (The minor chords also don’t dominate the chord progression the way they do on some other Aldean tracks.) This, however, is a good thing: The mix’s more-measured approach helps the writing cut through the noise, and the old Aldean sound that comes out during the choruses gives you a sense of the depths you can sink to in the aftermath of a failed relationship, while stopping just short of going too far and overwhelming the message. Some songs can’t be in your face the entire time without losing sight of their raison d’être, and the producer recognizes the potential for a problem here and pulls in on the reins a little to keep the audience focused. It’s still an Aldean mix, but by being more deliberate in its application of force, the sound does a respectable job providing support for the song.
Aldean follows the lead of the production and dials back his usual intensity long enough to get his point across, but he still gets a chance to showcase the attitude and intensity that he’s known for. In a way, this song is set up perfectly for Aldean, “a one-trick pony when it come to his singing style,” because it gives him a target for his frustration that lets him project his usual defiance and negativity (in this case, the target is those who doubt the severity of a painful breakup) while also giving him a chance to show a sensitive side when he talks about heartaches that defy time and alcohol. (It reminds me a lot of “Any Ol’ Barstool,” except that the narrator is able to be honest here instead of putting up a feeble and transparent wall of defiance.) By allowing Aldean to be true to himself and do what he always does, it enhances his believability because he can deliver a performance that the audience expects and accepts, while also letting him stretch out in a way that doesn’t feel out of character. Even a one-trick pony must do something well, and by staying mostly in his wheelhouse and using it as a basis for his message, Aldean is able to connect with listeners and entice them to ruminate on his words.
So about those words: The narrator here is mostly trying to tell us about how much they suffered in the aftermath of a failed relationship, but they frame the tale as a public-service message, warning all those who pass later that such unimaginable pain is conceivable and perhaps even normal, regardless of how others may downplay it with their advice. The speaker is a bit combative in the first verse, painting themselves as a trustworthy insider by taking an “us vs. them” to dispensing advice (nearly every line starts with “Don’t let anybody tell ya…”), but their point is valid: Everyone reacts to a lost love differently, and “the trouble with a heartbreak” is that some people are cut deeper and take longer to recover than others, and sometimes people never truly get over what happened. The imagery and plot devices here are admittedly generic and cookie-cutter (we’ve got whiskey, we’ve got long drives, we’ve got “rearview sunsets”), but the rebutted advice (get back out there, meet somebody else, etc.) is also pretty common too, which helps the track resonate with a broader audience. Despite being just another lost-love song at its core, the writers give us just enough of a twist on a trope to catch the listener’s ear and entice them to pay attention.
“The Trouble With A Heartbreak” is a decent example of an artist pushing the boundaries while still staying true to who they are, and while I wouldn’t call it Jason Aldean’s best work, it’s a decent addition to his discography that features a suitable-yet-recognizable sound, writing that both vents and advises, and a vocal performance that fits Aldean’s persona to a T. While Aldean has released his share of clunkers over the years, I’m starting to think that in another decade we’ll be looking at him the way we look at Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney now: As an artist that’s managed to stick to their guns, connect with the people, and last far beyond their expected expiration date.
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth giving this one a shot.