I won’t waste your time with a lot of introduction to this because you all know Brad Paisley, and most likely you’ve already formed an opinion. I’ve heard a lot of different takes on this album, but the one that sums it up the best is whatever your previous opinion of Brad was, this record’s not going to change it. So if you think he’s just that guy who did “Whiskey Lullaby” and maybe some other great songs early in his career and then killed his legacy with joke songs, I suggest you stop reading this review. If you’re like me, and you think he is one of the mainstream’s best, and maybe you were disappointed in the direction he went after This is Country Music, I’m happy to say what we get on Love and War is mostly a nice return to form for Brad Paisley.
There are sixteen songs on this album, and the main problem is not necessarily terrible songs, it’s just that there is too much filler–Josh of Country Perspective would have called it “wallpaper.” The unfortunate thing about it is that most of the wallpaper comes on the front half, and for that reason, as well as the fact that there’s just so much here, I’ll get to the highlights first.
Without a doubt, the shining moment on Love and War is “Gold All Over the Ground,” a poem written by Johnny Cash in the 1960’s that Brad Paisley lovingly set to music and performed excellently. My words can’t do justice to the poetry of Johnny Cash, and this one is the one you should make it a point to hear. It flows effortlessly into “Dying to See Her,” another great love song featuring Bill Anderson and telling the story of a man who has been going downhill since his wife died; the doctors can’t figure out why, but he is literally “dying to see her.” Together, these two songs make an outstanding moment on the record. These two are sandwiched between two collaborations with yes, Timbaland–I said it on Twitter, but I’ll say it again, if you have a problem listening to Paisley’s record because of Timbaland, this is unfortunate and, frankly, stupid. “Grey Goose Chase,” in fact, is one of the best songs; it’s fun and slightly bluegrass-inspired and sees the narrator going on the “grey goose chase” to drink away an ex. The other Timbaland contribution, “Solar Power Girl,” isn’t as strong, but that’s not due to Timbaland, it’s due to the lyrics. It’s about a girl who is escaping a bad home life which is compared to darkness and rain for college and a new, bright world where she can be a “solar power girl.” This one isn’t a highlight, but it’s not bad, and either way, Timbaland being a part of this album in no way brings it down…but I digress.
The title track is another strong collaboration, this time with John Fogerty, about our soldiers and how little the country does for them when they return home. It’s something that needs to be addressed, and too often in country, it’s simply patriotic songs and odes to fallen troops. This is a reality that shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s also a collaboration with Mick Jagger, the fun, upbeat “Drive of Shame” that details the embarrassing morning after a night in Vegas.
Speaking of fun songs, Brad Paisley is certainly known for them, for better or worse, and I have to say, “Selfie#theinternetisforever” is definitely better. I am biased because I have serious issues with social media and the people glued to their phones and taking selfies of everything, but this song is just great. Another humorous moment that works is “One Beer Can,” where Brad tells the hapless story of Bobby, who cleaned up everything after a party while his parents were away–but still got grounded because he left one beer can behind the couch.
Now, as I mentioned, there’s some wallpaper/filler and some songs that could have just been left off without effect. “Heaven South” is not the worst album opener of 2017, but it’s definitely the most unfortunate–it’s checklist-ish and boring even if it’s harmless and inoffensive. I’m still not getting onboard with “Today,” the lead single–honestly, it’s just too underdeveloped and too sappy. It’s very generic and yeah, it’s not bad, but on a sixteen-song album I could do without it. Brad attempts to be sexy in “Go to Bed early” and, to a lesser extent, in “Contact High,” and for me, that just fails, so neither of these songs do anything for me. I will say “Contact High” does feature some very nice guitar play by Paisley, as does a lot of this record, which was somewhat lacking on his last couple albums, so that’s another nice return to himself. The biggest problem is that every song I just mentioned is on the front half of the album, so it is just a little unfortunate.
There’s one track on the back half that admittedly I just hate, and I can’t be completely unbiased about it. This is “The Devil is Alive and Well.” Now, for any of you who read Country Music Minds, you all know Leon does what he would call “philosophical rambling” on quite a frequent basis, and he is a lot better at it than I am. Anyway, he summed up nicely why I hate it in his review of this, and if you want a more concise, eloquent explanation, I suggest you read that. but basically, the song mentions all the evil in the world and the chorus states that whether or not we believe in heaven and hell, “I bet we can agree that the devil is alive and well.” The message itself is good, but it isn’t executed well; it explains the evil, and later says that “god is love” but doesn’t really do much to talk about God doing his part to combat evil. I don’t want to ramble on about this because it’s a completely personal reason and difference of philosophy that makes me hate this song, but honesty comes first here at Country exclusive, and that was my immediate reaction to the song and remains my opinion after several listens.
Overall, I’m glad to see that Brad Paisley is back to being Brad Paisley. Take that as you will; this record won’t change your mind about him, but if you were hesitant to buy this because his last two records were somewhat disappointing, rest assured that he’s back to doing what he does best which is just being himself. And if you were hesitant to buy this because of Timbaland, just stop.