Sound — 6
Having earned more than enough music accolades to last a lifetime, Brad Paisley has built himself a throne within the highest echelon of contemporary country music. But as his career continues on after checking off all the achievements a musician can strive for, Paisley's recent work has displayed difficulties finding ways to climb from the heights his discography has already reached. After 2011's "This Is Country Music" was composed as a love letter to Paisley's musical heroes and the genre he practices, his self-produced ninth album, 2013's "Wheelhouse," attempted to weave more contemporary pop elements into his country sound. He continued this effort in his following tenth album, 2014's "Moonshine in the Trunk," while also describing it as a "modern honky-tonk record," but with those new music traits being unorthodox to the genre, his fanbase weren't welcoming to the additional music traits.
On his eleventh album, "Love and War," Paisley has more or less gotten the message regarding that. This time around, he strays away from additional production tricks and lets the stacked instrumental arrangements shine the brightest, whether it's the folksy mandolins and banjos that lushly decorate "Heaven South" and "Solar Power Girl," the heartland warmth of steel pedal guitar swells and fiddle melodies in "The Devil Is Alive And Well" and "Meaning Again," or Paisley's sharp guitar skills flaunted in the rollicking "One Beer Can," and the slow-burning southern rocker "Contact High."
These are all strong suits of "Love and War," but for album number eleven, Paisley's pristine instrumental output is an aspect that has more or less plateaued; duly so for the music it has practiced plenty of times over. Once again, Paisley does another lap around the genre's different styles, from the upbeat hoedown of "Grey Goose Chase" and the modern county rocker "Last Chance for Everything," to the lighter-waving power ballads of "Today" and "Gold All Over the Ground," and like his previous albums, the extraneous amount of tracks ends up dragging the album down with some duds, like the sappy, seductive ballad "Go to Bed Early," and the goofy country rocker "selfie#theinternetisforever." Perhaps in attempt to up the ante, the album boasts some iconic guest appearances, including Mick Jagger in the classic rocker "Drive of Shame," John Fogerty in the eponymous song, and Grand Ole Opry legend Bill Anderson in "Dying to See Her," but even with these remarkable features, the album doesn't add anything to the table that previous albums haven't done already.
Lyrics — 6
As opposed to the more party-centric lyrics in the previous "Moonshine in the Trunk," Paisley's lyrics in "Love and War" gravitate more towards the more insightful side of Paisley. From the theme of finality for better and for worse in "Last Time for Everything," the melancholy tale of a heartbroken widow in "Dying to See Her," and the political call to treat war veterans with more care in the eponymous song, Paisley does a good job displaying the wise substance he's capable of. But also coming with that older age, Paisley has moments where he sounds like an admonishing old man, whether in the story of a house party gone wrong in "One Beer Can," the scolding of a digitally-obsessed era in "selfie#theinternetisforever," or the more serious "the world is going to hell in a hand basket" message in "The Devil Is Alive and Well."
In other moments, however, Paisley also touts some lyrics that aim to rehash the impulsive and carefree attitude that contrasts his more mature lyrics. Sounding more sophomoric in his one-night stand escapades of "Drive Of Shame," drinking binges in "Grey Goose Chase," and describing a crush with weed puns in "Contact High," Paisley comes off like he wants to be the reckless and young country star he was before just as much as he wants to be the seasoned and sage country maven he is today. Ultimately, he can't have his cake and eat it, too.
Overall Impression — 6
With little room to expand the country music territory he's conquered, "Love and War" dependably and predictably delivers another batch of country hits (with some duds) just like the album before it, and the album before that, and the album before that, et cetera. There's no doubt that Paisley has mastered his craft, but in this staying of the course, there's a sense of placidness that "Love and War" isn't able to rise above. All in all, it's an output of average expectations in the context of Paisley's body of work.