27 June 2010

"The Foundation" by Zac Brown Band

The Foundation
Zac Brown Band
CD release date: 18 November 2008
List price: $11.88

I can't say now whether I first heard lead single "Chicken Fried" on the radio or as part of the ubiquitous free digital samplers I've found every year since buying an iPod.  I thought the sound of the song was pleasant enough, but the lyrics just didn't do it for me.  It seemed to be a very generic amalgamation of every country music stereotype, from "cold beer on Friday night" to "jeans that fit just right."  This was a song meant to play over an Applebee's commercial.  Or Levi's.  Or both.  Then came the final verse of the song, in which we're implored to give thanks to the soldiers who ensure that "we don't have to sacrifice all the things we love/like chicken fried..."  Because apparently, there's a terrorist organization determined to take away our chicken supply.

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm all for giving a shout-out to our brave men and women in uniform.  Give them an entire song, though.  Don't shoehorn them in like that at the end of the song for the cheap audience reaction.  Most insulting of all on the cut is the militant drum that introduces the first line of that verse.  It's there as an auditory cue that the drunken revelers need to pay attention to something serious for a moment, like when you're at a party and the drunkest guy there is adamant about the toast he's about to give to Woody Woodpecker.

So, yesterday morning I was wide awake--thanks, Crohn's disease/steroids!--and I thought I'd stroll into the Oldham County Public Library and see what albums they'd added that I was curious to hear but didn't want to blind buy.  I found The Foundation among a handful that called out to me and brought it home.  I figured as long as "Chicken Fried" was one of the weaker cuts on the album, I might like this debut release.

I can tell you, I was greatly disappointed.  Zac Brown Band's musicianship is impressive; they sound like a group of seasoned pros, used to churning out commercial radio hits on a daily basis.  The production leaves them feeling sterile, though, hitting each note just right without the kind of vim and verve that one might expect from a band whose leader sports the bushy beard seen in the album art.  As instrumental tracks, any of these songs is custom made for today's country radio.  It's polished enough for the soccer mom set and features enough acoustic instruments to satisfy fans of mandolin and such.  (You know, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? crowd.)

To win over the young male demographic, Zac Brown Band relies on what can charitably be described as vapid and even asinine lyrics.  Album opening "Toes" features an oft-repeated chorus that makes sure you know that the guy in the song has his "ass in a chair" on the beach, getting drunk.  And to make sure they've got your attention, he smokes "a fatty" near the end of the song.  This is country music for the Family Guy crowd, apparently, which might explain the most offensive song of the collection, the closing track "Sic 'Em on a Chicken."

It has the structure of a preschool record, but it's about having a dog that is kept for the sake of slaying chickens in the yard.  A particularly boisterous rooster rebels, nearly taking the eye of a kid and is in turn slain by the song's narrators and eaten.  It never becomes an outright mockery of violence, inviting one to dismiss it as sheer comedy.  Rather, its straightforward presentation seems to suggest that Zac Brown Band simply thought a song about killing chickens for the sake of killing chickens was not just amusing, but somehow clever.

At the end of the album, I was left exactly where I was when I had finished hearing "Chicken Fried" the first time: wondering just what it is that so many fans see in this album and band.  But then I remember that they're too busy expressing gratitude that soldiers give their lives so they don't have to give up chicken.

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