Life Rolls On shows that Florida Georgia Line is completely out of ideas.
There’s the part of me that would like to open this review exaggerating Florida Georgia Line’s demise, and indeed, the duo is a good six years past its prime and is fighting to preserve anything left. But it goes without saying that “Cruise” forever defines that legacy and always will, for better and (mostly) worse, and that they won’t be “forgotten” anytime soon. I don’t exactly enjoy either of those first two albums – bro-country projects that required little-to-no thought to listen to them – but even detractors can’t deny that the two members that comprised the duo in Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley weren’t just being themselves.
And I admit, where the story goes from there has only grown more fascinating over time, an attempt to settle down and be more “mature” on 2016’s Dig Your Roots , in which those roots weren’t explored with a lot of depth or were all that country, to doubling down on that exact same criticism on 2019’s Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, where the title speaks for itself. Again, though, when their collaborators on that project included Jason Aldean and Jason Derulo, it didn’t help the album title’s case. The duo was always a one-trick pony that happened to do the trick extremely well the one time and fairly decently a few more times.
Which is another way of saying that, for as much as this duo is known as the instigator of the bro-country movement that dominated the middle of the last decade, it was rarely the one to do it best. Tyler Hubbard’s overemphasized twang was distinctive, yes, but hardly contributed much in the way of actual charisma or charm, Joey Moi’s production was cluttered, but without contributing much in the way of actual crunch or muscle, and the writing … look, for what it was, I can’t deny that both Hubbard and Kelley weren’t technically good songwriters for the type of material they were pushing; it’s just that lyrics didn’t really matter for that sub-genre. Again, they’re going to live and die by “Cruise” someday.
And that’s before mentioning how quickly parts of the industry wanted to move on from them. I can’t honestly say there was a time the Brothers Osborne eclipsed them as country’s leading duo, but that certainly didn’t stop certain award shows from thinking otherwise. And even without them, there (sadly) is Dan + Shay on a commercial hot streak that, yes, while not nearly on the same level as the duo in its peak, is currently burning brighter.
And that brings us to the here and now, where Florida Georgia Line has switched management and producers and launched the release of its newest album with “I Love My Country,” a formulaic checklist ode to pretty much everything that people who don’t like country music think of when someone mentions the genre. On the personal side? Well, aside from personal battles between the two on a political front – which is about the last area I expected the duo to enter, and, yes, was ultimately brushed off but is still telling – and rumors of solo albums from both members swirling around, we have Life Rolls On, released without much fanfare and already looking to under-perform, for this duo’s standards, that is, and seemingly released only to say, “hey, we’re not breaking up!” Who actually needs convincing, however, is another discussion.
Honestly, if I didn’t want to establish the duo’s complicated history and do my best to assess how time will treat them down the line, this could have easily been featured in a review roundup and left at that. It just may be the last Florida Georgia Line album I review anyway. It’d be a stretch to say Life Rolls On reads as an obituary for the duo’s career, but it is a sign that these two are thoroughly out of ideas and retreading hopelessly generic material in an attempt to salvage anything left of their former glory, and I’m predicting that an announced break to focus on those solo projects is imminent. And unlike those last two albums – which at least provided interesting sub-commentary and were somewhat interesting but not good – Life Rolls On is the type of album one immediately forgets after it’s over. It’s bland, it’s sad, and it’s easily the duo’s worst album yet.
As for what hasn’t changed, Tyler Hubbard is the same loud, overemphasized presence he’s always been, and Brian Kelley somehow feels even less useful here than he’s ever been before, not that that’s a huge detriment to this project anyway. But when we’re a good seven or so years past albums like Here’s to the Good Times or Anything Goes, I can’t buy into their weird blend of old bro-country tropes with more “mature” sentiments that feel boilerplate in the writing at best. And you can tell by that lack of greater dynamic that even they don’t really care at this point, where even if they were always able to fall back on good melodies and solid hooks (if absolutely nothing else), they could provide something annoyingly catchy. But that doesn’t happen here, and the stretched-out phrasing of the hook on “Always Gonna Love You” may be their worst yet.
