Ten or so spins in (OK, maybe one), and it's still hard to find something to say about Ty Herndon's latest that someone else hasn't used before to condemn Nashville for its absolute lack of originality. Every clever metaphor and analogy is already spoken for, so it's probably best to stick with this simple fact: Steam is...dreadful. That's all you really need to know, unless you're one of the lucky few that doesn't consider The Nashville Network one long infomercial for frontal lobotomies. Herndon's disposable pop plays dress-up with steel guitars and fiddles and his aw-shucks backwoods delivery, amounting to little more than a half-assed, wholehearted attempt to cross over without crossing anyone out. Big deal. It's not like Herndon and his Nashville-spawned brethren haven't been doing the exact same thing for decades now; they've only refined the formula, to the point where Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks don't have to rely on the hicks at Wal-Mart to push their records to the top of the pops.
Of course, save for Garth Brooks, invading the pop market has mainly been restricted to women, and even Brooks had to resort to cheap marketing gimmicks to cover his ass. (Sorry, but even with the air-brushing job, portraying a fey Aussie rocker with a soul patch couldn't cover Brooks' entire ass.) And Herndon won't fare much better with this scattered mess, much of which -- living up to its title -- disappears quicker than it arrived. Steam is, once you get through it, a country record made by a city boy for people who don't like country music, so laden with clichés, everyone knows the lyric sheet by heart before "Lookin' for the Good Life" even kicks off the disc. Example: "He had a bottle in his left hand / And a Bible in his right" (from the oh-so-obvious "Pray for Me") has appeared in country songs since Confederate money could still be exchanged for goods and services.
Then again, most of Steam finds the lowest common denominator and smacks it hard across the face. Every track on Steam resembles the handful of songs a pre-makeover George Strait sang in Pure Country to illustrate modern country's ridiculous excesses -- shiny, over-produced, ineffectual pop-rock that proves neither the singer nor the song is important when you get right down to it. Fact is, Herndon isn't much of a singer, attacking everything with the false sincerity of a tent-revival preacher and Tom Hanks. He might have a good album in him somewhere, possibly if some of his troubled past made its way into his songs. Herndon singing about his bust a few years back (for offering to, um, taste an undercover cop's cigar outside a police convention at which he was set to perform) would at least be interesting, something Steam never even approaches. If nothing else, it would at least prove that there's something to Herndon besides a wide-open space between his ears.
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