Let's not consider this a review per se of the Dixie Chicks' latest release, Fly, but more of an experiment in deconstructing that most inexplicable, ever-evolving and fun-to-piss-on musical genre, country and western.
"The new country is gay," comedian Norm MacDonald bellowed on The Late Show with David Letterman not too long ago. And by the looks of some C&W acts, he may be right. But even Garth Brooks can't be held accountable for all these new monstrosities of Music City mascara: pop-crossover females.
Faith Hill, Deana Carter, Martina McBride and, of course, Shania Twain are dominating charts in almost every genre but rap. And while Twain is clearly the leader of the pack, she can't come close to bedeviling bewildered folk as this trio of platinum-blond bombshells called the Dixie Chicks can. They're Shania to the power of three.
Natalie Maines and sisters Emily Robison and Martie Seidel won two Grammys this year for their major-label debut, 1998's Wide Open Spaces. But no one knew who the hell these Pantene models were, where the hell they were from, and why the hell their band's name was now etched on two small golden phonograph trophies.
Just as audiences started to take in the whole Chicks phenomenon, the Dallas trio released its latest album, Fly, which is already soaking up critical acclaim. But aren't we supposed to hate pop stars? Rolling Stone's resident ass-kisser Rob Sheffield doesn't think so. He said the Dixie Chicks were "the most fun you can have on country radio these days" as well as "country radio's gift to the world." Even the no-bullshit, mainstream-success-is-for-sellouts alt-country magazine No Depression gave them begrudging props, saying they "continue to be more adventurous than much of the Nashville system."
After listening to Fly, it's safe to say this: The girls got spunk. And if you don't hate spunk, this album's for you.
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Opening the album rather peculiarly with the Celtic rhythms of "Ready to Run," the trio rolls into its tongue-in-cheek, guitar-picking, fiddle-playing spiel. With Maines singing in her plucky vocals and Seidel and Robison playing a bevy of instruments, the girls ride the swells of love and heartache, but also veer off to get rowdy and ribald. On the fast-paced "Sin Wagon," the girls shed light on their wild ways. ("On a mission to make something happen / Felt like Delilah looking for Samson / Do a little mattress dancin' / That's right, I said mattress dancin'.")
The kooky "Goodbye Earl," which sounds like the long-awaited rebuttal to Guns N' Roses' 1989 girlfriend-killing fantasy "Used to Love Her," has the Chicks telling a tale of two women who plot to murder an abusive husband. (In the CD booklet, the Chicks want their fans to know they do not condone murder, but they "love getting even.")
You can't help but feel that no matter how endearing they sound, their main motivation is to be endearingly commercial. As with most of today's country artists, the Chicks' music could cross over at any time. They take their sound in varying directions. They are rooted deeply in the country faith, with tunes such as "Cold Day in July" and "Cowboy Take Me Away," but they are also subversive ("Sin Wagon"), self-deprecating ("Goodbye Earl") and transcendental ("Let Him Fly," the album's best track).
And, of course, their mainstream appeal is not rooted just in their sound but also in their looks. The girls don't appear on the cover of Fly, but there are plenty of Glamour Shots nestled inside that show that not only can these ladies play some knee-slapping music, but they can make you drool, too.