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Fergit, Hell!

  Dixie Chicks: Taking the Long Way

 

Columbia, 2006

Rating: 3.4

 

Posted: June 2, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau, Editor-in-Chief


I put on Taking the Long Way, the much-heralded new album by the Dixie Chicks, predisposed to like it. I'd never been much of a fan of the Chicks during their heyday -- what I'd heard on country radio was okay, but not enough to prompt me to listen further. Still, I sympathized enough with them after the fallout of singer Natalie Maines' now-famous March, 2003 slam of President George W. Bush that I somehow figured my at-best neutral feelings about their music wouldn't matter.

And they didn't, until about halfway through this hour-plus disc. It's a strong first half, to be sure, shot through with the Chicks' easy harmonies and some subtly pleasant melodies. But somewhere around "Lubbock or Leave It," one of the album's pointed kiss-offs to rural small-mindedness, I began to wish that the Chicks and producer Rick Rubin (yes, that Rick Rubin) had chosen to let the music match the vitriol in songs like "Lubbock" or the single "Not Ready to Make Nice."

Instead, Taking the Long Way wraps its still-raw emotions in sweet satin sheets of breezy, middle-of-the-road pop. While there are still some country elements, the album mostly exists in that top-down netherworld of Sheryl Crow albums and Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" -- although Maines has been quoted as holding up Bruce Springsteen as the group's new model of integrity, musically the Chicks hew closer to the amber AM-radio vibe of the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac.

Granted, that approach works well -- "Easy Silence," "Bitter End," "Baby Hold On" and "Favorite Year" (co-written with -- who else? -- Sheryl Crow) are all creamy slices of singalong adult-contemporary pop, and they'd likely sound great on your car radio -- assuming you live near one of the few radio station programmers who'll venture to play one of them. Certainly there are very few, if any, country programmers who'll have the balls to do so. And that's the great irony about Taking the Long Way: That it's possible to label country radio executives as cowardly for not playing something off an album as musically light, even innocuous, as this one.

Of course, it's not like such cowardice is exactly a surprise. I'm all for free speech and for the power of the marketplace. In other words, I support country fans' right to abandon the Chicks because of Maines' comment, and country radio's right not to play their music for the same reason, as much as I support Maines' right to declare that the Chicks are ashamed the President hails from their home state of Texas.

But even three years later, I can't stomach the craven spinelessness of stations that catered to their listeners' worst instincts by setting up bins so that people could come by and throw away their Dixie Chicks CDs. Or the utter pussy-hood of the station that organized an event where a bulldozer crushed dozens of Chicks CDs. Yes, you cheap, ignorant backwoods fucks, that's why your sons and daughters and brothers and sisters are dying in Afghanistan and Iraq: to support your right to play to our basest emotions, our lesser natures. Talk about fucking irony. (And that goes for you, too, Toby Keith, for "humorously" implying some sort of link between Maines and Saddam. And you can't even sing that well, either.)

So if I were Natalie Maines or one of those leggy supermodel sisters she plays with, I wouldn't be ready to make nice, either. I'd be just as willing as she is to sneer at the "friends from my high school / [who] Married their high school boyfriends / [and] Moved into houses in the same ZIP codes where their parents live," as she does on the agreeable opener "The Long Way Around." Such sentiments might make Taking the Long Way a risky career move, but based on its sales so far, not to mention Bush's current approval ratings, I kind of doubt it. If nothing else, after their participation in 2004's "Vote for Change" tour, they can probably count on a show of solidarity from like-minded fans of fellow tour participants Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M.

I personally might have voted for a little bit more change: I might have jacked up the rhythms a bit more, spiked some of the melodies, been a little bit ruder overall. I also might have trimmed a couple of tracks, even if they were co-written by Neil Finn or the Jayhawks' Gary Louris or even Keb' Mo', so as not to leave listeners numbed by the lite-rock wash somewhere near the 45-minute mark. (Taking the long way, indeed.)

Still, it's the Dixie Chicks' coming-out party, not mine, and they've earned the right to do it the way that makes the most sense for them. You've got to admire them for being brave enough not to back down from the incident that forever changed their world three years ago. For so vocally standing up for themselves, and refusing to forgive and forget.

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Archived Editorials
December 03, 2006: Happy Feet
November 22, 2006: Half Decade Anniversary
October 07, 2006: Jessica Simpson
September 30, 2006: New Orleans and SNL
June 2, 2006: Dixie Chicks
May 7, 2006: Are Yahu Serious?
February 16, 2006: Bill O'Reilly & Brokeback Mountain
February 12, 2006: Totally '80s (Grammys)
January 31, 2006: Freyed Oprah
November 27, 2005: To Be Continued... (Bringing back movie serials)
November 21, 2005: Fourth Birthday
November 05, 2005: TV Remakes
August 13, 2005: Ten Commandments of Rock
July 05, 2005: Live 8
May 05, 2005: Term Limits (for Rock Stars)
April 29, 2005: Pearl Jam Redux
January 26, 2005: Oscar Grouching
October 31, 2004: Three More Years!
September 27, 2004: Cleaning Out My Closet
August 25, 2004: Shaking Through Mailbag
June 23, 2004: Summer Reading List
June 11, 2004: World Without Heroes (Bill Murray and Garfield)
April 23, 2004: Sold Out (Bob Dylan, Victoria's Secret, & Iraq)
April 08, 2004: The Day the Music Died (Kurt Cobain)
Mar. 17, 2004: Copping Out
Feb. 27, 2004: The Passion of Howard Stern
Jan. 30, 2004: Sex and the City
Nov. 17, 2003: California Über Alles
Nov. 7, 2003: Not-So-Terrible Twos
Sept. 19, 2003: Magic & Loss (Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon)
Aug. 17, 2003: Those '70s Shows
May 27, 2003: Patriot Games (Darryl Worley)
May 24, 2003: American Idol
Mar. 23, 2003: Non-cents-ical (Dixie Chicks-50 Cent)
Feb. 8, 2003: Where's the Love? (Pearl Jam)
Jan. 1, 2003: High Resolutions
Dec. 16, 2002: All I Want for Christmas
Nov. 27, 2002: Things to be Thankful For
Nov. 8, 2002: Near Wild Heaven (Nirvana)
Oct. 21, 2002: Happy Birthday to Us
Sept. 11, 2002: The Little Things
Aug. 20, 2002: King for a Day
July 9, 2002: Bill of Rights
Apr. 18, 2002: Celebrity Skim
Apr. 15, 2002: We Will Never Lie To You
Jan. 6, 2002: Something to Believe In
Nov. 3, 2001: Who We Are