But then there’s the rap verses, where I’m so much against a genuine blend of country and rap (because the two genres have way more in common than you’d think), so much as I am this duo’s take on it and always have been. Hubbard’s flow is utterly choppy on “Ain’t Worried About It” and “Beer:30,” and that’s, again, before mentioning his role as an actual presence in these songs, where he’s trying way too hard and overselling these tracks, especially “New Truck,” which is a new level of bad. And that goes back to a pure issue of blending and mixing. I mean, you’re going to include a fiddle on your country-rap fusion and bury it in the mix when it could drive the groove? Oh, who am I kidding, it’s a pointless song about buying an electric truck that they somehow explored better once before on their last album … in a skit (called “Tyler Buys a Tesla”). That’s right, they’re retreading old songs and skits.
Despite the changes on the inside, too, you’d be hard-pressed to find a strong difference between Joey Moi and Corey Crowder’s production tactics. There’s some decent slide guitar on “Life Rolls On” that provides a breezy, laidback appeal that works, and is the only moment on that project that works for what it is, really. And sure, the loud, twangy banjos aren’t quite as pronounced, the guitars don’t blare like before, and not everything sits at the front of the mix. Well, except for the percussive elements, which are overmixed on most of these tracks to an obnoxious degree. I mean, there’s a track here called “Countryside” which basically reads as self-parody at this point, but even then, it’s a track aiming for sexy yet bogged down by oily trap snares and generally sour tones overall, only working its way back around to the hook of wanting to show his significant other his “country side” in the countryside because, oh, right, this is supposed to be country music. And this, I might add, is coming from a duo that has never handled minor tones well. But flip it over to the other side and we have tracks aiming for beefier rock heft in “I Love My Country” and “Beer:30,” both of which amplify the guitars in their attempts to hide how much weaker the grooves are off the blur of drums and drum machines. It’s all more in line with what you’d expect from the duo off those first two albums, I suppose, but this is all an exercise in tonal mess that shows they have no clue what sound they’re going for anymore.
Of course, that’s a note on lyrics and themes, which shows Florida Georgia Line trying to combine the best of both worlds in bro-country and boyfriend-country – because, you know, they’re mature now – and it’s flimsy as can be. The love and hookup songs are schmaltzy or built around a stupid premise on “Eyes Closed” (most people can have sex in the dark?), and they even felt the need to include their Songland contribution in “Second Guessing,” which doesn’t benefit an already overlong project. The small town songs are hopelessly nondescript, to the point where they’re really glorying the Walmart parking lots in “Long Live.” And look, I know that lyrics hardly matter with this duo, but when this album literally swaps between only two types of songs here, it’s noticeable and grows stale fast.
But then I started reading between the lines of what the duo was actually trying to say with this project, and it wasn’t apparent until the ending title track, which I initially somewhat liked for the swaying, moody groove, that attempts to brush off all of the bad events in the world – without actually delving into what said bad events are, mind you – by boiling it down to, “hey, it happens, and life rolls on.” And if I didn’t have a reason to be outright mad at this project, I did then, because it’s more nihilistic than one of Kenny Chesney’s beach-inspired offerings.
Because that’s what Life Rolls On is, an attempt at escapism through country clichés that wants listeners to know everything will be OK on “Ain’t Worried ‘Bout It,” because, hey, if you’ve got a truck, a girl, and some money, nothing bad will happen to you. And that’s before mentioning a unity ballad in “U.S. Stronger” that, surprisingly enough, isn’t as bad you as may think it’d be from that title. But then I think back to one of the most pointless interludes I’ve ever heard included on a project and remind myself that this isn’t worth the rage. It’s more boring than bad, and why care more about a project than the people who made it did? Nearly everyone has moved on at this point, and while I can’t say it’s been fun, it’s certainly been something, boys.
- Favorite track: “Life Looks Good”
- Least favorite tracks: “New Truck,” “Countryside,” “Ain’t Worried ‘Bout It”
Buy or stream the album (why?)