Toby Keith,
Shock'n Y'All
(SKG, 2003)

I like the "bad boy" version of Toby Keith. With hits like "I'm Not Talkin' 'Bout Tonight" and "Who's Your Daddy," he's come a long way from the standard fare of "Shoulda Been a Cowboy." And I even liked the pissed-off patriotic version of Toby Keith in "The Angry American/Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue." However, with Shock'n Y'all, he can't make up his mind what kind of bad boy he wants to be -- politically-motivated bad boy or party bad boy.

As a political commentator, he stinks. Now, I'm not trying to say that country music has no place speaking about politics. You bet your bippie politics and country go together like grits 'n' country ham. However, Keith shows that he's gone from being a passionate patriot to catering to the lowest common denominator. His post-9/11 single "The Angry American/Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue" was a heartfelt expression/reaction to a horrible event. His new patriotic tribute, "American Soldier," comes across as forced, unemotional and devoid of the passion that "The Angry American" demonstrated. The cynic in me wants to say that this soldier tribute is commercially driven instead of truly inspired praise for our fighting men and women.

There's also "The Taliban Song," which is absolutely horrible. It's pretty much a wave-your-middle-finger-at-the-Taliban song. Add to that some camel jokes and offensive Arabic-wannabe noises in the background and you've got a stinker of a song. Anytime he gets close to making a valid point about the Taliban-imposed oppression to the people of Afghanistan, he goes the easy route for applause by playing towards people's prejudices.

Last AND least is "If I Was Jesus." As much as it hurts, I've listened to this song over and over trying to figure out what he's trying to say. Is he speaking out against organized religion? Is he questioning religion as a whole? Or is he just trying to get attention? (I'm leaning towards the last one.) Regardless, the point -- or lack thereof -- is that this song is beyond horrendous; it's just plain dumb.

On the other end of the spectrum is the party bad boy. Somebody needs to build a fence around this aspect of Keith's personality and never let him out. I'm not kidding -- this side of him is fun and enjoyable. Songs like "Nights I Can't Remember, Friends I'll Never Forget" and "Sweet" are comfortable territory for him and it shows. "Weed With Willie" is absolutely hilarious, mostly because you know it's probably true. The great '80s guitar sound of "Whiskey Girl" makes it a fun anthem to a gal who knows what she likes. Even "The Critic" will provide a smirk or two -- even though it's total fiction, I tell you!

Without a doubt, the best song on the album is "I Love This Bar." It's no wonder it's getting all kinds of play on the radio -- it's good! If Keith would only come out with more songs like this one, then he'd make a killing and continue to please his fans.

I guess the lesson to learn from Shock'n Y'all is that some artists shouldn't try new things. Just because you strike gold once (in the case of "The Angry American"), that doesn't mean you'll find it in the same place. In Keith's case, he's found gold and platinum being a party bad boy and should stay that way.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 28 February 2004

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