WheelhouseBrad Paisley has always prided himself on his ability to throw the odd curveball into his mainstream Nashville sound, particularly on his last album, 2011’s This Is Country Music, which roped in guest artists as random as Southern rock veterans Alabama, American Idol winner Carrie Underwood and legendary director Clint Eastwood. But his ninth studio effort, Wheelhouse, is arguably his most WTF record yet, featuring everything from a sketch with a Monty Python comedian, a hip-hop crossover with LL Cool J and an instrumental named after Chinese for ‘quiet female,’ not to mention some rather unique reflections on xenophobia, domestic violence and racism. Here’s a look at five sets of lyrics which prove Paisley is anything but predictable.

Southern Comfort Zone’

Brad PaisleySignalling the craziness that is to follow, a theatrical show choir, snippets of The Andy Griffith Show and a NASCAR race commentary are all thrown into the melting pot that is Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone.” Initially veering into the kind of jingoistic territory that has got many Nashville folk into troubled waters, one of country’s more liberal stars then pulls it back when he realizes that although the great big wide world outside of Tennessee might not be as enamoured with truck-driving and sweet tea, it has plenty of its own delights to offer: [LISTEN]

Not everybody drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea
Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap, boots and jeans
Not everybody goes to church or watches every NASCAR race
Not everybody knows the words to “Ring Of Fire” or “Amazing Grace”

Harvey Bodine’

Brad PaisleyHumour has always been an integral part of Paisley’s country-rock sound but this strange mix of parping brass, steel guitars and ‘comic’ dialogue proves that his funny bone isn’t always willing to embrace the new as much as his musical chops. Following on from the previous brief Eric Idle skit about a man suffering a heart attack during a game of charades, “Harvey Bodine” focuses on how its titular character’s subsequent brush with death almost gave him relief from the yellin’, screamin’ and nagging wife in the manner of a politically-incorrect 1970s comedian whose whole routine is based on tired wife and mother-in-law jokes:

Aw, and he thought about that woman
How she treated him for years
All the yellin’ and the screamin’
And the nagging and the tears
And the way it wasn’t really all that bad
When he lost his life

Those Crazy Christians

Brad PaisleyIf a country artist with the same atheist perspective as the song’s protagonist had recorded “Those Crazy Christians,” then they might well have faced a similar backlash as the Dixie Chicks did with their Bush protest. But as a renowned God-fearing churchgoer, Paisley can just about get away with commenting on the contradictory nature of his faith, from its contrasting attitude towards the devil’s whiskey and the Savior’s wine to its willingness to forgive adulterous TV preachers. It’s not exactly Nine Inch Nails‘ ”Heresy“ but still, hats off to Paisley for addressing religion in a way which most of his peers wouldn’t even dare:

They pray before they eat and they pray before they snore
They pray before a football game and every time they score
Every untimely passing, every dear departed soul
Is just another good excuse to bake a casserole

Karate

Brad PaisleyAccompanied by outlaw country hero Charlie Daniels, “Karate” initially sounds like a feel-good slice of twanging country-rock, until you realize that the martial art in question is being used as a form of defence by a victim of domestic abuse. Still, although the first half of the track focuses on the abhorrent behaviour of her husband, there’s a certain sense of jubilation when she dishes out revenge as only she knows how – by knocking out his teeth, breaking his nose and slamming his head into a fridge – while his subsequent sunglasses-clad visit to the drive-thru is a clever reversal of the opening line: [LISTEN]

He’s on the floor like he went a round with Rocky
He didn’t know she’d been taking karate
A hundred bucks says tomorrow night
She’s got a brand new belt that’s gonna match his eye

Accidental Racist

Brad PaisleyFurther proof that Paisley isn’t averse to tackling sensitive issues, “Accidental Racist” sees a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan from the south of the Mason-Dixon line try to understand why his confederate flag-emblazoned t-shirt may cause offense. The ‘slavery for dummies’ history lesson has its heart in the right place. But alongside a guest rap from LL Cool J, which possesses a cringe factor that surpasses even his J-Lo collaborations, its confession of both Southern pride and Southern shame borders on the patronizing: [LISTEN]

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you’re livin’ in the hood
Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would