I’m just going to say this: when one of the hottest tickets in country music releases a new album, there’s an unspoken pressure put on reviewers like me to give it a free pass. After all, if that person/band is at the top of his/her/their game, everything must be going right. Right?
So it’s with a bit of apprehension that I have to speak up and say I’m a bit disappointed with Luke Bryan’s new release Crash My Party. Not because it isn’t a good album—it’s got great tunes, it’s chock full of radio-friendly hits, and I have no doubt it will be his top-selling album to date—but simply because there’s nothing here to set it apart from his previous stuff.
I’m one of those guys who believes (unlike some) that country artists are artists, just like other musical artists. And to that end, when I hear music from a good country artist, I expect that musician to look for ways to expand, to evolve, to grow, to explore new ground. Yes, even while making popular music geared to making people dance and sing along, an artist should have a bit of depth.
Let me say right here I think Luke Bryan is that kind of artist—or at least has the potential to be. Long time readers will remember that over a year ago I pegged Bryan as one of country music’s movers-and-shakers, back when “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” was first hitting the charts. That song, and the singles the followed, were all filled with youthful energy and a rockin’ country sound destined to take this genre into the next generation.
But anything good can get old when it gets overused. Let me just put it this way: if I hear one more song telling a pretty girl how she needs to get in your pickup truck and get lost on a dirt road somewhere so you can dance in the headlights, drink beers together and make out, I’m gonna turn the radio to the hip-hop station.
Really. Name a song on Crash My Party. There’s a ninety percent chance Bryan has sung about it before. “That’s My Kind of Night”? Basically a revamping of “Country Girl.” “Beer In the Headlights”? Getting lost on a dirt road. “I See You”? Same thing. “Play It Again”? Listening to the radio with a girl in the back of a pickup truck. How many times can we rework these themes before even the most avid of fans starts to notice that you’re just doing the same song in a different key?
There are glimmers of hope, but you have to go to some of the deep cuts to find ‘em. At least “We Run This Town” and “Blood Brothers” aren’t specifically about chasing girls; they are more along the lines of friendship and loyalty—still fairly familiar themes in country, but we haven’t heard Bryan sing that much about them. Those kinds of moments are refreshing, but they are few and far between.
Now, I don’t think for a minute this record is going to hurt Luke Bryan’s career. Far from it—there are plenty of crowd pleasers on the album, and many, many people will buy the album and love it just because Luke Bryan’s name and likeness are on the cover. I’m not disappointed with the quality of the songs, nor the production value. I’m disappointed because I was looking for something more from a promising country artist than just another product specifically geared to empty the wallets of country fans. And don’t kid yourself: that’s exactly what this is. Oh, you’ll get a good product for the money; you just won’t get anything new.
There are country artists who have plugged away at the scene for years, who would kill to have a fraction of the momentum Luke Bryan has right now. But with Crash My Party, I’m sad to say that Bryan simply chose to coast on that momentum. He can get away with it now, but if he’s going to grow as an artist he can’t keep reworking his same old schtick for much longer.