Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rodney Atkins, "Take a Back Road"

Songwriters:  Luke Laird, Rhett Akins

Rodney Atkins' current hit "Take a Back Road" finds him traveling down a road that's already been visited many times.  It seems each trip is less interesting than the one before it.

Here's the story:  A guy's stuck in traffic in the city (Oh no!  Any place but the city!) when a classic George Strait song comes on the radio and makes him want to take a country backroad and "put a little gravel in [his] travel," reminding him once again of how cool it is to live in the country.  Thus we have the makings of a surefire hit as wholly predictable and expected as Rodney's thin, weak vocal performance.
"Take a Back Road" is yet another manifestation of the artistic shortcomings that have plagued the majority of Rodney Atkins' career output.  In general, Rodney's lyrical material is built almost entirely around genre stereotypes.  His catalog is dominated by songs about country livin', country values, country roads, you name it.  Each song only scratches the surface of its topic, without expanding on it in any way.  He's dealing with themes that so many have covered before him, but Rodney brings little of his own style or perspective to each theme, save for a catchy rhyme here and there.

Why such consistently shallow, perfunctory treatment?  Because that's what radio wants - Easily digestible lyrics that will neither offend, nor require an outstanding amount of brain function.  He's building his career on the superficial stereotypes that are palatable to today's radio programmers.  But is anybody going to remember these songs years from now, after they've fallen off the charts and yielded place to the next hit song of the week?  Not at all.  The country songs that go down in history as classics are not the songs that are written just for the purpose of cashing in on radio popularity.  Did Dolly Parton write "I Will Always Love You" just because it was what people were clamoring for?  Did June Carter write "Ring of Fire" just to sound catchy?  No, they wrote what they felt.  They didn't just write to satisfy country radio.

Assuming country radio ever pulls out of this terrible quality rut, it would still be a shame to look back on this period in country music history, and to have nothing to remember but a slew of interchangable tunes about trucks, tractors, country living, and what-have-you.  Of course, some may defend such tripe with "It's just a fun song."  But there was a time when country music routinely produced songs that were so much more than 'just fun songs.'  Isn't it a bit sad that when we tune into a country radio station these days, all we can really expect to hear is "just a fun song"? 

In all likelihood, that's the way it's going to stay until artists such as Rodney start striving to be actual artists instead of just hit-making machines.  But as long as radio continues to reward such artists for releasing mindless drivel like this, why would they do anything different?

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)