Pull My Chain

by: Toby Keith

Toby Keith's first DreamWorks album, 1999's How Do You Like Me Now?!, unveiled a new persona -- one that didn't shy away from the ballads that helped bring him hits in the '90s but put them into the background, emphasizing his humor and his bravado to winning effect. And to success, too, as it became the album that truly turned him into a country star, thereby letting him dig into this new persona on its follow-up, 2001's Pull My Chain. In every regard, this is a bigger, better record than its predecessor, possessing a richer musicality and a more confident sense of humor. That humor may be most evident on its weakest track, the mocking macho white-rap "I Wanna Talk About Me" (written by Bobby Braddock, not Keith), but it's better heard on the album opener "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight," a one-night stand anthem that's wry and clever, not obvious. That sly sense of craft has been evident in Keith's work since his debut but it truly comes to full fruition here, perhaps because of his new co-writer Scotty Emerick, who had only one credit on How Do You Like Me Now?! but five here, including "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight," the mellow soul of "I Can't Take You Anywhere," the power ballad "You Leave Me Weak," the breezy '70s soft rock of "Tryin' to Matter" and the laid-back "Yesterday's Rain." These are the backbone of the record, but they don't dominate it, as Keith's collaborations with Chuck Cannon -- "The Sha La La Song," which is the opposite of the bluster of the title track, also written with Cannon -- a rocking cover of Dave Loggins' "Pick 'Em Up and Lay 'Em Down" and two collaborations with Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin (the ballad "You Didn't Have as Much to Lose" and the bonus track "Gimme Eight Seconds," which is pure arena rock country complete with guitars resurrected from the '80s) are equally as good. All these different co-writers and covers mean that Pull My Chain isn't quite coherent, but that's also part of its charm: with his new success, Keith is empowered to try a bit of everything, to sow his wild oats, and he does so in compelling fashion here. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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