Ain’t no doubt about it: beer has been mighty good to Toby Keith. He’s managed to build a rock-solid career (not to mention a restaurant chain) on songs celebrating the swilling of hops and the honky-tonk lifestyle that goes along with it.
Keith has also apparently learned that you dance with the one that brung you. It’s no surprise, then, that he continues the party vibe with his latest release Hope On the Rocks. Almost all of the album’s tracks include some reference to beer. (Scratch that: “Scat Cat” is about whiskey moonshine. My bad.) But to be fair, the album isn’t all about beer. It’s about bars, too. And women. And women who like beer. You get the idea.
Tongue out of cheek for a moment—don’t confuse Toby Keith’s honky-tonk vibe with shallowness. To me, honestly, the opening, title track dispels that idea completely. Standing as a bit of an anomaly, “Hope On the Rocks” kicks off the album with a sobering (pun intended) look at the bar scene from the perspective of a bartender who sees the brokenness of his customers who come in to drink. “At the end of the day / I’m all they’ve got / Hope on the rocks.” On one hand, it runs the risk of spoiling the mood for the rest of the album; on the other hand, at least the song acknowledges that drinking has its darker side, and for that it has my respect. (That being said, it still isn’t a tune to be played at an AA meeting; just saying.)
Regardless of what you think about the limited subject matter, the argument has to be made that Toby Keith just plain knows how to make great country music. The first half of the album cranks out hit after hit, and while the politically incorrect sexist humor on “The Size I Wear” is likely to rattle the cages of a few feminists, songs like “Scat Cat” and “I Like Girls that Drink Beer” are likely to be crowd favorites at the shows—and “Get Got” features some of the catchiest guitar riffs I’ve heard all year.
The album loses momentum a bit toward the end, mainly because Keith saves the obligatory love ballads (e.g., “Haven’t Seen the Last of You” and “Missed You Just Right”) for the back half of the record, and ballads like these aren’t really his strong suit. If you get the deluxe version of the album, however, the album’s momentum will recover with the bonus tracks: remixes of “Red Solo Cup” and “Beers Ago,” followed by live versions of “Whiskey Girl” and “Get Out Of My Car.”
Taken together, Hope On the Rocks, while perhaps a tad predictable, still contains the basic building blocks that have helped Toby Keith achieve the success he has today: not just the celebration of booze, but the making of great music, as well. This is a record that I predict will be a welcome addition to the collection of many a country fan.