1. Track List (8)

Thomas Rhett Follows And Pushes The Trend Of Outside-The-Box Country On 2015’s ‘Tangled Up’

taylor
Written by taylor
/ 9 mins read

With something like three studio albums under his belt, Thomas Rhett has made a lane for himself in Country Pop. Son of famous Country singer-songwriter Rhett Akins, instead of sticking with tradition like his Pop, he clearly is more interested in bucking it at every turn he can manage – which by the way – is awesome, so long as you replace what works with another thing that works, albeit in your own unique way. I find though that the engineers over in Nashville are a bit extra on the cliched sounds. I don’t even know if Rhett was produced in Nashville, but all I know is his music is as good an example as any of the very polarizing work coming out of the new Nashville Sound of the last few years, and sometimes it works, and sometimes - it don’t. This album Tangled Up is certainly a mixed bag of noise – but let me break down a couple things. Music such as this is polarizing because it skirts accurate classification and understandably has folks up in arms about what’s what. People tend to belly ache on what to call this; Country Pop, as opposed to Modern Country, whose latter classification more accurately represents the music of someone like Jon Pardi, who tends to play something fresh while relying on root sounds. Meanwhile, Rhett adds guitar and drawl and banjo here and there, yet he also sings over some pretty obvious electronic noises, applied, by Nashville engineers, in the most obvious way with literally no subtlety what so ever. While Rhett claims to want to think outside of the box musically, such a desire must be worked in tastefully, but as the several generic tracks heard on Tangled Up attest to, taste can be elusive. The team involved would do better to listen more carefully to their new influences and figure out what makes it all tick. Reverse engineer all you want, but make sure your new revolutionary music doesn’t end up sounding embarrassing to everyone but people who don’t know any better. Fans of the Pop and EDM tracks here clearly aren’t so discerning – and rather, are just swept up in the loud chaos and catch all styles. The core structure, content, and melodies seem to suffer the more crap you pile on top to beef them up – but here’s an idea – write the beef into the notes first, and then stretch the style. With that said, there are some unbelievable tracks where Rhett nails the quality of what he is going for, and ends up producing something that is only bashed because it truly has become something that is not Country, thus turning off those particular Country fans for the simple fact that they only listen to one genre of music. Whereas a multi-genre lover like myself whole heartedly applauds Rhett and his risk taking when he absolutely gets his genres right.

After An Unappealing Start, Some Highlights Keep Me At The Party

“Anthem” is everything I hate about Country Pop. It borrows every sound and pattern from an already shallow EDM scene, overdoing the synth stabs and appregios instrumentally while Thomas Rhett’s vocals follow the same flow that myriad other Pop vocals follow. After listening once, I know the next time will only be on accident, but thankfully, I am met with a much better mix of styles on “Crash and Burn”, which retains its Southern charm with Rhett’s accented vocals, but other than that, it really takes more after the bright R&B melody of a fifties or sixties progression – the type of style that was making a comeback thanks to Bruno Mars’ Doo-Wops & Hooligans or the bubbly music of Meghan Trainor. Some slide guitar is a further indication of Country-ness here, yet by now, Rhett is definitely venturing out into some new territory. I like aspects of “South Side” with it’s funky rhythm, and dig that the song is asking people to shake their south side, i.e. their booties, and some background call and response vocals sound soulfully appropriate, yet Rhett could have worked a little harder on his own vocals and how and where they fell – though this is just the opinion of a Funk fan. I’m bored by the notes on ballad “Die a Happy Man”, even if the tender sexiness of the vocals is pretty solid. I would have much preferred for the bridge part leading to the very pedestrian hook to have been the actual core notes of the melody, as they build in a more seductive and mysterious way, where as everything else is just so bland. “Vacation” suffers from the same wonky vocals as “South Side” – it attempts for authentic fun, but it skirts both lame and canned moments. Why the hell Rhett’s voice is so nasally is a mystery – and the sing-talk moments are corny. The song doesn’t sound real, but rather, like a song quickly made for some mid nineties movie montage moment where some partiers arrive at a spring break destination. Forgettable frat boy comedy music that just plays in the background.

Sticking With A Song Can Sometimes Win Me Over, Where Likable Elements Can Be Cherrypicked.

Going big on sound, the rock anthem “Like It’s the Last Time” is a very Pop take on Country Rock which is typical, yet, while I don’t really wanna sing lyrics like “need a buddy tonight, we're gonna do it up right / gonna do it up right”, I do concede that this is an effective dude’s night out song, one which would especially hit home for any service men shipping out soon – trying to celebrate fun and friendship for one last time. “T-Shirt” rocks at the same decibel level, but has much more of a groove to it, thanks to the star of the track – the rhythm guitar. Also very notable is the loose way in which the verse measures play out, almost tripping out the listener thanks to a pretty complex bit of drumming. At first I didn’t like this song, but it won me over. “Single Girl” transmits that synthy wrap around sound that is supposed to give you a body high dose of romance, and I suppose it gets the job done, even for all its familiar patterns. “The Day You Stop Lookin’ Back” is a similar ballad, but switches out electric for more natural instrumentation. In the same way inescapable way, this song repeats the last line of the chorus for emphasis, which tends to irk me to no end, as it seems all Country Pop ballads do this on the tail end of their hooks before progressing measures. Dig the naturalness, but not the predictably.

Two Non Standard Dance Tracks Steal The Show

Why is damn near the title track a funky piece of Nu Disco. “Tangled” is much more like a Marc Ronson throwback to the eighties than a Country song – and while I dig it, I can see how pissed off hardcore fans might be. I detect the chords and inflective punch of Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”, yet at the same time my hat is off to Thomas Rhett who takes vocally creative detours by eclectically harmonizing via vocoder to much jazzy success. All in all, this is one shocker of a track and does accurately paint Rhett as a man who wants to play with other music genres. Shoot, if he committed himself the way he commits to “Tangled”, he could do an R&B album, or at least a Pop album with R&B flavor. I’m bored to tears by the crashing 3/4 notes of “Playing With Fire” – nothing elevates this ballad from countless similar progressions – and just playing louder doesn’t make it resonate more – when will artists learn? Jordin Sparks comes in with some proper Soul, but by that time I’m like ‘so?’ “Learned It From the Radio” is the same tired progression, this time with the notes continually falling, where the instruments all play big and loud, while Rhett over emphasizes the last line of the chorus (again), and this song ends up ticking off all the Pop boxes. It is a nostalgic song about how during life’s momentous events, the radio was always playing, but I find this to be a muddy concept – where the writer gets carried away with calling out all these scenes that lack enough cohesion, naively stitching all together with that music playing on the radio informed Rhett how to face every pivotal part of his life – and so that is what makes the scenes all relevant to each other. This is the type of weak motif I hear once on almost every album from the new generation, cramming everything that’s ever happened to them into one song and saying ‘hey, I learned it on the radio’ or ‘hey, that’s what it means to be country’ or ‘hey, that’s why Jack & Coke was there along the way.” So, having identified songs I don’t ever need to hear again, I can say that Thomas Rhett is certainly an inquisitive song writer who could do with ditching the cliches and the trends, though as to his experiments with other sounds, I dug what I dug, and especially liked “I Feel Good”, a pitch perfect Dance Funk song which mixes classic and modern R&B interpretations, and Rhett’s light yet charming Country drawl with LunchMoney Lewis’ correctly dispensed rap bars.

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