Until recently, there have been two main political schools of thought in country music. The first calls upon its acolytes to challenge and/or vilify America's enemies in ways that are as simple and straightforward as a steel-toed boot to the groin. A contemporary example is Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," in which the thickly muscled belter declares, "The eagle will fly and it's gonna be hell/When you hear Mother Freedom start ringing her bell." Students of the second, meanwhile, are generally subtler from a musical and lyrical standpoint, and allow sensitivity to creep into the mix. Consider Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," a 2001 effort in which the crooner concedes that while he doesn't know "the difference in Iraq and Iran" (betcha he does now), he understands through his knowledge of Jesus that "faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us/And the greatest is love."
Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?" attempts to split the difference between these disparate styles to erratic effect. He deserves points for rhyming "forgotten" and "Bin Laden" (it's certainly better than, say, "income-tax deduction" and "weapons of mass destruction" or "Saddam" and "my mom"), and his dubious decision to directly equate the war in Iraq with 9/11 isn't that big a deal. After all, plenty of Sean Hannity-type pundits have made that argument. Yet Worley's use of the question format employed in Jackson's aforementioned smash makes his battle justifications seem more than a little whiny, and the powerless-ballad backing he supplies is no help, either. To inspire the troops to kick ass, he should have produced some music that did the same.
Then again, the folks here at home appreciated his efforts enough to turn his timely salvo into an enormous hit that this disc aims to capitalize upon. Included on Have You Forgotten? are three new songs: "I Need a Breather," so blatant a Jimmy Buffett ripoff that it even mentions margaritas; "I Will Hold My Ground," a generic statement of purpose that the faithful will dig; and "Shiloh," a tune that documents the horrors of the Civil War in an exceedingly familiar manner. (Apparently Worley is against any conflict in which only Americans die, but is more open-minded when foreign nationals are involved.) Tossed in as a bonus are half a dozen cuts each from his past two albums. Although some of these selections, such as "POW 369," a salute to former captives, seem to have been chosen to accentuate the pro-military theme, the majority are present merely to introduce Worley's slick, lachrymose brand of homogenized C&W to an audience attracted by his tough-but-tender take on patriotism.
When viewed through the prism of political correctness, this approach has some attributes. Still, overtly reactionary stuff generally leaves a more lasting mark. Merle Haggard's "The Fightin' Side of Me," a full frontal assault on Vietnam War protesters whose key lyrics ("When they're runnin' down my country, hoss/They're walkin' on the fightin' side of me") could be applied to 2003 with nary a change, may not be on the level of Hag classics like "Mama Tried," but its raucous vocals and music are capable of giving even twang-fancying lefties a guilty thrill. As for "Forgotten"? Let's hope it will be. And soon.