Welcome to the most divisive album of 2019. Just by the very nature of its title, the FGL boys, Tyler Hubbard and Brian ‘BK’ Kelley are setting themselves up for all manner of confrontations and you know what? I think they’re prepared and ready for it – just check out the back of the CD and you’ll see a spreadsheet listing all the songs and the various ‘Country’ instruments ticked off one by one on it.
The problem is, if you have to go out of your way to such an extent that you are beating people around the head with your message, does that message become instantly invalid? To assert your Country credentials to such an extent and with such force and repetition, does that mean that you were never really Country to begin with? After all, I tell my teenage children that the people who shout the loudest about things are usually the most insecure and the ones with, clearly, something to hide!
It would usually be at this point that I would drop in some background info about the artist whose album I am reviewing and a little biography to flesh out what you are about to read so as to understand the context of the review better, but I am not going to in this case, for two reasons:
- We all know who FGL are.
- I’m breaking the fourth wall, in the same way that they are with the whole message of the album.
‘Can’t Say I Ain’t Country’ is the weirdest album I’ve ever reviewed. Weird in that it’s completely schizophrenic – it’s the musical equivalent of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’! It’s part political manifesto, part musical album. It’s part genius, part god-awful. It’s riddled with wonderful harmonies and melodies and yet also riddled with clichés and it contains some of the worst lyrics about women I’ve ever had the misfortune to hear. It would be so easy, and so lazy, just to write it off as some sort of joke, as I’m sure some of the more aggressively traditional websites and magazines will do. Yes, it does play out, at times, like some elongated Saturday Night Live sketch about life in the south, and that is totally FGL’s fault, because they write about little else, but there are some gems and some superb songs hidden in amongst the relentless references to fishing, trucks, mountain dew, chicken, shorts, long necks and hillbilly redneck living. I’m just not sure there are enough to make the album a viable listen for long enough.
Let’s look at the diamonds first. The title track rates as one of the best songs FGL have ever produced. It’s got big guitars and a slightly more polished commercial sound. It’s fun, it’s catchy and whilst it’s the first in a long line of songs that just seem to list references to southern living, it’s an obvious single contender and big live number. Similarly, so is ‘Can’t Hide Red’ with Jason Aldean. A darker, moodier song that has been given the full Aldean treatment here. It’s a guitar driven anthem that will light up any arena, although again, the ‘red’ being referenced in the song is ‘redneck’ and the lyrics remain a little one-dimensional in their insistence on beating us around the head with their hillbilly credentials. The final outstanding song on the album is ‘Colorado’, a big, drum driven song about drinking and smoking weed that could have been lifted from the band’s debut album. It’s fun, melodic and dripping in harmonies that remind you about why that debut album had the impact that it did back in 2015. It shares a lineage with ‘Cruise’ and that can only be a good thing.
Other songs, like ‘Simple’, ‘Small Town’ and ‘Y’all Boys’ are all infectious, catchy songs that live somewhere in that hinterland between Bluegrass and Kid Rock. The latter carries a simple yet very effective rhyming run on ‘y’all’ with words like tall, small, ball, call and fall and whilst this may not be considered Shakespearean in any form, it has an impact in the song that is both successful and potent.
‘Can’t Say I Ain’t Country’ also sees Tyler and BK adding to the narrative on modern life in ‘People Are Different’, which carries the same sort of vibe and message as ‘Humble and Kind’ or ‘Most People Are Good’. Consider it, if you will, the final chapter and the closing of the trilogy about people getting on with each other in Country music. FGL’s contribution is probably the most ‘basic’ of the trilogy and the other two songs carry a little more panache and elan than ‘People Are Different’ but credit to them for adding to the wider body of work and sending out that message to their fans. Another effective song on the album is ‘Speed of Love’ which has a great beat and real Country vibes. It might actually be the most Country song they’ve ever written, but it’s effectiveness is lessened by it being buried on a 19 track, 50 minute album that has more content than quality. Close your eyes and it could almost be ‘Holiday Road’ by Lindsey Buckingham from the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies.
