Zac Brown Band: Jekyll and Hyde

A mess of competing signals and bad politics mar what could have been a blandly competent country rock experience.

Zac Brown Band

Jekyll and Hyde

Label: Big Machine Group
US Release Date: 2015-04-28
UK Release date: 2015-04-27
Artist Website

This album would be less infuriating if it wasn’t so competent. Don’t get me wrong -- the album is terrible, with insidious politics, awkward writing, wild stylistic variations and an unsettled quality throughout, but they don’t half-ass, which kind of makes the whole thing worse. The album is called Jekyll and Hyde, so there is an expectation of that kind of variation -- but that’s a binary that switches off and on.

Guest stars are a good way of providing an example. They have a song called "Under the Mango Tree" with an up-and-comer named Sara Bareilles, who has had a pop career since 2007. Bareilles is inspirational in subject, with a strong and intriguing voice. The song that they sing together is a feather light, cod tropical piece of escapism. You have heard it done by everyone who wanted to be Jimmy Buffett, a category I would never put her in.

The song is pleasant, and so does less damage than the other main duet here. It features Chris Cornell. This makes a small amount of sense. The band recorded an EP with Dave Grohl a couple of years ago. It also fits into the genre’s current usurping of ‘70s meat and potatoes rock, has entered this phase where they recognize its connections to other genres. There is something fascinating in how Eric Church interplays the formal connections between Nirvana and Foghat. That precision is played with when Zac Brown are at their best. Youtube seach them covering "War Pigs". It’s smart, it’s talented, and it has weight that their song “Heavy Has the Head” lacks completely. With it’s quoting of late ‘70s hard rock (literally and musically), one returns back to Church’s The Outsiders, and sees Brown playing this awkward drag with a band that was like the tenth best of their local scene twenty years ago.

It might be easier to explain why I loathe this album, if I didn’t rest on the music, which provides enough for mild annoyance but not enough for hatred. The lyrics are absurd, and are often problematic to women. The Zac Brown Band loves the virgin/whore dialectic.

In the first song, they sing about a woman in a red dress who is a literal demonic temptress. In the second song, they talk about a woman who functions as a wife, and who (in the words of Beyonce), woke up flawless. That song, “You Make Loving You Easy”, has a chorus that plays with gospel, and is genuinely pleasurable to listen to. It’s smooth enough that the listener can’t trust what the band selling. (It is not the most misogynist of the possible songs--that would be "I’ll Always be Your Man (Song for Daughter)" -- which in a goopy ballad tells his new born girl that he will own her until her husband does. It would be more offensive if the child was a fully formed character, as opposed to a cliched trope. None of the women here reach that).

This not trusting continues -- when they sing, in something vaguely Mumford, they claim not to be looking for money or fame (which is always disingenuous), but in the most awkward attempt at pantheism, claim that “Jesus preached the golden rule / Buddha taught it too / Gandhi said eye for an eye / Makes the whole world go blind”. He goes onto a kind of universalism that seems less and less of a theological working out, but a cynical attempt at feel-good politics.

The cynicism reaches the nadir with a cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues”. A moving story song that functions as a vicious swipe against the last Iraq war, and the imperial American ambitions -- the whole thing would be in the worst taste with how it adds tasteful piano and girl group vocals. But then, there is a middle section that adds "Taps", which destroys the song, making it an exercise in naked patriotism, as opposed to an ambiguous statement on the failures of war. Isbell sings: “But there's red, white, and blue in the rafters / and there's silent old men from the corps / What did they say when they shipped you away / to fight somebody's Hollywood war?”. Zac Brown sings, “What did they say when they shipped you away / to give it all in some God awful war.”

"Dress Blues" sticks out midway through an album that does not earn its gravitas, and then does not return. What follows is a passel of songs about romantic entitlement. There is more of the guitar vamping on "Junkyard", with a voice swung into a half attempted growl. But then there is a discussion of erotic nostalgia on "Young and Wild" that would be embarrassing for either Kip Moore or Kenny Chesney to attempt.

That’s the key for me. I could imagine some of the work being done by better artists. Some of the work has been done by better artists. Some of the songs are awkwardly written, but none of them are really terribly sung or terribly constructed. It took me weeks, and maybe a dozen listens to work through how I felt about this album. It gets under your skin, and you begin to realize that it is less dangerous than boring. That doesn't mean it isn't one of the worst albums of the year.





Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.


Inventions' 'Continuous Portrait' Blurs the Grandiose and the Intimate

Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium side project, Inventions are best when they are navigating the distinction between modes in real-time on Continuous Portrait.


Willie Jones Blends Country-Trap With Classic Banjo-Picking on "Trainwreck" (premiere)

Country artist Willie Jones' "Trainwreck" is an accessible summertime breakup tune that coolly meshes elements of the genre's past, present, and future.


2011's 'A Different Compilation' and 2014 Album 'The Way' Are a Fitting Full Stop to Buzzcocks Past

In the conclusion of our survey of the post-reformation career of Buzzcocks, PopMatters looks at the final two discs of Cherry Red Records' comprehensive retrospective box-set.


Elysia Crampton Creates an Unsettlingly Immersive Experience with ​'Ocorara 2010'

On Ocorara 2010, producer Elysia Crampton blends deeply meditative drones with "misreadings" of Latinx poets such as Jaime Saenz and Juan Roman Jimenez


Indie Folk's Mt. Joy Believe That Love Will 'Rearrange Us'

Through vibrant imagery and inventive musicality, Rearrange Us showcases Americana band Mt. Joy's growth as individuals and musicians.


"Without Us? There's No Music": An Interview With Raul Midón

Raul Midón discusses the fate of the art in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is going to shake things up in ways that could be very positive. Especially for artists," he says.


The Fall Go Transatlantic with 'Reformation! Post-TLC'

The Fall's Reformation! Post-TLC, originally released in 2007, teams Mark E. Smith with an almost all-American band, who he subsequently fired after a few months, leaving just one record and a few questions behind.


Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.


The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.


'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.


2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.