Its title destined to spawn countless pun-filled reviews in the mainstream press, Brad Paisley's Time Well Wasted at least has the decency to provide an excess of material, both for better and for worse, to facilitate such writing. With 15 proper songs, followed by an ill-advised Hee-Haw type skit, then a series of outtakes from said skit, and then (and I swear to God, I'm not making this up) an outro from William Shatner, Time Well Wasted makes for an awfully ambitious listen. If nothing else, it's a bargain even at full list price. That the album is of such consistent quality from start to finish makes it impossible to say which songs should've been held over for his next record and even harder to begrudge Paisley for having asked for such a time commitment in the first place.
And that's the thing about Brad Paisley, really. He's likable in a way few mainstream country stars are. He's so obviously talented (he and Keith Urban could have one hell of a Celebrity Deathmatch over who's the better guitar-slinger, as the astonishing, fast-picking instrumental cut "Time Warp" makes clear) that it makes perfect sense in a social Darwinist way for him to be a multi-platinum-selling star, but he has this aw-shucks persona such that he seems not only humbled but genuinely stunned by his success. Both in his interviews and in his music, he betrays a deep understanding of the country genre's history and of its broader social functions. Brad Paisley just fundamentally gets it, and it speaks to the artistic bankruptcy of the country mainstream that someone of his integrity is a refreshing break from the norm.
As Toby Keith and his pals took over the genre with their shallow brand of swinging-dick "patriotism," Paisley's first three efforts were weakened by attempts at humor (as on the instantly-dated critique of reality TV, "Celebrity") and a cloying sentimental streak ("We Danced," "Who Needs Pictures"). His previous albums sounded a bit strident, in other words, as though Paisley were trying too hard to be liked, missing the fact that, particularly in comparison to Keith's off-putting machismo routine, he was already plenty likable when he simply played up his ability to mix his appreciation of traditional country forms with his unimpeachable technical chops and the natural accessibility of his writing.
Time Well Wasted is the first album on which Paisley sounds entirely comfortable in his role as the standard-bearer for country purists, and, not surprisingly, it's hands-down the best work of his career. The humor (as on the anthemic singalong lead single, "Alcohol," and the self-deprecating "You Need A Man Around Here") never once sounds forced or crosses the line into "novelty" territory, and the ballads (the best of which is "Waitin' On A Woman") are genuinely heartfelt without being schmaltzy. It's actually easy to imagine the album spawning at least a half-dozen hit singles, like Mary Chapin Carpenter's Come On Come On or Shania Twain's Come On Over, it's just that straightforwardly good.
The production job by Frank Rogers gives Paisley ample opportunity for flashy guitar riffs, but the instrumentation never gets in the way of the great hard-country lyrics, most of which Paisley co-wrote, or Paisley's expressive deliveries of them. To say that Time Well Wasted is as great an album as Nashville releases these days would severely undersell it given its direct competition. It's a great country record, period, the kind of album that speaks to the genre's vital past and to which most alt-country artists aspire. Now that Paisley has settled into his success a bit, he's yet another reason that the country mainstream can lay claim to a legitimate resurgence in its artistic relevance.