Let’s not, and say we did…
Brad Shoup: I mean, good Lord, is Bocephus done yet? His catalog is starting to resemble the Telemachy, only this boy still ain’t grown up. From the Don Helms soundalike on steel to the cheatin’ heart to the lovesick blues to the wedding bells, the whole production’s like dressing from Daddy’s closet. And what jukebox still takes dimes? Hell, Junior’s even done the whippoorwill reference before — seventeen years ago. What’s most troubling about this track, though, is how good it is. The steel undulates beguilingly, Paisley keeps the cornpone fireworks under wraps, and Hank’s voice sounds fantastic — he’s much more at home here than Brad. But that’s most of the problem. Over the course of his 48 years in the business, Williams has gone from eerie imitation to wrangling with legacy to stepping out, and now he’s back to an achingly obsessive curation. Dude’s a legend, and in a scene as tightknit as Nashville’s, no one’s ever going to say no to such a strong connection to country godhood. But he’s already in the pantheon himself. Now that he’s got his own label, and he can wave the flag in anyone’s face without being called on it, this ought to be his valedictory period, or at least his raising-hell-’til-Judgment-Day stage. I can’t imagine Senior would have ever done it this way.
Jonathan Bogart: Congratulations, Junior, on turning the subtext of three generations of country music into text. No, wait, that was your work in the 70s. Congratulations for suckering Brad Paisley into this one, I guess.
Alfred Soto: Brad Paisley sounds chagrined if not mortified; even so he’s a human being. If Bocephus knew about the existence of something called “irony” he might reckon with the effect of a man who often acts like a lout and whose careerism long ago replaced a search for an identity not contingent on his dad’s. If he’s so steeped in history how come this isn’t even a C-level rewrite of Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”? If he’s so Republican then why isn’t he aware that there’s no way in hell the Mitt Romney campaign will play this anywhere?
Anthony Easton: One of the interesting things about Moonrise Kingdom is that it used Hank Williams twice, one conventionally — “playing Rambling Man” in a moment of extreme emotional distress and the second is playing “Kaw-Liga,” a kitsch trinket that moved to irony in the ’80s, and is now in that weird, limiting space between emotional sincerity and arch aesthetics. The thing is — the claiming and reclaiming — the layering of pure irony and pure sincerity so neither have any forced meaning — the freeing that signification makes the whole working-through of aesthetics in the text incredibly complicated, and perhaps unsatisfying. But it does something to the original texts. It’s not that descendants of Hank Williams can’t do something — can’t allow that signification to float a little more freely — Hank III’s last album, ghost haunted, and swampy with heat and exhaustion knows its history and its irony. But Bocephus has been doing this drinking-anthem-just-like-his-daddy-did thing for longer then his daddy has been alive (Literally. Hank Williams lasted 29 years and it has been 33 years since “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.”) It produced some acts of genius (the aforementioned “Whiskeybent and Hell Bound”), and on occasion, a kind of self-mocking irony; it has become pro-forma, concrete, settled and boring. This is a list song, a by-the numbers list song. Time to retire, old man.
Colin Small: The ability of country musicians to express their feelings with universal platitudes is never ending. How many times have I heard “My teardrops fell like rain”? That said, this song may have one of the most relatable premises in recent memory. While we may not be as unapologetic about fueling our own depression as Hank and Brad, we’ve all been there.
Iain Forrester: The comforting trad sound only adds to the impression that the heartbreak and tears of the story exist solely as a way of setting up the chorus. The playful reverence in the chorus is sweet, but it doesn’t justify the exercise.
Katherine St Asaph: Country has its sad drunks. It has its celebratory drunks. Now it even has Auto-Tune drunks. But has it had meta drunks?