The short version: ‘All Of It’ is relatively solid, but it also finds Cole Swindell at a crossroads for where to go next.
The long version: Cole Swindell has come quite a long way since his debut album. He was one of many male artists who “rose” in 2014 and 2015 with a handful of bombastic, douchey “bro” hits. Unlike some of his contemporaries however, Swindell has managed to stick around.
I could see why. Swindell may not have a ton of character to his voice, but he’s got a good-nature personality and a good amount of charisma to make even some of his stupider songs fun. 2016’s You Should Be Here even saw him adopting a bit of a traditional influence and improving considerably in every area.
“Solid,” however, was just the next step, and considering the lead single (“Break Up In The End”) to his newest album, All Of It, was one of the best singles he had ever performed, Swindell was looking to make a case for some decent staying power.
All Of It is more of a weird listen though. On one hand, the writing has continued to improve for Swindell, but the production and writing style continue to be relatively predictable and narrow-minded. Overall, it’s bit of a mixed bag where listeners can tell Swindell is trying to decide a new direction to take his material.
To start with the positive elements though, again, Swindell’s writing is continuing to improve. The late night hookup of “Somebody’s Been Drinking” comes with regrets from both sides for calling it off in the first place. “Break Up In The End” continues to be a clever take on reliving heartache, and “Dad’s Old Number” is an especially excellent track.
Even certain tracks framed through the same old “bro” lens have a bit more teeth to them, with “Sounded Good Last Night” completely owning the fact that it’s stupid (making it oddly fun). Honestly, this is the version of “Flatliner” that doesn’t suck. “Reason To Drink” tries to connect with a hard working demographic, but the scope is too broad to really connect on a deeper level or do anything more than pander.
Swindell also gets credit for giving stakes to some worn-out topics. “Love You Too Late” lacks details in the writing, but the heavier rock energy of it couples nicely with the urgency in Swindell’s delivery. Again, “Break Up In The End” is an especially good performance from Swindell, with the softer production adding to Swindell’s serious delivery.
The problem with All Of It is that ultimately, it’s more of the same from Swindell, and not always in a good way. The title track may have some nice earthy banjo supporting it to give it a warmer feel, but for one, the percussion is too loud in the mix, and like with Swindell’s worst love songs, the focus is always on what the woman does or how she looks rather than any interesting attributes about her personality. The same can be said for “Her” which is probably the most pointless song on the album.
Granted, there’s nothing horribly egregious on this album (well, OK, one song … ), but the scope is pretty much the same for a lot of these tracks. These are mostly devoted to good ol’ country boys who played high school football and drink beer on their Friday night. It’s what makes “I’ll Be Your Small Town” an eye-roll of a listen. The same goes for “Both Sides Of The Mississippi.” Even the personal tribute on “The Ones Who Got Me Here” operates on a list-style of writing, opting more for names and people (including his “haters” – cute) instead of actual inspiring events.
These songs don’t reach the lowest pits of his past work or are even bad songs. They’re just painfully undercooked in their execution. The one exception is the unfortunate “20 In A Chevy” which tries to sneak in trap influences to … horrible extents (to put it lightly). Not even Cole Swindell in 2014 sang something as bad as this.
And it’s not like these aforementioned tracks can’t work in the right context. Again, “Sounded Good Last Night” is framed to be silly and fun, and Swindell has the right amount of charisma to pull it off well. But I can’t honestly say the production often has much color to it to give it an extra edge. The percussion is often mixed too loud, and the tracks have a tendency to switch to real drums (that don’t sound good) after starting with drum machines. The closest we get to some color is the rock energy of “Love You Too Late.”
Thankfully, the album ends very strong with “Dad’s Old Number,” a tribute to his late father that’s easily the best song Swindell has ever produced. It explores a rare perspective on grief that’s a mixture of denial and letting go, with Swindell dialing up his dad’s old number on accident and on purpose. It’s a somber track to listen to, and I like that it goes from Swindell dialing it on accident needing help to dialing it just to heal. It’s quite powerful.
I want to like All Of It more than I do, because Swindell is showing growth with every record. There’s also quite a few highlights here too. The problem is that it’s still fairly narrow-minded and interchangeable from a good chunk of Swindell’s discography overall, thus leading to more of the same. At this point though, I’d like to hear Swindell stretch his wings a little more, because he continues to show glimpses of his full potential. For now, All Of It is good, but it also feels like it should be better.
- Favorite tracks: “Dad’s Old Number,” “Break Up In The End,” “Sounded Good Last Night,” “Somebody’s Been Drinking,” “Love You Too Late”
- Least favorite track: “20 In A Chevy”