Chris Lane’s follow up to 2016’s ‘Girl Problems’ which provided him with a Country airplay chart number one in ‘Fix’ sees him in bullish mood, re-positioning himself as a sort of younger Kenny Chesney – everything, from the title to the album cover echoes Chesney with some Jake Owen overtures thrown in for good measure. It’s a different vibe to previous album, ‘Girl Problems’, which was smoother and a lot less Country in tone than many of the songs on, ‘Laps…..’ Lane’s output, however, remains generally clichéd and rather signposted. His lyrics are quite one-dimensional in their ‘chase girl, drink with girl, shag girl, get dumped by girl, shag girl again’ repetitive nature and I’d even go as far as saying that some of the messages on the album, in these post #MeToo days, are quite worrying in what we are telling our young men is acceptable behaviour in both their sexual conduct and their attitude towards women.
The first four songs on, ‘Laps Around the Sun’, are the best – the most interesting and the ones with any type of depth whatsoever. ‘Take Back Home Girl’, featuring Tori Kelly, is a funky song driven by an unusual rhythm and intense vocals. It isn’t really an album opener in any way but Lane and label, Big Loud Records, are clearly leading with the ‘put your best song up first and hope no-one notices the rest’ type of play. The following two songs, ‘Fishin’’ and ‘Drunk People’ both see Lane slipping into a role that in isolation, on these two songs, would be fine but what you don’t realise is that most of the following songs (and there are 14 in total on ‘Laps Around the Sun’, which is way too many) feature lyrics about drinking, sex and girls – often all together in one song – so whilst ‘Fishin’’, a song about sloping off into the woods for sexy-times but telling people you’ve gone fishing, is a bit of fun: a bright, breezy and twangy song, it is just the tip of the iceberg for what is coming next.
‘Drunk People’ is a slower, mid-pace anthemic song which leads with the idea that, ‘drunk people do dumb things’. It’s an obvious contender for single, with its strong chorus and lyrical exploration of how people make bad decisions in the depths of heartbreak and despair but again, similar to ‘Fishin’, it’s a loss-leader for all the references to alcohol that are yet to come and because of that, I’m not sure that Lane is altogether abashed about some of the bad decisions made in the song whilst under the influence of the demon drink!
The most in-offensive song and another obvious choice for radio single is title track, ‘Laps Around the Sun’. ‘Laps…..’ is a pure Chesney-fest from beginning to end. A 70’s retro, beach-vibe that charts a romance from its embryonic beginnings to the point where Lane realises he needs to ‘put a ring on it’. It’s the most meaningful song on the album and speaks of a reality that is sorely missing from the most of the other songs.
What follows next, however, is a tsunami of drinking songs and male hormones that the thirty four year old Lane probably thinks are a set of fun, party songs designed to appeal to millennials and the young-at-heart (for that, read – immature) but for me, as the father of a fifteen year old daughter, at best, leaves me cold and at worst, causes me to worry about some of the messages Lane is sending to the male youth of America.
Lane recently told Rolling Stone Magazine, ‘“I’ve never really been a serious person, but I always just wanted everything to be perfect,” Lane says. “I think for my first record, I based a lot of the songs on feel, as opposed to lyrical content. But this time around, I wanted both, and I wouldn’t settle for anything less.” If that statement is correct than Lane seriously needs to go on a working vacation with the likes of Lori McKenna, Shane McAnally and Hilary Lindsay because ‘Laps Around the Sun’ contains some of the most banal, insipid and sexist lyrics I’ve heard in a long time.
The worst offense comes on closing track, ‘Hero’, a track I suspect Lane is very proud of, coming as it does at the very end of the album. It’s a song about the different heroes that there are in society and is a huge attempt at infusing Lane with some gravitas but the first verse is awful. ‘She’s all dolled up, looking VIP in here tonight…….she don’t wanna feel nothing, she just wants somebody to give her attention……she ain’t trying to wind up in love, she just needs a hero to save her from being alone.’ REALLY!!! WTF???? Is Lane seriously trying to tell us that this drunk, sad, lonely girl just needs a hero to bang her and her life will all be ok? Is this the message we are telling boys in 2018, that preying on a drunk girl in a nightclub is heroic!?? If that’s Lane’s idea of what a hero is then he really needs to spend a day with some first responders. In the same year that Chris Janson’s ‘Drunk Girl’ has impacted on so many people’s lives with its meaningful lyrics and wonderful message we are now staring into the face of its nemesis, the anti-thesis of everything Janson was trying to say with ‘Drunk Girl’.
‘Without You’, surprisingly featuring Danielle Bradbery, is another offender. In it, Lane sings about his feelings for his true love but does so in such a way that relegates women to little more than passive trophies in his narcissistic adventures. Lines like, ‘without your booty in the shotgun seat……without your kisses rubbing on my cheek….without you singing my harmonies’ do nothing but subtly re-enforce the idea that women are nothing more than bit-players in the lives of ‘their’ men. These type of nefarious lyrics, wrapped up in the façade of being a song about love, do nothing to challenge or alter male perceptions towards women. I know it isn’t Country music’s job to bring about societal change or evolution but these type of clichés and stereotypes don’t help and, as radio DJ Bobby Bones insists, if things aren’t getting better, they are getting worse.
‘Old Flame’ sees Lane boasting about getting his ex-girlfriend back into bed. ‘Look at us waking up in last night’s clothes…….man, last night was dope!’ Hardly Shakespearean is it? He does try something new in the song’s execution by sing-speaking the verses, Sam Hunt style, but the message is still the same. ‘No women can resist me, not even one that broke up with me, c’mon boys – get after it.’ In ‘New Phone, Who’s This’ – possibly a contender for worst song title of all time, Lane receives a text from an old flame wanting him back – are you starting to see the pattern here? He’s irresistible to all women and only doing his job as a man in servicing their needs. The lyrics to ‘All the Right Problems’ portray two more lonely people hooking up on the rebound in a nightclub. ‘You look a little lonely, well I am too, we’re both getting over someone, both had a few.’ Again, he seems to be advocating preying on drunk girls in nightclubs which leaves me very uneasy and that theme continues in ‘I Don’t Know About You’ in which Lane approaches another stranger in a bar or nightclub and asks, ‘What’s your name, what’s your birthday? … Do you kiss on the first date? Don’t hold anything back.’ Song after song about drinking, hooking up, being dumped and then being chased by your ex come and go. It’s so one dimensional that it becomes boring quite quickly and if this is what ‘the youth’ of Country music are into, god help us all!!!
‘Laps Around the Sun’ is a relentlessly sexual album. It’s, as Hollywood actor Guy Pearce once said (about Kevin Spacey), a ‘little handsy’. It’s that guy in the corner of the club, scoping for drunk girls and muttering things into their ears. For me, in 2018, it’s an album out of time with absolutely no heart or soul whatsoever. Maybe if Lane had released this album in 2014 or 2015 at the height of the Bro-Country movement it might have seemed less offensive but times have changed since then and we are now listening to Maren Morris, Lindsay Ell, Jillian Jacqueline and Ashley McBryde. Chris Stapleton dominates the charts and Dierks Bentley’s ‘The Mountain’ drips in gravitas whilst still remaining radio friendly and eminently hummable.
‘Laps Around the Sun’ is an album lacking in any sort of moral compass – it’s a hook up album, like many of the songs on it – a one-time affair. It might scratch an itch for the night when you listen to it but you’ll wake up feeling guilty in the morning and return to the security, safety and integrity of your Chris Janson or Sugarland or Brothers Osborne albums. You’ll try and banish the experience to the back of your mind and hope that you’ll never have recourse to bump into him out there ever again.