Lucy Hale—“You Sound Good To Me”
A perfectly decent record, and solo female voices have become so rare on the country charts (unless they’re named Taylor, Carrie, or Miranda), that I won’t even complain about Hale having gotten there by acting on a TV show first. Can’t complain about the music, either, which is straightforward but tougher then you might expect. I can complain about the lyrics, though, which fall too neatly into line with the dominant bro-country aesthetic. They’re almost, in fact, an explanation of why bro-country is so popular with women as well as men: it’s all those friendly, gravelly voices pouring sugar in their ears. I’ve long suspected as much, and it’s good to have my suspicions confirmed, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.
The first section is something of a pale M.I.A. imitation, but the second is pure Beyonce, and except for the brief French interpolation (too tired a trope to work) it’s nearly perfect. Though the chorus leans a little toward Beyonce’s I’ll-do-anything-to-please-you schtick, the rest is lustful equality, even if it’s Jay Z doing most of the tearing and spilling. I just wish I could be sure this was charting based on its quality and not people’s pornographic fantasies about the Carters’ sex life.
Randy Houser—“Goodnight Kiss”, #93
Thomas Rhett—“Get Me Some of That”, #94
I complain a lot about the bro-country assembly line, but that doesn’t mean nothing good ever rolls off of it. These are both solid, above-average records. Rhett is better at shifting the cliches around and making something fresh out of them, but Houser creates a comfortable niche for himself, as well, and plays the soft/loud trick like a true pro. Musically, they both roar as hard as country rock ever does, and Rhett even manages to work a little swing in (though not as much as he has in the past). Just wish they were a little less bro about women, especially Houser, who’s still trading in high school scenarios at the age of 38.
Eric Church—“Give Me Back My Hometown”
Another epic production, but this time with the sense of detail and proportion that “The Outsiders” lacked. It’s hard to imagine anyone coming close to tears over memories of a Pizza Hut, but Church makes you believe it. His voice is thin, but he uses it so effectively that he almost covers up the John Mellencamp elements in the backing track. But then, Mellencamp is exactly what the people Church sings about would be listening to.
J. Cole featuring Amber Coffman & The Cults—“She Knows”
Cole’s problem is that even though he has decent ideas and a good ear for beats and hooks, he isn’t a good enough rapper to make any of those things stick in your head. I’m always impressed by the sound of his records (especially this one) when I’m listening to them, but I have a hard time remembering them afterwards. Maybe, in his own way, he’s too tasteful to make things stick. Whatever the case, his music, as good as it often is, leads nowhere.
Flo Rida—“How I Feel”
Another great blues sample (Nina Simone this time), and overall this thumps along as well as all the rest of Flo Rida’s singles. But where did he get the idea that we actually want to understand what he says? He speaks eloquently enough with hooks and rhythm; the raps are just filigree. Yet suddenly he’s slowing down the flow and enunciating, like he can’t wait for us to appreciate his clunky verbal gymnastics. When a hit machine loses track of what makes his records sell, that’s a bad sign. Expect worse soon.
Ever wonder what Alicia Keys would sound like if she were a man who talked dirty? Me either, but here it is all the same. Even the dirty talk can’t distract from how dull the music is.