Here’s something I never thought I’d have to cover: Canadian country music. The mere concept of this genre is ever so intriguing to me, especially since the only country music I’ve ever known has been so steeped in roots of US Americana that it seems almost impossible to separate the genre from the rich history it inevitably contains. But Blue Rodeo sure are trying. About Blue Rodeo: they were formed in 1984 in Toronto and after fifteen studio albums, they have remained together ever since their humble beginnings. They are actually a pretty big deal in their home country – they have collaborated with dozens of popular Canadian artists and had sold more than two million albums by 1999. They have a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame (I’m guessing it’s the counterpart to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame) and were inducted to the Canadian music Hall of Fame alongside greats such as Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, The Band, and Joni Mitchell. So yeah… pretty big deal!
I listened to “Love and Understanding” for the first time right before I typed this review. Unimpressed, I decided to give a few of their other singles a play just to see if I had simply managed to land on a dud. Disappointingly, it seems that their country-rock sound that they seek to emulate is way, way more on the clichéd, generic side of things. I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of country music as a whole. Sure, there are plenty of country artists I totally admire to the world and back, but the genre as a whole isn’t something that one would find me casually binging on at any given hour or day. 1987’s “Try”, their most successful single, is also probably their strongest song, if only for the polished performance and relatively impassioned performance by the lead vocalist. Everything else just kind of runs into one another in some kind of edgeless, formless ball of adult contemporary mush.
And yes, “Love and Understanding” is no exception to this rule. The guitars and keyboards are nice enough and the whole thing chugs along smoothly enough to keep this from being an unpleasant listen, so to speak. But as far as originality or containment of any semblance of a personality, such traits are few and far between the entirety of “Love and Understanding”. This sounds a lot like the band trying to ride on the coattails of such 90s alt-country groups as Blues Traveler, Hootie & the Blowfish, and Counting Crows. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of any of those groups at all, so listening to a song like this that barely manages to eke by with the slightest whim of an impression forces me to lump them in with the talentless messes of these groups. And perhaps this is why this group is so popular in Canada. It manages the lowest common denominator in terms of composition, lyricism, and production, which appeals to the largest amount of people in the smallest amount of space and the shortest amount of time.
That’s not to say that this group has no talent at all, though. It’s clear that there’s some technical and artistic skill that manages to leak through the crevices of this overly polished track. The guitars are particularly fun at the start and the singer has a nice twang to his voice. However, after the second guitar solo, things start easing downhill, and the monotony of the singer’s performance becomes clearer and clearer by the passing of each second. I’m sure there are some positively awesome country rock bands floating out there somewhere. I just have a hard time believing that Toronto – or any part of Canada, for that matter – is the best or most likely place to embark on such awesomeness.