Sounding like a collection of b-sides and outtakes from last year’s Here For The Party, Gretchen Wilson’s rush-job follow-up, All Jacked Up, will likely avoid the sophomore slump based on sheer commercial momentum. As an album that amounts to nothing more than bald-faced attempts to capitalize on the sales of its predecessor, All Jacked Up is less desperate to be loved than Faith Hill’s
Fireflies and is just a tad less stultifying in its song selection as Jo Dee Messina’s Delicious Surprise. Split the difference between the two and it’s still bottom of the barrel material, but it’s going to sell, and it’s going to sell very, very big.
What All Jacked Up ultimately confirms (irrefutably so, thanks to the hidden track, a “one take” acoustic cover of Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache” that’s apparently meant to show the range of Wilson’s talent but which is so profoundly, indescribably awful and misguided that it has to be heard to be believed) is that Wilson is a one-trick pony whose trick will only impress those with exceedingly low expectations. Though she’s every bit the cipher Hill is (gasping awkwardly for breaths in the middle of phrases, she’s possibly the worst ballad singer currently working in Nashville, and she butchers “I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today,” which would otherwise be a fantastic song, as are all of the songs with singer-songwriter Matraca Berg’s name attached) and her technical limitations actually make the thin-voiced Messina sound like a powerhouse (for all the ProTools in Nashville, she’s still at least a quarter-pitch sharp on every not-really-that-high high note she strains for), Wilson can nonetheless manage to sell a “brash” song like the title track and first single when she’s bolstered by aggressive, hard-guitar production. But there’s nothing on All Jacked Up that sounds nearly as anthemic as did “Redneck Woman,” and since she’s listed as co-producer (along with Mark Wright and the real man behind the curtain, Big & Rich’s John Rich), that Wilson is left to carry the material on her own is at least partially her own fault.
Not that the material here, except for the genuinely clever “One Bud Wiser,” written by Rich and Vicky McGehee, is anything that even a greater talent could (or would want to) sell to anyone outside the target demo for The Blue Collar Comedy Tour. That there’s a song titled “Politically Uncorrect” and that it’s one of the four tracks on the album Wilson didn’t co-write speaks volumes about her marketing to the lowbrow neo-con market that’s taken over the country mainstream post-9/11. That she co-wrote “Skoal Ring” (the vomit-inducing, meter-eschewing climax? “When that boy comes home from work smellin’ like the farm/That berry blend on his lips still turns me on”), of course, keeps plenty of the blame firmly on Wilson herself.
Though there are lingering questions as to how much she really contributes to any of this—in that “There are seven co-writers credited on ‘Toxic,’ so how much did Britney really help?” sense—it’s a futile endeavor to try to pick apart what’s wrong with songs like “California Girls,” which includes an instantly-dated verse about how Wilson doesn’t care for New York native Paris Hilton, given both the marketing drive and the inexplicable critical reception this will receive in the popular press. People who fundamentally fail to grasp even the most rudimentary concepts about what makes country music a legitimately vital genre of music spent the bulk of 2004 drawing entirely unfounded comparisons between Wilson and women like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, positioning Wilson as a ball-busting post-post-feminist icon and completely ignoring both the substantial debt her career owes to several men (to Rich, especially) and the mile-wide streak of casual misogyny that runs throughout her music. Filled with patriarchal claptrap like “Homewrecker” and “When I Think About Cheatin’,” Here For The Party was uniquely awful in that regard, establishing Wilson as the personification of Toby Keith’s “Whiskey Girl” and thus explaining why she was immediately embraced within the mainstream establishment. All Jacked Up, on the other hand, confines its misogyny to just four of its 12 songs (all in the first half of the album), so it has to be interpreted as a baby-step of progress for Wilson.
The glimmer of hope that she might someday release an album without a single song that debases her own gender, obviously, isn’t enough to qualify All Jacked Up as a good album by any meaningful standard, but that’s not what Wilson’s audience wants anyway. Whether or not they wanted a watered-down version of what they liked on the first go-round, that’s what Wilson’s served up on All Jacked Up. The album proper closes with the autobiographical “Not Bad For A Bartender,” so one might think that Wilson would recognize that as bad form, and only a lightweight could get any kind of buzz off of something this weak.