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September 2, 2010 / scherstuhl

Strum & Twang: Brad Paisley’s “Welcome to the Future”

Verdict: A Keeper!

Like Lee Brice and all the others, country-pop guitar hero Brad Paisley wants to reassure you that you and your country are totally awesome. But he’s an artist, not just a craftsman or commodity, so Paisley bothers to advance an argument. A sun-touched top five country hit that quite literally hollers “glory hallelujah” for diversity, “Welcome to the Future” is the antithesis of Tea-Party unease.

Paisley wrote it in late ’08, and, savvy about radio realities, he followed something like the rules of The Price is Right: he comes as close to naming Obama as he can without going over.

Like a freshman debater, Paisley opens with Things Upon Which We Can All Agree. In the nostalgic first verse, riding a four-on-the-floor rock beat, he marvels at how cool it is that the Pac-Man game he loved as a kid now fits on his phone.

Your author, with a Hershey's-sponsored life-sized cardboard cutout of Brad Paisley

In the patriotic second, he marvels at how cool it is that just two generations after his grandfather sent hundreds of letters home from the Pacific during World War II, Paisley routinely teleconferences with Tokyo. (That’s real reassurance: contact with other countries is cool rather than alienating.)

Before the third, we twice get the gum-in-your-hair chorus, which surges to a sugary peak of crisp pedal steel, Who’s Next synths, and the ongoing commentary of Paisley’s own Telecaster, an instrument that seems to hail from the vanishing point between guitar and gee-tar.

And then suddenly it’s just Paisley, strumming an acoustic and marveling at how cool it is to have a black president. Not in those words, of course, but close enough that he had to telephone program directors across the country and assure ‘em that the references to Rosa Parks, MLK, and cross-burning didn’t make the song political. Dude’s a commodity, after all — not just an artist.

If “Welcome to the Future” seems obvious, or cloying, or bombastic, or anything less than a blast of pure pop hope, just remember: going top five means this gets spun in Alaska, Arizona, and your local Wal-Mart. The song flips country’s nostalgia for some idealized past into something much healthier: passion for an idealized now. That’s an improvement.

Also:

Here’s a review I wrote of a Paisley concert in ’08.

And here’s my two favorite Paisley songs. The first is a horny lark.

The second a tribute to the cause of (and solution to) all of life’s problems . . .  narrated by alcohol itself. He’s also a whiz with fidelity ballads, but these are more fun.

— Alan Scherstuhl

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