Songwriters: George Strait, Bubba Strait, Dean Dillon
Long story short: This is George Strait’s best single in years, and if it doesn’t at least crack the Top 20, I will be very unhappy.
Country music has a long history of drinking songs, though such have become less common in the antiseptic country radio climate of today. But when a country drinking song attempts to portray the destructive effects of alcohol addiction, it can be easy for it to come across as high-minded or superficially judgmental. (See Tim McGraw’s “Nothin’ to Die For”) Strait’s “Drinkin’ Man” avoids that problem entirely by giving voice to the affected man himself through vivid first-person narration that shows naked honesty and self-awareness. The lyric starkly portrays the feelings of guilt the man suffers, the consequences his habit reaps on his family and relationships, and the inner struggle he faces as his earnest desire to kick the habit collides with his deeply ingrained dependency. (“I look into the mirror, bottle in my hand/ I’d like to pour it out, but I just don’t think I can”) Likewise, the refrain “That’s a hell of a lot to ask of a drinkin’ man” captures the truth that no one can fully understand a struggling alcoholic’s plight except the affected individual himself. And it’s a Dean Dillon collaboration – Who’da guessed?
Over the course of his thirty year career, George Strait has pulled off the near-impossible task of remaining commercially relevant throughout decades of changing tastes and trends, yet doing so with remarkably few concessions in his sound and style. In the tradition of Strait’s very best work, “Drinkin’ Man” combines a straightforward, detailed, lyric with a tasteful production to create something universal and timeless.
It would be a sad thing indeed if the mainstream country format had deteriorated to the point that a career-best effort from George Strait could be ignored. But, regardless of whether it finds the audience it deserves, “Drinkin’ Man” is a song that stands as a Jones-worthy classic, and a definite highlight in Strait’s long and storied career.