In an alternate universe where Spock has a beard, “Without A Fight” was the first single off of Brad Paisley’s eleventh album, Love and War. This song, a duet between Paisley and the singer Demi Lovato, is a beefy, raw song about sleeping with someone you kind of hate, where both Paisley and Lovato spar off each other behind a beautifully powerful guitar line.
Unfortunately, we’re in this universe. And unfortunately, “Today” was the first single, as “Without A Fight” failed to perform well enough on the charts to justify it’s inclusion in the album. The use of “Today” as a first single can be seen as reflective of the album as a whole. Because the problem with “Today” is that it’s far too middle of the road. “Today” is Paisley giving us a play by numbers country song, tailor-made for first dances at weddings and tailor-made to get country airplay then fall off the charts a few weeks later. It’s insultingly generic, eye-rollingly cliche, and boringly romantic. And, annoyingly, the rest of the album is the same way.
The best way to describe Love and War is safe. Even the title is safe—what’s more generic than ‘love and war’? Paisley makes safe songs about safe topics, sung in such a nonthreatening way that some of them will get airplay but nobody will find anything controversial to say about them. They’re a mix of safe songs mostly about love and romance, but occasionally tackling some more generic country music approved topics such as veterans and, in a song with far too much pandering, small town American Southern life. The fact that we have yet another country song in the infinite line of country songs celebrating small town white Americana and viewing it as an effective microcosm for “the South” shows just how unimaginative this album is as a whole. Of course, Love and War does have some hidden gems: “Grey Goose Chase” succeeds because it’s very traditional country sound, complete with fiddle break, sets it apart from the rest of the album’s current hot country sound. But those gems are few and far between, sandwiched in between songs that are listenable but horribly generic.
Most unfortunate is “selfie#theinternetisforever,” Brad Paisley’s obligatory ‘look at me, I have a sense of humor’ song. This sense of humor is one of Paisley’s greatest strengths: songs like “Celebrity,” and “Alcohol” effortlessly use humor to talk about the egomania of celebrity status or the fact that alcohol makes you do stupid decisions. Even in songs that aren’t outright humorous, Paisley has a gift for wry one-liners or references that can make you chuckle, most notably the clincher of “Ticks.” And, to the album’s credit, Paisley’s talent for one-liners shines through: I’ll admit that the line about Supercuts in “Last Time For Everything” got a chuckle out of me. But the task of proving that Brad Paisley has a sense of humor falls squarely on the shoulders of “selfie#theinternetisforever.” It tremendously fails. Instead of showing that Paisley is funny, “selfie” shows that Paisley is a middle aged man, as he gives us a three minute ode to selfie shaming, one of the most tried and true and BORING ‘kids these days, stupid millennials’ topics. He’s beating a dead horse with regards to selfie shaming, giving us an uneven song that somehow equates egregious social faux pas like taking a picture with a corpse at a funeral to those that are a bit tacky but not downright awful, such as wet t-shirt contests and keg stands. “selfie#theinternetisforever” has it’s moments, but one amusing line about dick pics does not redeem the whole song.
Love and War isn’t bad. There’s a few songs on there that I absolutely love as well as a few songs I absolutely loathe. But then again, Love and War isn’t good either. It’s just there, Brad Paisley putting out a filler album of country music to pay off a mortgage and remind the country music industry that he’s still relevant. Brad Paisley has proven time and time again that he’s a talented performer so it’s so disappointing to see this half-hearted effort. If just a little bit more effort was put in this album, it had the potential to be amazing. But as it is, it’s fairly skippable. Better luck next time, Brad.