Big and Rich
Horse of a Different Color
es, we are late on this one, and we apologise. There’s a reason though: Big and Rich’s Horse of a Different Color has been on continual rotation for nearly six weeks now, and I’ve not got around to reviewing it simply because the sheer daze that hits you the first time you hear it still hasn’t subsided yet. They are a toxic shock for their genre. Whereas over the past few years people like Toby Keith have taken an attitude from hip-hop, Big and Rich have basically approached the musical buffet of the past 40 years of popular music with an open plate, and then proceeded to start a food fight on CMT. It’s an album that amounts to musical Tetris: everything appears random and disorganised at first, and then you notice that some bits are essential, and then everything just slots into place.
The facts of this album are pretty confusing and wholly irrelevant: an ex-member of perennial cut-out bin favourites Lonestar hooks up with another country type, records an album that sounds like everything and nothing else before it, and manages to irk the purists and thrill the sane. The beauty of the album is that it’s pretty much all things to all people: there’s so much going on that whatever opinion you have, you can pretty much guarantee that nobody has had it before. The first thing I thought of was The Proclaimers. Similar online buzz has compared them to Electric Six and Junior Senior (2003 seems such a long time ago now, huh?). The point is that, unlike JS and ES, no matter how gimmicky Big and Rich get (and, make no mistake, they have more gimmicks than Vince McMahon on this album), they never sound like a gimmick act. Early on they proclaim that “Rock and roll used to be about Johnny Cash / Yeah, what you think about that?”, and all you can think is that Johnny Cash’s most famous single was a comedy number about a man with a woman’s name, and yet he still was rock and roll because he knew when to believe in his material and when to just wink at you. And then you realise that, like Johnny Cash, Big and Rich are country music, and that country is America.
So… “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” has a bumper sticker title and an ass-shaking lyric. It has fiddles and Willie Nelson, but it also has bling bling. Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of hip-hop, but what few critics have seemed to notice is that there’s always a bit of tension between Big and Rich and the world of rap. “I wouldn’t trade old Leroy for your Chevrolet or your Escalade” highlights that for all of their urban-culture dress-up, B & R are still fully in the rural mindset. They are a take on country that takes from hip-hop, rather than, say, Bubba Sparxxx or David Banner’s approach of doing it from the other way round. It’s also more successful.
But what of their rap wildcard, and press release standout Cowboy Troy, the 6 foot 5 black cowboy rapper with the degree in economics who raps in three languages? Well, quite frankly, he’s shit. His “y’allternative” schtick actually sounds like an extended sketch from Who’s Line Is It Anyway? But you forgive him, as you forgive Big and Rich when they occasionally over-egg the cowboy pudding, because of the sheer amount of fun elsewhere. They’ve even felt the need to tell you how fun it was making the album during its hidden track.
It is, over-ridingly, a Pop album: from the meta-fiction of the lyrics (“Wild West Show” thrives on it’s continual call of “Hey ya”, whilst the title “Rollin’” was obviously chosen as much for its associations with Limp Bizkit as with Rawhide) to the homoerotic overtones (the inlay art shows them dressed up as a married couple, whilst they take great joy in referring to their horse as “my stud Leroy”). It revives the country pop gloss that hasn’t existed since “9 To 5”, without retaining the anodyne of so-much that passes for “country pop”. Oh. And they aren’t “country pop”. They’re “pop country”.
So Big and Rich have risen the bar, and then sent a shot-glass of rotgut down it. The most crunk album of 2004 has been delivered, and it’s been delivered by a guy that used to be in Lonestar, and his friend. These are interesting times that we live in, but who better to chronicle two genres and a culture in flux than Big and Rich? The South shall rock again.
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2004-07-28