Music

Brad Paisley: American Saturday Night

That hopeful melody returns at the middle and end of the album, marking this as a concept album about hope, about the past, present, and future and the paths between them.


Brad Paisley

American Saturday Night

Label: Arista Nashville
US Release Date: 2009-06-30
UK Release Date: 2009-06-30
Amazon
iTunes

Is “Welcome to the Future” the first song out of the Nashville machine to express awe at the election of the first African-American president? It’s the first to make an impression, and without even mentioning Obama or the election. The second single on American Saturday Night, it takes a subtler backdoor route to evoking the historic moment, in the process increasing the chance that the song itself will move you or give you chills the first time you listen. This is smart songwriting. At first it seems like just another bit of Brad Paisley cleverness, the first verse expressing surprise that a trip to the video arcade in the ‘70s has morphed into pulling a cell phone from your pocket to play games today. When after that verse he sings, “Hey hey / glory glory hallelujah / welcome to the future”, it comes off as either ironic or overstated. When those same gospel-tinged words return after the third verse, they carry a different meaning.

Over the course of the song, Paisley shifts the past/future comparisons towards the serious. “So many things I never thought I’d see / happening right in front of me”, he sings, leading into a story about a high-school classmate who had a burning cross placed in his yard. And then come the evocative lines, “I thought about him today / everybody who’s seen what he’s seen / from a woman on a bus / to a man with a dream.” Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. may be the usual civil-rights suspects for a song to reference, but the way he and his co-writers bring them up, and casually fill “today” and “the future” with so much emotional meaning, is impressive. It helps that the melody itself is optimistic, that even the synthesizer, all too typically used as a stand-in for “the future”, is integrated in a way that feels natural, not like a gimmick.

That hopeful “Welcome to the Future” melody returns at the middle and end of the album, marking this as a concept album about hope, about the past, present, and future and the paths between them. It’s a recording about America’s past/present/future. Besides “Welcome to the Future” there’s the title track, a celebration of the US as a melting pot. Mostly a fun romp, observing young Americans French kissing and enjoying Italian ice under Spanish moss, it too possesses awe at progress: “My great great great granddaddy / stepped off of that ship / I bet he never ever dreamed we’d have all this.”

The album overall is mostly about people’s personal journeys over time, about movement from childhood to adulthood, singlehood to coupledom. “Water” links coming-of-age stories through the titular element. It’s a playful song about imagination and anticipation which fast-forwards from a kid’s swimming pool to a spring break road trip to adults skinny-dipping. Two broken-hearted ballads (“Everybody’s Here”, “Oh Yeah, You’re Gone”) balance with can’t-believe-I-finally-found-love songs (“Then”, “I Hope That’s Me”) to tell a continuing story of lost and found love.

The mid-album “Welcome to the Future (Reprise)” strips the original song of decoration, cuts it down to a minute and a half, and turns it into a personal story about the path from lonely singlehood to being married with kids. American Saturday Night is filled with songs about domestic life, about how we get from place to place, about how we find ourselves married with kids and look back with awe. The surprised tone of the reprise echoes the original song’s notion that the future can’t be planned: “wherever we were going / well, we’re here.” For countries or people, the future is something we stumble into.

The album, Paisley’s eighth, also represents a new direction with his music, or at least the tone of his albums, which have always had a variety-show air. That was boosted by his habit of throwing in jokey, old-fashioned skits and instrumentals that showed off his guitar chops. This time there’s none of that. The humor is worked into the songs. His guitar skills are on display across nearly every piece, folded into the songs themselves. It turns out that 2008’s guitar-focused Play wasn’t him getting his guitar jones out of his system. It was him getting ready to better integrate his guitar solos into his songs. And he has.

These songs are ordered carefully; thematically they echo each other. And Paisley’s own persona on the album fits the seemingly more personal slant of the songs. This is a less sarcastic, less cynical, more “heartfelt” Paisley. In a way, the album fits more comfortably into the currently dominant “sensitive guy” male country template, where tough cowboys sing soft-pop ballads about getting in touch with their feelings. But Paisley is more convincing in this mode than most, partly because his usual smart-ass persona makes the heartfelt turns seem like true confessions, and partly because the songs themselves take turns away from the expected, even when he’s dealing with old-hat subject matter.

American Saturday Night contains the requisite God song (“No”), but it’s about how God isn’t going to give you everything you want. It’s a faith-based tear-jerker, yes, but one with more candor, less empty certainty. There are songs about male-female relationships, but Paisley uses them to poke holes in men’s inflated sense of self. “The Pants” takes down men who think they’re by nature the head of the household. The country-soul ballad “She’s Her Own Woman” nears pandering with its knee-bent tribute to female independence, but it also paints a humorous portrait of a man lost in a domestic setting, unable to figure out how anything works. Even the play-fast, have-a-good-time songs, which could easily be considered throwaways, have wit about them. “Catch All the Fish” is a drink-along, sing-along anthem, but it gets funny at the end, when the men have caught all the fish, drunk all the beer, run out of gas in their cars, and now sit in the middle of nowhere, hopeless.

The love ballads and breakup songs are all more detailed than they need to be. Partly from the writing, partly from the singing, “Everybody’s Here” is vivid in its image of a heartbroken protagonist trying, and failing, to disappear into the fabric of a party. If only people would stop asking him where she is tonight. “Then”, the album’s first single, seems on the first few listens like a flimsy love song, all too typical, or even like a rewriting of 5th Gear’s “It Did”, where the relationship keeps getting better, even when they think it can’t. But the song has a serious level of atmosphere, depth in the sound and the singing. Suitably, its most emotional moment is a contemplation of the future, at the song’s crescendo. “I can just see you / with a baby on the way / I can just see you / when your hair’s turning gray / what I can’t see / is how I’m ever going to love you more / but I’ve said that before,” he sings, his voice rising delicately on the last words.

Whether American Saturday Night will lead to an extended new direction or not, it’s one more signifier that Paisley’s future is bright. It’s the best album yet from one of country music’s biggest hit-makers. Its success comes not just from the album’s unity of theme, the way it weds national progress to personal progress, nor just from how well Paisley blends country tradition -- barn-burning fiddle-and-guitar hoe-downs -- into fresh, immediate pop songwriting. The level of songwriting and performance here is extremely high, an achievement for a singer whose other albums all have their valleys and peaks. Above all, American Saturday Night has the capacity to surprise, a rare quality in country or any genre.

8
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image