Review Summary: My favorite album of all time, the album that lifted me up when I was at my lowest and gave me the strength to carry on.
You can fill the air with noise, but you might not be saying
anything. That's certainly been the case for as long as I've been a fan of Rascal Flatts' music. No one saw the underlying appeal like I did. They saw a couple of massive radio hits and yawned. I saw well done music from three ordinary guys written and performed for anyone to attach whatever they wished onto the songs. They've trekked along for almost two decades, and my love and appreciation for their music and what it's done for me hasn't wavered one iota. Standing mightily amongst their ten-album discography is my favorite album not just by the Flatts, but by any artist of all time; their sixth studio album, Unstoppable
, released on this day a decade ago. It was their last album released on Lyric Street Records before the label ceased operations a year later.
I was only in middle school, so naturally I was excited to see my father return home with a copy of Unstoppable
on the day of its release. I gave then-current radio hit "Here Comes Goodbye" a few spins before diving in to the other ten songs. Through the intervening years since then, nothing can quite quantify how important this album has been to me. From comforting me when I felt like I wasn't good enough, to lifting me up when I needed solace, to making already big smiles even brighter, this album's 11 tracks run you through peaks and valleys of emotions performed in a way I will never forget.
Album opener "Love You Who Love" is a helping of vintage Rascal Flatts, featuring ebullient instrumentals and glowing vocals from frontman Gary LeVox as he urges you to "love who you love with all that you have." Simple and pleasant in the composition, but underappreciated in its nudging of the listener to hold on to who and what they have while it lasts and to live life to the fullest. While the emotional highs on this song are rarely
reached again throughout the rest of the album, that doesn't dampen or sully its greatness by any means.
"Here Comes Goodbye" arguably features the single greatest vocal performance of Gary LeVox's career. "I can hear the truck tires comin' up the gravel road," he sings, from the perspective of a man who can see the signs that his woman is about to leave him. Some graceful piano fills from Jay DeMarcus carry the first portion of the song, before the full instrumental kicks in. Joe Don Rooney's guitar work is particularly poignant as Gary LeVox lets his vocals soar
during the song's bridge. Most other breakup tunes would have fallen flat, but this one is just special
; "Here Comes Goodbye" carries emotional inertia and heaviness, the likes of which is hardly found in the rest of the Rascal Flatts catalog.
The adult contemporary bent of "Close" lulls you in for a listen, but the lyrics are where the staying power is found. Gary LeVox sings of a woman who holds on to remnants
of a love that her former flame left behind. Whether it's an old text message or a t-shirt she once wanted him to throw away, the imagery
is particularly strong. But it doesn't end there. Near the song's end, Gary LeVox reveals that she's "ready to let him go" and that she's finding the strength to move on and transcend the heartbreak.
By the time we reach "Forever", it's quite evident that it's easier said than done to let go of the past. This time, LeVox steps into the shoes of a man who's already lost his lover and wants her back, for he feels that they didn't spend enough time together. Some wintery basslines are sprinkled in here and Gary once again goes somewhere deep to bring these lyrics to life. The lyrics are also open-ended, giving the listener a chance to attach them to whoever they wish. "She'd Be California" might be an abrupt halt in the album's ebb and flow, but this summery country pop tune does give the listener a chance to exhale after the emotional anguish we've seen thus far.
Then comes the title track, "Unstoppable." This is where we reach the summit
of the album. Some of the most inspiring and uplifting work of Rascal Flatts' career is found here, as it punctuates the overall theme of the album with its warmly embracing words of encouragement. "Get on your knees and dig down deep. You can do what you think is impossible," LeVox proclaims. If you're anything like me, and you've experienced feelings of self-consciousness, disappointment or even jealousy, this is the kind of song that will remind you to be comfortable in your own skin, to not regret the mistakes that brought you to where you are now and to tackle the world and all it throws at you, because you can
come out the other end.
"Things That Matter" utilizes some haunting imagery ("she gets that call that said he don't have long") to remind the listener that "time ain't on our side" and how important it is to not miss someone until they're gone. This is also another chance the Flatts take to empower and challenge the listener. "Don't wanna leave this world with why didn't I," Gary LeVox cautions. "Summer Nights" is another break from the sadness as the Flatts return to their familiar hallmark of anthemic, feel good fun. I'd prefer if this glimmer of sunlight stuck around for at least a few more songs, but I'm not upset that it doesn't. "Holdin' On" brings us back to where we started. In the same vein as "Close", it's now the man who's clutching onto "the things he has left of her." From the footprints on his windshield to "the three words she said" during "the last time he held her," this track is another gut punch with some vibrant and emotionally heavy lyrical content that will make the listener feel like they are witnessing the breakup in real time.
"Once" follows the same mold. "Everywhere that I go, I'm reminded of us", a distraught Gary LeVox cries out. Backed by Rooney and DeMarcus' wonderful harmonies, we see some more strong vocal work from the Flatts here. "Why" closes out the album by calling out to a victim of suicide. Some especially somber piano work is at the forefront here as Gary asks his fallen companion "why you would leave the stage in the middle of a song." As the track progresses, Gary takes note of what might have prevented this tragedy, as the listener is once again
cautioned and reminded to not let the cycle continue and to be there for who you love before it's too late. With that, Unstoppable
draws to a close.
It's hard to describe why an album so emotionally heavy would urge me to sing along and highlight the few glimpses of hope and optimism. But the truth is, Unstoppable
doesn't relish or linger in the anguish and the tragedy. It uplifts and encourages you to live life to the fullest, to appreciate what and who you have and to take on the world with the confidence and strength of a fighter. It may take a few listens, hell, it may take several
full go-arounds to truly understand the underlying hope found inside these songs, but if I can do it, you certainly can as well. I may never fully realize how special Unstoppable
is to me. I found myself in a lot of these songs. I was the lovelorn romanticist facing rejection, heartbreak, disappointment and uncertainty about what may lie ahead. But this album helped me find the strength to not live in fear of the unknown and to approach every day a little more appreciative of my blessings and much more able to face the world. Unstoppable
is the best work by the best country music group of all time, and I will forever be grateful for it.