Old School New Rules, the latest effort from Hank Williams, Jr., is a fantastic, old-school country record—that is, if you can ignore the lyrics. Which you probably can’t.
Okay, so I have my political views, just like everyone else, and I don’t want to mess with anyone’s freedom of speech. Hell, I don’t even mind that someone’s viewpoint comes out in their songs once in awhile. But there’s a difference between expressing an opinion and packing a song (or six) so full of propaganda that the listener feels mentally raped after listening to it. I don’t know about you, but that’s not why I listen to music. If I want to hear political rhetoric from either side of the aisle, I’ll turn on the television and listen to the political ads.
Am I exaggerating here? Is Hank Williams, Jr. really that outspoken? Let’s put it this way: the non-political songs, the ones about debauchery, seem tame in comparison. That’s how bad it is.
Now, to be fair, about half of the track list on Old School New Rules is just typical Hank Williams, Jr., the honky-tonkin’ father’s son who sings about drinking, loose women, his dad, and how much he loves country music. “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams,” a duet with Brad Paisley, is destined to be a country classic; “You Win Again” is a moving tribute to Waylon Jennings; and “Old School” is endearingly autobiographical. If the whole album covered ground like this, it could easily be the best we’ve ever heard from Bocephus.
But nooooo…Hank Williams, Jr. is mad at the gov’ment (as well as ESPN and Fox & Friends), and he’s gonna make sure we know about it. The mood is set with the opening track “Takin’ Back the Country,” in which Hank handily slams Barack Obama, network television, the EPA and government red tape, all in the first 3.5 minutes. After taking a breather with some more neutral tunes, he picks up the tirades again in songs like “We Don’t Apologize for America,” “Who’s Taking Care of Number One” and “Keep the Change” (probably the most venomous song of the lot). I guess this kind of vitriol is part of Hank’s nature, as well—he’s never been one to shy away from controversy or provocative statements, and political correctness probably wouldn’t sit well on him. But half the album? Geesh, Hank, go see a shrink or something.
Now, that’s not to say there isn’t a target market for this album, because there is. There are plenty of red-staters who will likely cheer Hank Williams, Jr. for “telling it like it is,” who will hail some of these songs as pure patriotism. But remember that patriotism unites people—it doesn’t polarize them—and there is a difference between being pro-American and anti-government. Never mind what side of the spectrum you happen to land on; the lyricism on Old School New Rules isn’t likely change anyone’s opinions—it will just galvanize existing ones.
To me, it’s highly unfortunate that this record is going to be so polarizing, because the music itself is stellar. I’m a sucker for that old-school country sound, and this record has that in spades. I just think that Hank Williams Jr.’s political statements are so loud on this album that they are going to overshadow anything else that’s good about it.
ALBUM RATING: 2 Stars (out of five)