Toby Keith is a part of the redneck agenda, and he’s proud of it. Whether “throwing a few back and talking a little smack,” or “hustling a game of pool with a couple of redneck boys,” Keith sings about life as a rowdy Southerner who stands up for what he believes in, and that no-nonsense style has helped him sell millions of records. The opening song and title track of Keith’s latest, Honkytonk University, boasts of his rise from playing corn dog fairs to selling out basketball arenas. Sadly, though, the half-decent autobiographical tale ends up being the highlight of an otherwise lackluster record. Keith’s wit was a big part of his appeal on past hits like “I Wanna Talk About Me” and “How Do You Like Me Now?!,” but ever since he became the musical poster child for the pro-war movement with his 2002 hit “Courtesy Of The Red, White & Blue” (which infamously declared, “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”), it seems his sense of humor has gone AWOL. With the exception of “As Good As I Once Was,” a mildly amusing song about the acceptance of growing old, there’s no joking around here. Keith is left to sing almost exclusively about love and relationships, and while these topics may be more mature than those in some of his earlier work, they don’t always make for interesting songs. Most of Keith’s slower songs, in particular, are less than inspired. Even a duet with Merle Haggard, “She Ain’t Hooked On Me No More,” is nothing more than standard country fare. “Your Smile” is the only ballad on which Keith even seems to be making an effort. Otherwise, Honkytonk University sounds like it was recorded by somebody who’s gotten comfortable and has no desire to challenge himself in the slightest bit.
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