The short version: If Florida Georgia Line had left the marketing, pandering, and machismo out of their music, ‘Can’t Say I Ain’t Country’ might have actually been decent.
- Favorite tracks: “Speed Of Love,” “Simple,” “Colorado”
- Least favorite track: “Swerve” and all of the skits
- Rating: 4/10
The long version: Florida Georgia Line aren’t going away anytime soon, but who are they at this point?
Despite being the Godfathers of the bro-country trend, the duo always found themselves in the middle of the pack in terms of quality. Say what you will about those first two albums, but at least their signature blend of high strung electric guitars and twangy banjos could be fun sometimes.
And ahead of their new album, pre-release tracks like “Simple” and “Colorado” were actually pretty good. But in the aftermath of that aforementioned trend, while the duo have managed to maintain their commercial relevance in a huge way, they’ve suffered from a major identity crisis.
When the title was revealed for their new album, the only baffling question I had was wondering why they’d wait until now to address their critics. Considering the duo have been around for seven years at this point, it seems odd to only address it now. But hey, maybe they waited until they matured as artists to showcase legitimate improvement. On the other hand, it could all just be an attempt to fit in with the current trend of artists defending their country credibility. Sadly, Can’t Say I Ain’t Country is the latter, and while it’s not the duo’s worst album to date, it’s easily their most random batch of songs, meaning this album is all over the place in a bad way.
To start with a positive note though, the one surprising element of Florida Georgia Line that’s improved is their production. Aside from “Can’t Hide Red,” “Swerve,” “Y’all Boys,” and “Sittin’ Pretty,” the mixes aren’t nearly as cluttered as their previous work. “Talk You Out Of It” surprisingly manages to pull off the “sexy song” vibe well thanks to more sensual production, and even if “Simple” is Mumford & Sons (and High Valley and Avicii and … ) lite, it’s still pulled off well here.
Perhaps the most surprising moment comes through on “Speed Of Love” which feels like 90’s country meets Jerry Reed for something upbeat that fits right in the duo’s wheelhouse. And while I’m not at all a fan of “People Are Different” or “Blessings,” as far as acoustic ballads are concerned, you could do worse. Even while the lyrical content of “Like You Never Had It” is awful, the darker, murkier textures aren’t half bad either.
On the other hand, it’s not a complete improvement as a whole. “Swerve” is a God-awful track where the trap elements don’t flatter the lyrical content at all, but more on that later. “Sittin’ Pretty” tries to blend electronic elements with violins, but it comes across as flimsy and gutless rather than sexy in the vein of “Talk You Out Of It.” “Told You” is also pretty gutless, tacky East Nashville soul that isn’t a good fit for the duo. There’s also percussion issues, namely how it’s too loud on well … a ton of tracks here, but it’s at its most egregious on “Y’all Boys.”
But despite this album not always sounding awful, when it comes to the lyrical content, there’s rarely anything forgivable here. This was evident when they revealed the title of this album, but Can’t Say I Ain’t Country finds Florida Georgia Line in a weird, defensive state as they try and prove to the listener why in fact they are country. The problem is that they do so not through meaningful stories or observations about the people around them living the same hard lifestyle they do. No, this isn’t Charles Wesley Godwin’s Seneca after all. Instead, Can’t Say I Ain’t Country is just one big dick measuring contest. If you wanted HARDY’s “Rednecker” stretched out as a concept album, this is for you.
The sad part is the duo is well aware of this. The title track is actually one moment where the defensiveness works, because it’s framed through a self-deprecating, humorous manner where the self-awareness helps. But then you’ll reach “Y’all Boys,” which, yes, of course features HARDY. It’s the classic city versus country track that’s absolutely loathsome, especially when their condemnation of city slickers amounts to them not having the same drawl or being from a small town. And of course there’s a track here shouting out how hot the women are, because it wouldn’t be a Florida Georgia Line album without that, would it?
Speaking of “Women” though, aside from the annoying backing vocals, this is not an anthem for women, and even as a dude, I feel like I can say that. Beyond painting an incredibly generic picture of women, the duo, along with Jason Derulo, paint the existence of women as ultimately one that serves their needs rather than, you know, their own.
Unfortunately though, the album swings back into defensive territory far too quickly, as “Y’all Boys” is followed up by “Small Town” which is somehow even more defensive and pandering. It tries to integrate the audience in, but it feels forced. I won’t even mention the rap verse.
But you know, at least “Y’all Boys” is lighthearted enough to not take itself too seriously. “Can’t Hide Red” is the angrier version of this song, and with its outlaw posturing, it’s no surprise Jason Aldean is the guest vocalist here. This is one more moment where it’s not too sad to hear the vocals get drowned out by the production, as between Aldean’s awful technical contribution and Tyler Hubbard singing, “we smoke and we DRAAAANNKK,” this is one moment that needed to end before it began.
And wouldn’t you believe it, we still haven’t hit rock bottom with this album. No, those two tracks were saved for last. “Like You Never Had It” reveals the same problems “Women” and “Talk You Out Of It” had – the narrators are demanding players. I don’t know what’s worse about this particular song, the fact that Hubbard believes the mind-blowing sex will be enough for this girl to tell her friends about him or the fact that they try to frame the sex as the anchor of this relationship (forget love and trust, right?). But then there’s “Swerve,” a track that celebrates a girl with “dat booty in them pants” with worse innuendos than “Sun Daze.”
But what’s worse about this album is that it constantly contradicts itself. “People Are Different” tries to play to the same territory as Carrie Underwood’s “Love Wins,” Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good” and Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” did, and as a standalone song, it’s not the worse thing in the world. But when there’s at least five or six tracks here that completely contradict this song’s message, I don’t exactly buy what they’re selling. By the time “Blessings” rolls around with its appreciation for family and more mature, down home sentiments, it feels like an out of place track that’s too little, too late. And for as much as Florida Georgia Line spend their time defending their country credentials in a petty manner, the skits make this more of a mainstream, streaming-era rap album than a country one.
Can’t Say I Ain’t Country is the result of a split personality of a band vying for authenticity while also hanging on to their throne in a world where Dan + Shay and Brothers Osborne are catching up. Again, it’s not their worst album to date, but it’s easily their most frustrating one. At least when they were meat-headed bros they were being themselves. Can’t Say I Ain’t Country doesn’t know what it wants to be. Florida Georgia Line can continue to try out a new style to their heart’s content with every new single they put out, but how long will it be until even they don’t know who they are anymore?
(Decent to strong 4/10)