ALBUM REVIEW: Hunter Hayes – ‘Wild Blue (Part I)’

At long last! The new album ‘Wild Blue (Part I)’ from Hunter Hayes is out today, five years after his last full-length project. Hunter surprised fans with an announcement on the Today show earlier this week; an interesting strategy in terms of album promotion. We’re so used to the two to three-month lead-up to album releases after an announcement, with a regular stream of instant-grat releases, so it was rather refreshing to hear an artist saying ‘here it is, enjoy’. Whether that will have any impact on the album’s success, nobody knows, but Hunter’s never been one to follow the trends and this is another experiment!

It’s an album with immense depth, reflecting the ups and downs both professionally and personally in Hunter’s life since his previous project. It doesn’t go without its fun moments here and there with the single, ‘Heartbreak’, and ‘One Shot’, but there are some incredibly deep, introspective tracks on show that expose Hunter’s vulnerability like never before, particularly in the middle part of the album. Strap yourselves in for the ride.

The album gets off to a flier with the up-beat, optimistic ‘Madness’, where you’ll hear the signature Hunter Hayes energy and passion that we’ve come to know and love over the years. “In the dark it shines, you can still find love in the madness” – don’t let this one fool you, it gets a lot darker! A great way to kick off the album though, and one that will sound incredible live. It’s the finer elements, such as the subtle strings in the background, that consistently impress in Hunter’s music. The attention to detail is unrivalled; he’s a master technician when it comes to song arrangements.

The album’s title track, ‘Wild Blue’, follows. A message of defiance, that there’s “no storm you can’t fly through”. In the midst of the pain of a break-up comes the freedom of letting go, and this is such a powerful, anthemic way to paint that picture. Defiant, yes, but there’s an underlying feeling of struggle and loneliness that sets the tone for much of the album. A stunning juxtaposition of optimistic lyrics with the rather dark, dramatic production.

But as mentioned earlier, the middle section of the album is where it will wrap you up. ‘One Good Reason’ and ‘Dear God’ (both released pre-album) are the darkest moments, and outline that stage in the aftermath of a break-up where it seems there’s no way out; “where the space that you want turns into a prison”. ‘Dear God’ comes from a position of pure desperation with “me and my demons at war again”, questioning “Dear God, are you sure that you don’t mess up?”. This is a whole new level of honesty in Hunter’s song writing that will have taken even the die-hards by surprise. Big respect to Hunter for having the bravery to put that song out into the world.

‘My Song Too’ deserves a special mention. One of those career-defining songs that may not be a mega mainstream hit, but it’ll be one that Hunter can look back on in years to come as one of his finest moments. If you’re a fan of the likes of ‘If You Told Me To’ and ‘Still Fallin’’, this is most certainly the track for you. A throwback to Hunter’s early days with incredible storytelling that tugs on the heartstrings. We’ve all got that one song that we associate with a person, memory or life event, and ‘My Song Too’ taps into that beautifully from a post-relationship perspective – “there’s love in every lyric, you live in every note”. An instant stand-out and one that will no doubt become a huge fan favourite.

‘Night & Day’ is new territory for Hunter, who told us at his London showcase earlier this year that it was the one song he was terrified to play for his parents… that tells you everything you need to know! Hunter’s first song with a sexy, flirtatious edge, adding another dimension to his back catalogue. Although very different to his previous work, it fits with the moody imagery the album provkes, and it’s always intriguing to see artists pushing their creative boundaries (within reason!).

All in all, ‘Wild Blue (Part I)’ is a successful introduction to the next chapter of Hunter’s career. It’s different, and might take a few listens to grasp, but it’s an example of how to evolve without alienating your fan base, staying true to what made you so great in the first place. Still packed with killer musicianship and mature storytelling, it will be received favourably by his loyal contingent; the mystery is how it will fare outside of that. The momentum Hunter once had seems to have slowed down, and let’s be honest, a radio hit wouldn’t go amiss. But one thing’s for sure, the quality of his output never disappears. As he recently said in an interview with the Zach Sang Show, I know that I can keep being me because the fans are always gonna be there”, and that’s all that really matters.

Dan Wharton
@LifeInASong_Dan