By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
WHAT COULD HE have been thinking? "I'll Go On Loving You," Alan Jackson's lead single from High Mileage, has got to be one of the strangest things to hit country radio in years. And, sadly, it fails miserably. A numbingly serious song bathed in dark strings, this hymn to the constancy of romantic love--his heart will go on "long after the pleasures of the flesh"--is meant to be sexy, but it couldn't possibly be more awkward or silly. The verses are spoken, and who wants to hear a likable lightweight like Jackson intone, with immense gravity, "when I see your delicate body [pregnant pause] revealed to me as you slip off your dress"? And who could have thought it was a good idea for Jackson to recite some nonsense about "strange forces of nature" that "conspire[d] to construct the present from the past"?
Unfortunately, "I'll Go On Loving You" doesn't provide the only unintentional humor on High Mileage. "Little Man," where convenience stores and urban renewal dig a grave for the "small" businessman, may be as progressive as Nashville is going to get these days, but the title phrase becomes such a mantra ("the little man...the little man...") that one can't help but take it literally. Shed a tear for the Lilliputian that lost his filling station.
Truth is, I like Alan Jackson. For novices interested in giving modern, mainstream country a chance, I would wholeheartedly recommend his 1995 greatest-hits collection. As far as Mr. Nashville candidates go (and with more than 25 million albums sold and 24 No. 1 country singles, he's on the short list), I'll take this good-natured hunk over a nakedly ambitious marketing major like Garth Brooks any day. But the failed experiments on High Mileage expose Jackson's limitations as a singer more than ever before.
George Jones, with his remarkable ability to push songs of romantic pain to the edge of absurdity without ever losing his hold on the sentiment's power or the listener's heartstrings, might have made "I'll Go On Loving You" work, but Jackson, a Jones disciple, doesn't stand a chance. Similarly, Merle Haggard would have nailed the class politics of "Little Man" because he would have identified with the victims in the song, instead of making it sound like the delayed reaction of a kid who just realized that The Andy Griffith Show got canceled.
Jackson is better on the sunnier stuff. His greatest-hits collection--which begins with the fine small-town nostalgia of "Chattahoochee," and the sly, but kind critique of Nashville carpetbaggers in "Gone Country"--shows off his minor, but pleasurable vocal strengths. High Mileage's best moments do the same. The Saturday night lament, "Another Good Reason," and the honky-tonk piano thumper "Right on the Money" (a country rewrite of Alanis's "Ironic"--I swear it) are both future chart-toppers. And the earthbound romance of "Hurtin' Comes Easy," "Dancin' All Around It," and "Amarillo" are more befitting the modesty of the man behind the mic--whether he knows it or not.