Fireflies (Warner Bros., 2005)
0/10 (by author)
Less an "album" than a goddamn dissertation on everything rotten at the core of mainstream country music, Faith Hill's Fireflies, rest assured, will rank as her sixth multi-platinum record and will likely sweep the country field at the Grammy awards come February. That it is so utterly without substance—it's some kind of engineering marvel that the CD itself doesn't have to be tethered to the ground—certainly won't deter NARAS, People, and Entertainment Weekly (who stand to profit whenever Hill's visage graces their covers), or Hill's legion of fans from shouting me down to the contrary, but Fireflies is flat-out terrible, the end-all be-all example of how the major labels on music row have diluted the soul out of an entire genre of vital popular music.
What's ultimately so disheartening about Fireflies is the extent to which it will be championed as a return to (a never-existent) form by a capital-A artist (who doesn't even merit the lower-case designation as such), and as a benchmark for what mainstream country can and should be. The last few years have seen a refreshing infusion of artistic integrity into the country mainstream, with artists like Julie Roberts, Evans, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, and Lambert all making music that, at its best, fully holds its own in comparison to the gritty, soulful work of Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Loretta Lynn. And, though their shtick is sociologically loaded to an almost impossible degree, Big & Rich have made it commercially and critically viable for major label country artists to attempt to defy the genre's mainstream conventions. Faith Hill and Fireflies bring nothing new to the table but a particularly shrewd marketing strategy. Hill has nothing of her own to say, nor does she say anyone else's words with any insight or conviction. That adding some steel guitar to Fireflies' relentless tripe is being sold with greater efficacy than Hill sells said tripe as a credibility maneuver is nothing short of appalling, even by Nashville's standards of beating dead horses. There are too many other sources of optimism to view the album as a harbinger of doom for country's recent, unexpected artistic resurgence, but it's a nadir both for Nashville's golden empress and for the genre she embraces only when it stands to profit her most.