Some Songs Make You Wonder Just What Exactly Is Wrong
Sara Evans, "Perfect" (RCA), 2003
I am writing this near the end of March 2004 and this single is sitting at #2 on the country charts. I'd hold out high hopes that it'd hit #1 but that Kenny Chesney/Uncle Kracker thing is at #1 so who knows. If "Perfect" did hit the top spot I'd be very happy, I think--no song by a woman has been #1 in country for an entire year now, which I think is scary. But if this does hit it, then it's almost actually worse, because of what it means.
But it's not the song's fault. I love the song, I love the whole album, I love Sara Evans. She is a good songwriter (she co-wrote this with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin) and a great singer and--it must be said--a really beautiful woman, not a tiny wisp of a waspy thing but someone with a real and womanly presence, that presence being of course massively exploited in the video for this song, which I'll get to later but which basically climaxes with a butt shot in tight black jeans. Plus she moved back to Oregon where her husband is from and was in a country band called Sara Evans and North Santiam, which is hilarious and awesome. The songs here are strong and adventurous, I don't know what dude was thinking in the AMG review, totally wrong though: "Otis Redding" is great, "Rockin' Horse" will never be a hit but should be, "Back Seat of a Greyhound Bus" did pretty well, I'll have to review the whole album here some time.
But in the meantime: the song is great. Big poppy rock hooks on guitar, a woodblock beat that might as well be a cowbell played by Will Farrell (which hits on the two and three, kinda, maybe she's been listening to lots of screwed/chopped Houston stuff, that'd rock), organ stabs like it's Memphis soul because it is (no one is doing more Stax than Nashville these days), lovely lush obvious chord changes, right in the pocket. And the voice is of course lovely and human and twangy, all that.
But it's the words and the images that make this song: a man's old t-shirt is better than a sexy negligee to her! her family hates him, his family hates her, it's all right! she likes it when he gets mad at her, life is messy, deal with it! She doesn't mind his imperfections; by implication, he had better not mind hers. It's very much a country theme: We ain't fancy, but we're real, and that's better than fancy, take that you snobs.
In a way, it's very zen. The Third Patriarch would be pleased: she is arguing for the lack of critical distinction between "good" and "bad"--instead, we accept the flaws that make the picture more believable and perfect. In fact, says Sara Evans and Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin and everyone who buys and requests this single, being imperfect IS being perfect. It's like the flaws that Persian carpetmakers used to intentionally leave in their rugs, so as not to compete with Allah, who alone was allowed to be perfect. It's like piercing the veil of expectation, which is the blanket of ignorance.
Actually, the single is probably mostly popular because of its sexy and ambiguous video. There are several Sara Evanses here: one is sleeping in a car, one watches another one, that one steps aside from the microphone so that the fourth can step up for the final chorus, and the butt shot. Damn she's fine. And a lot of sexy kids are driving around in the desert aimlessly, and there is an old dude for no reason. What is the old dude doing there? Is this actually Buddha with a walk-on cameo?
Aye but here's the rub. Is this how we get a #1 record in country music, by doing a song about how we're fallible, which since it's sung by a woman means that women are fallible, which means "don't worry boys, no one's trying to tear your Graceland down, we're just ladies, we make mistakes, we're not shooting our mouths off or trying to subvert the dominant paradigms or any shit like that, no Dixie Chick-ism here, nope, everyone's just human and rural and fuckup-prone, which means prone, which is where we've been for the last year ever since Natalie went and shot off her mouth and Shania sold all the albums by blatantly selling out twice over and therefore not at all, don't worry about little old us, we'll just dance around a bit in our hot tight black jeans and sing a little old song, now you can love us again"?
I really hope not. The song was recorded more than a year ago, after all, and it does
mention how her guy isn't perfect either, and other Sara Evans songs are much more TAKE ME SERIOUSLY than that. But it's curious that this song, which has been around for months, is finally knocking on the door. I have no idea what it means. But it's okay if it never hits #1, because Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman" is racing up the charts like a Ford F-150 and it'll be here with a proud rebel flag of womanly defiance by May or sooner.
Damn I love this song though. I'm listening to this on the way home.