Bigger Than Badnarik

The Dixie Chicks ask for a cease-fire and sympathy

And we progressives grown tired of living within an echo chamber should be suspicious of the blog-bred notion that the Chicks' rebirth proves "America" agrees with "us." After all, America hardly buys any CDs—compare the roughly 500,000 consumers the Chicks reached in their first week with the roughly 30,000,000 who watch American Idol each week. Or, to put that in political terms, the Chicks' share of the electorate not only falls far behind Kerry's 59,000,000 votes, but puts them neck and neck with Nader. It barely surpasses the nearly 400,000 people who voted for Libertarian Michael Badnarik.

That's not to say that the Chicks' music doesn't still resonate with a large audience: They'll attract hundreds of thousands more in the following weeks. But between supporter-come-latelys uncovering political subtext where none exists and the Chicks' own insistence on personalizing their lyrics, you can easily miss the mainstream American sensibility that Take the Long Way does channel. This is a weary album. Aside from a few unconvincing feints at engaging the world—the Bible Belt-bashing "Lubbock or Leave It" and the deracinated gospel closer "I Hope"—which points out helpfully that the Bible says God doesn't want us to kill—these songs repeatedly recoil in disgust from the ugliness of public life and seek a cocoon of gently melodic privacy.

As the lullaby vocals of its chorus soothe the ticking rhythms of its verses, "Easy Silence" celebrates a retreat from everyday battles to a safely loving domestic space. It's the best song here, and it's also evidence that while the Dixie Chicks once ran toward the big old stupid world outside, now they run away. Can't say I blame them. Can't say it's been good for their art, though, either. And if their rejection of the messy realities of public life and political discourse really do resonate with a good chunk of this country, we're in more trouble than we thought.

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