Review Summary: Country music digs its hole deeper.
Country music has been in quite the mega slump as of late. In terms of quality, that is. The popularity of it has been on a hot streak, but that's due to artists stepping out of a traditional country landscape in favor of a pop and hip hop overtone that generates musical relevance. Luke Bryan, the most recent recipient of the CMA award for Entertainer of the Year, sits as the most known and recognized amalgamation of mainstream country that artists like Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, and Florida Georgia Line are doing more and more as their careers advance.
It's really no wonder why George Strait retired from touring. It's no wonder why Zac Brown Band started releasing material on rock radio. They saw this coming, and here we are in 2015. Country artists are running for the hills, wanting to shake the traditional country label to join the ranks of mainstream music's elite. Country's top dogs like Luke Bryan have this really bad ingredient being mixed into the pot here. This pop and hip hop overtone is completely overshadowing the actual country side of the spectrum. And on Luke Bryan's fifth studio project, "Kill the Lights", it's easy to see why there are as many fans turning from country as there are actual artists.
With this latest abomination, you have tracks like "Kick the Dust Up", which abhorrently and annoyingly utilize repetition. As if that wasn't bad enough, you've got the dead horse of a lyrical structure about tricking trucks, getting drunk off our asses and kissing pretty girls under the full moon. But when that full moon comes out, it's not the wolves who will be howling. It's the critics like myself who can't help but notice just how contrived and typical this lyricism is.
A lot of the tracks on this record are very derivative and predictable, and that needs to change, if country music is to be saved. Sure, it's cool to be at the forefront of "bro country" what have you and sing about Ford F-150s, Coors Light and bikinis, but what made guys like George Strait, Alan Jackson and Keith Urban so popular was their ability to do more than just scratch the surface. They found ways to expand their songwriting and broaden their horizons. This is apparent on tracks like "Strip it Down." Couple the aforementioned repetition with these formulaic and clichéd lyrics and you've got a bust of a song. This album's eponymous track is a victim of the exact same blueprint. Getting back to "Kick the Dust Up", which opens the album; tell me, are you a fan of this chorus ("Kick the dust up/Back it on up/Fill your cup up/Tear it up up/Kick the dust up.") *Editor's note* Typing that chorus resulted in a loss of brain cells. Our condolences to their owner.
Don't forget, however, Luke Bryan can sing. And on a good day, his vocals can soar. Tracks like "Move" and "Fast", even with their abysmal lyric structure, Bryan does a pretty solid job at bringing them to life. Look back to Luke's past discography. He had decent lyrics, and his voice could drive home songs like "Do I", "All My Friends Say", and "I Don't Want this Night to End." The track "Razor Blade" starts out with this ominous vibe and a crooning Bryan to make the track somewhat feasible. While "Razor Blade" may be just generic as hell in terms of conception, Bryan does deserve some credit at giving a bit of life to the song. ("She'll cut ya like a razor blade.")
Luke Bryan can certainly succeed when he touches base on the deeper and more personable side of the lyrical spectrum. It's, obviously, where that hip-hop bro country overtone kicks in that the album's very dignity starts to fade into utter obscurity. If you're wondering if my complaint is about inconsistently, you're mistaken. I'd rather have Luke Bryan throw a bunch of curveballs, rather than under-deliver what was expected from country's reigning EOTY.
There is, in fact, some country to this album's mix. Tracks like "Just Over" open with a guitar and drums, rather than sound effects and a sonically driven atmosphere that made the album's handful of opening tracks so outlandish and lackluster. But at this point, the listener would be smart to just wash his/her hands of this thirteen-track long player, the likes of which just spits in the face of true country music.
Overall, I expected a lot more out of Bryan. Especially after he threw his sound over the edge with "Crash My Party." I was honestly expecting something to shake country from its depravity and set up a potential revival. I guess we can't have it all. But just so as to set the record straight, if you're a fan of Luke Bryan, you are definitely going to love this record.