Brad Paisley — “Then”

Released: 3.13.09

Peak: #28

Brad Paisley has always found monogamy sexy. From the easy-swinging pun “Wrapped Around” (“It’s time to put a ring on the finger I’m wrapped around”) to the good-hearted sexism of “Waitin’ on a Woman” (punch line: men die first because women are never ready on time), Paisley has shown himself to be seduced by the inexhaustible experience of committing your life to another person. On some level, you have to cherish commitment in itself to find mating for life a possibility.

And yet, Paisley has never been much for the straight-ahead love ballads that are a career country star’s fallback position. Maybe that’s because he’s a great guitarist who likes to cut loose; maybe it’s his weakness for an easy joke. Or maybe Paisley, as half of a down-homier celebrity marriage than Tim and Faith, just realizes that country ballads typically strip away the everyday details that make long-term commitment worthwhile. He’s always been as amused as infatuated by lifetime love, and his biggest hit ballad, “She’s Everything,” painstakingly includes his wife’s flaws and contradictions within that “everything.”

“Then” is more conventional. Its arrangement — piano both lush and bluesless, guitar floating melodically on the surface, drums lightly rat-a-tatted — isn’t worlds away from bestselling goop like Rascal Flatts, the members of which would likely find “like a river meets the sea” a more poetic image than I do. But Paisley’s verses are simpler and more schematic, sketching scenes of a first date, then a marriage proposal, concluding both times “I thought I loved you then.” The song builds to a bridge about looking forward to the future: “What I can’t see is how I’m ever gonna love you more/ But I’ve said that before.” Yet, despite some typically flashy guitar and a “hoo-a-hoo-ooh” coda, “Then” never becomes melodramatic. Corny, that’s another story. But if songs about love growing stronger with time are too corny for you, you’ve got no business listening to country music. Or marrying maybe.

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