So, we have at least 8 songs that you could add to your ‘FGL Greatest Hits’ playlist on Spotify and that has to be considered a good thing, right? Well, if the album was 10 or 11 tracks long that would be awesome. But it’s not. There are 15 actual songs and then 4 spoken word pieces by a southern, redneck preacher who goes by the name of Brother Jerval. These are interspersed across the album and designed to lead into certain songs in a way that just re-enforces just how authentically Country Tyler and BK are. The four spoken words pieces and some of the remaining songs really have a detrimental effect on the perception and impact of ‘Can’t Say I Ain’t Country’ to the point where it feels like I am almost reviewing a completely different piece of work from a completely different band, hence the schizophrenia references at the beginning of this review.
Something we need to address upfront on the remaining songs is FGL’s lyrical treatment of women, which is at best misplaced and at worst offensive. Many of the remaining songs carry those R&B, snaptrack, boyband vibes and it feels like someone somewhere flipped a switch during the writing process from ‘Country redneck’ to ‘Getting jiggy with it back in the 90’s’. ‘Talk You Out of It’ goes like this, ‘here you come, looking like a grown man’s dream………You’re lookin’ like a line from a Vandross song, I’m lookin’ at that fine little dress you got on, don’t get me wrong, girl, I love it, now I just want to talk you out of it.’ URGH – shower anyone?
‘Told You’, which has a slightly bluesier but still boyband-esque vibe, starts well with a more tasteful first verse before descending into this in the second. ‘I said your clothes would look better, girl, if they were scattered up and down my hall.’ In ‘Like You Never Had It Before’, which just reeks of prime Backstreet Boys, we have, ‘You ain’t never been skin on skin with a man like this,’ but it is ‘Swerve’ that is the worst offender on the album. ‘Swerve’ is a song so bad that it might well have to go up in front of the United Nations for crimes against music. It’s awful, so awful in fact that you wonder why, somewhere down the line, whether it should have been the guy’s wives or someone at the label, didn’t question its inclusion on the album, from a musical but also from a #MeToo aspect. ‘Does your daddy let you date with all them curves?’ REALLY? WTF?? ‘I’m going to two-step up to you with that booty in them pants.’ HAVE I JUST HEARD THAT RIGHT? A real, married, grown-ass man is singing trite, sexist crap like that? C’mon FGL, you’re better than this. How embarrassing for their wives that this exists now, forever, in the public domain. I mean, Christ, give me strength. If I was Big Machine I would have taken the master copy outside on Music Row and thrown it down 12th street as far as it would go, then I would have hired a tank and driven over it before setting it on fire and throwing the charred remains in the Cumberland river. Give me strength!
What makes ‘Swerve’ an even bigger crime against music is that it is the penultimate song on the album and it’s followed by ‘Blessings’, which is a quiet, wonderful, respectful song about all the good things in life. It’s grown up, mature and surely could not have been written by the same men that wrote ‘Swerve’?
This is what I don’t get about this album, it swings wildly all over the place from genius to crass, from melody to parody. For every step forward there is one step back as we veer from Jekyll to Hyde and back again. It literally is a hot mess of an album that unsettles you from beginning to end because you just don’t know where it’s going to go and what you’re going to get. Maybe that’s what FGL were going for? Maybe they were hoping to beat us into submission with the relentless messages of ‘we’re so Country, you’re so hot, girl’, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve rarely encountered such a frenzied, turbulent mix of feelings and emotions across a single album. There are three outstanding songs on ‘Can’t Say I Ain’t Country’ and 4 or 5 other great ones that, whilst being one dimensional and clichéd, lyrically, add to the duo’s legacy and provide an entertaining listen, but for the sake of my heart and my blood pressure, let’s not even mention the other 5 or 6 that detract from said legacy with their misguided lyrics and boyband lineage. Ultimately, FGL are right, they have proved their point, you can’t say they ain’t country but at the same time, you also can’t say they ain’t crazy either!
Twitter – @rockjames
Portfolio – www.jamesdaykin.journoportfolio.com