At this point, I only take a passing interest in Thomas Rhett albums because I remember 2017’s Life Changes – specifically for “Marry Me” – and think he’s capable of more than he what often releases. Unfortunately, that interest fades with every album release that continuously disappoints – even the supposed “return to roots” project he released last year in Country Again: Side A.
And given how that album unperformed for him, I’m not surprised to hear his latest project come less than a year later and act, at best, as damage control. But I am disappointed again. If anything, it’s convinced me that I need to stop reviewing these token album releases in mainstream country music, because while this doesn’t carry the absurd low points of Rhett’s earliest output, it is a regression and melting pot of scattershot styles that sound like he’s just throwing whatever to the wall and hoping something sticks.
Sure, it starts off strong with “The Hill,” where the acoustics are tempered and it sounds like Rhett has settled into the family man role he’s portrayed (and milked to death) through his music with a legitimate amount of sincerity. And to that song’s credit, Rhett is starting to show cracks in it all as time takes it toll and he tries to maintain his composure; there’s at least some dramatic flavor, at least.
But that image is undermined by the fact that he also tries to sell being the goofy hell-raiser that often backfires on him on tracks like “Church Boots” and “Anything Cold,” which try to aim for that working man spirit but just feel like cheap country buzzwords and clichés thrown together. I’d call it all slapdash, except I think Rhett is actually convinced this good ol’ redneck image he tried to portray on Country Again is something he can call his own, when in reality, the pop-country star from Life Changes and Tangled Up feels more authentic to he actually is – which is one reason I don’t buy a duet between him and Mr. “I wish country music still got played on country radio” Riley Green on “Half of Me,” which is just a shameless (but, sadly, better) redo of his duet with Jon Pardi, “Beer Can’t Fix,” from a few years ago.
And really, how in-depth do I need to go with tracks called “Bass Pro Hat” or “Slow Down Summer” that are beyond basic in their respective constructions, or mention how the production is mostly lousy across the board except for on the more tempered cuts? Even if we’re to assume that this is the pop-country rebound, there’s very little here in the way of memorable hooks, melodies, or grooves, instead often just trapping itself within the confines and negative elements of modern pop that favors overmixed snap percussion over everything else. But I’m not sure that surprises or bothers me more than some of the most egregiously mixed backing vocals I’ve heard on an album trying to masquerade as country … pretty much ever – seriously, “Simple As A Song” needs to be removed from this universe because of that alone. And what’s strange is that even if we use the Life Changes album as a comparison point for that, there was better and more convincing pop music there than there is here.
The thing is, after a mostly obnoxious first half in which Rhett does his best HARDY impression, this album mostly settles into the same lyrical content listeners mostly expect from Rhett these days – the family man living the Instagram-worthy life with his perfect family who might go all Brad Paisley on you and slip in a dad joke every now and then, only without Paisley’s easy humor. Even then, though, nothing here carries the unique details that could at least make past songs like “Life Changes,” “Die A Happy Man” or “Unforgettable” interesting. This is just bland, safe, and surprisingly indistinct across the board, which only highlights Rhett’s limited use as a singer and performer when his likable charm isn’t enough to sell most of this. And dear God, why is there a Katy Perry duet on here?
At the album’s best, you’ll get cuts that are more tempered and eschew the gimmicks, like the reflection of inmates on death row inspired by a true story through “Death Row” that’s surprisingly great in every regard, or more serious, grounded love songs like “The Hill” and maybe “Angels,” both of which carry a fair bit more body in their compositions and writing. Even then, the album is mostly just OK, with enough low points to call it a severe disappointment that, yes, may have been expected, but still stings nevertheless. I’d rather move forward and not return to where you started, Thomas Rhett.
- Favorite tracks: “Death Row” (feat. Tyler Hubbard and Russell Dickerson), “The Hill,” “Angels”
- Least favorite track: “Simple As A Song”
- Favorite individual moment: I don’t really have one, but his verse on “Death Row” is probably the moment I enjoy most.