Dierks Bentley - Black
Oh man, where to start. The new record from Dierks Bentley neatly sums up the existential crisis that’s swirling around country music in 2016. Whilst bro-country seems to have been left behind there are still two defined camps: mainstream country radio, and the all encompassing Americana. While more notionally traditional acts like Sturgill Simpson and Kacey Musgraves get barely any airtime on mainstream country radio they’re mainstays of the Americana genre. The lead track from Bentley’s eighth record, Black, is the kind of song that gets played. ‘Somewhere On A Beach’ is a slick, catchy, enjoyable pop song. But that’s what it is pop. Not country.
Still, no-one wants to get stuck in a genre discussion that will run and run. The 40 year old has a certain cachet with the more traditional set after his 2010 bluegrass release, Up On The Ridge, but Black is a long way from there. At face value it’s another thirteen tracks straight out of the Nashville production factory, all MOR drum machines, autotune, and guitar licks. The central concept, tracking the growth of a relationship, plays to the core lyrical content of contemporary country. And that’s the key issue; the thought of listening to another song from a rich, famous, and good looking male singer about pulling women and how hard love is, doesn’t fill the soul with joy. Somehow though Bentley has made a record that’s impossible to dislike too much.
Trite lyrics pepper ‘What the Hell Did I Say’ and ‘Pick Up’, while the woozy charm of ‘Somewhere On A Beach’ (surely written as a follow up to ‘Drunk On A Plane’) pulls you in with crazy hooks and melody, whilst simultaneously testing you with its queasy lyrics (She got a body and she's naughty / And she got me like you ain't never got me). Then there’s ‘Different For Girls’ with its dubious gender stereotyping (guys get drunk and shag someone else; girls stay in and cry) legitimised by Elle King’s guest vocals. ‘Mardi Gras’ brightens things up with ‘Trombone Shorty’ bringing the fun, and ‘Why Do I Feel’ has a genuine sense of emotional hurt to it, while ‘Roses And A Time Machine’ is frothy fun.
A difficult record to place then. At face value, and with cursory attention paid to the lyrics it’s good fun, including great melodies and hooks. Listen deeper and there’s more to switch you off. Still, if the mainstream country music of 2016 is your thing then none of this is a surprise.