Jason Aldean makes albums the old-fashioned way -- the way they did back in 1994, just after the great Garth explosion. Aldean romanticizes "1994," in fact, sending up a jumping salute to the nearly forgotten neo-traditionalist Joe Diffie -- whose name bafflingly provides the chorus chant on "1994" -- and more importantly crafting his fifth album, Night Train, like they did in the '90s: it's bigger and bolder, impressed with its own ballast and weight. Aldean rocks the country, not with rhythm but with volume, ensuring that his pulsating party anthems and power ballads are delivered with a dogged force, with any subtleties or ambiguities flattened by his sheer sinewy determination. And that relentless, grim persistence defines Night Train, an album with plenty of songs about partying, open roads, endless tours, and strippers, with not a one sounding like much fun. Much of this is due to Aldean's reliance on minor keys and slow, steady marches -- neither attribute delivers much sense of excitement -- but his affectless singing doesn't help either, as he seems as nonplussed by the good times as he is by the sweet sentiments in the love songs. He's the steady inscrutable center on the slightly overblown Night Train, an album where every cut is louder than the next and, at 15 tracks, there are lots of tunes, reminiscent of nothing more than a packed-to-the-gills superstar CD from back in 1994. Certainly, Night Train is huge, but its size feels derived by divine proclamation: it is big simply because it was intended to be big but at its core it feels weary, a little hollow, and not at all fun.
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