What were you thinking with this album, Dierks? That’s all I could say as I listened to his new album Black. For the last few years traditional country fans have come to appreciate Dierks Bentley as one of the few artists in popular country to actually keep it country and deliver compelling music all at once. It’s probably a toss-up between Bentley and Tim McGraw for who has put out the most quality singles to radio recently (with the exception of “Somewhere On A Beach.” Bentley is also coming off his previous album Riser, which I thoroughly enjoyed and deservedly received a lot of critical acclaim and fan adulation. One of the things I’ve always praised about Bentley is his knack to balance quality and mainstream appeal. On this album it goes completely out the window in favor of…well I don’t know how to describe the overall approach to this album. I can already tell you up front that Black does not come close to matching Riser or even Home before it. After hearing the first half of this album, I almost stopped and refused to hear the rest. But then I gave it a chance and really didn’t feel like I got much more worth out of it either. This album is a different animal that sees Bentley stray far from his usual sound, something you really need to hear for yourself.
The album title track begins the album and right away you hear uncharacteristic drum play you’re not used to hearing in a Dierks Bentley song. It’s a pre-cursor of what you’re about to hear and it isn’t good. It’s a love song with a cheap hook and a pop, Adult Contemporary production that just doesn’t fit Dierks at all. Overall it’s just a really stiff song that I find hard to listen to. I can pretty much repeat everything I just said about “Black” for the next song “Pick Up” too. The production just doesn’t fit Dierks, but I’ll say the theme is somewhat better fleshed out. Even the theme, a song about calling a woman over and over hoping for the right answer, isn’t fully realized and relies too much on repeating the hook. The only redeeming song on the first half of Black is “I’ll Be The Moon,” where Dierks is joined by Maren Morris. It’s a cheating song where the woman is sneaking around with a guy in the night and wondering how they should handle things before eventually deciding that her significant other can be the sun and the guy she’s cheating with be the moon. Morris and Bentley sound great together and it’s one of the best on the album for sure. I could definitely see this as a future single, although the polarizing nature of the song (kind of saying cheating is alright) could prevent it too.
“What The Hell Did I Say” made me want to say, “What the hell did I just hear?” after listening to it. The production is too loud and overbearing and definitely not country. The song is about getting drunk and making mistakes. But really it’s just a lot of loud noise with clunky lyrics attempting to tell a story. Writers Ross Copperman, Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins deserve the blame for this song being so bad, along with Copperman again for producing it. Next up is the lead single of the album, “Somewhere On A Beach.” It’s complete garbage, as I already ran down through in a previous review. I have nothing else to add to it, except I hope I never have to hear it again. The most generic song of the album hands down goes to “Freedom.” I’m not sure what I loathe more about it: the cheap rip-off version of production off a Lumineers song or the fact the lyrics take inspiration from a summer Walmart commercial. It’s such a blatantly bad song with nothing redeeming about it and almost made me not want to hear the rest of the album. Bentley clearly lowered himself on this song and he should feel bad for it.
Bentley goes the slow-jam, R&B route on “Why Do I Feel.” So once again the production really stymies a song on this album. The song itself is not bad per se; it’s about Bentley wondering why he keeps questioning his great relationship he’s currently in. He has suspicions about her, but no proof. So he’s trying to drive these bad thoughts away. So the song is kind of okay, but the production keeps it from being good. “Roses And A Time Machine” is where we start to hear more of the “good side” to Dierks reappearing on this album. It’s a country rock song about a man wanting to build a time machine to turn back time and get the woman who walked out on him back. On every album from Dierks we usually get one song where we see his more humorous, silly side and this is that song on Black. It works better that I thought it would and sounds better each time I hear it. As long as you’re willing to forgive a little bit of a rock influence, this song is actually pretty good.
This is followed by “All The Way To Me,” a song where Bentley sings about all of the little good things that get to him in life. It’s supposed to be a more vulnerable song, as Bentley opens up about the things that make him feel something. It’s just an okay song that could have been something more. Americana/rock artist Elle King joins Bentley on “Different For Girls.” The song looks at a breakup from the perspective of a girl and how they handle them. It says that girls don’t react in the same way guys do and that they don’t resort to hookups and drinking excessively like guys do. The song also says guys can act all tough after a breakup and forget about the relationship, while a girl can’t. Well this is all well and good if we all still looked at society through the lens of social consciousness of the 1950s. I really wanted to like this song, but the way it stereotypes all girls and guys is just too ridiculous to overlook. It paints guys to look like drunken, uncaring pigs while girls are emotional train wrecks who never resort to drinking or hookups to cope with breakups. It’s a shame this is a single and everyone will praise it for it’s “thoughtful” look through the eyes of a girl in a breakup. This song is nothing but a mess.
“Mardi Gras” sees Bentley incorporating a jazzy, bluesy horns sound into the album. While guest Trombone Shorty’s horn play sounds great, it’s wasted on yet another dud song on this album. While the instrumentation on this song is vibrant and engaging, the song is the exact opposite. I’ll let you guess what the song is about. It shouldn’t be too hard to deduce. Dierks Bentley spends so much time using different analogies and comparisons for his woman on this album that by the time I reach “Light It Up,” I’m completely unfazed by it. It’s just another song and I’m left wondering how much left I have to endure. Never thought I would say this about a Dierks album. Black comes to a conclusion with “Can’t Be Replaced.” Finally we have the type of song I’ve come to expect from Dierks Bentley and falls much in the same vein as the songs on his previous album Riser. The song sees Dierks singing about the sentimental things in life that you can’t put a price on and can never be replaced. The song has a lot of heart and features the warm, modern country sound we’re used to hearing from Bentley. It’s also great to hear Bentley sort of reflect on how far he’s come in his life and how thankful he is for his wife and kids. “Can’t Be Replaced” also leaves me wondering why we had to endure an entire album mostly full of bad music before we finally get something great from Bentley.
Black is an underwhelming, disoriented mess. There’s no other way to put it. It has very little redemption and a lot of mediocre at best songs. Bentley clearly wanted to do something different and unfortunately for him it just doesn’t work for the most part. It appears he wanted to go for something darker and edgier, but you really can’t do this when the production is too loud most of the time and the lyrics are written by the same people who churn out the bad music we hear from mainstream country all the time. I can tell you one thing: producer Ross Copperman absolutely dropped the ball on this one. I can’t believe he produced Riser. You could have picked anyone else and I think they would have done a better job than Copperman. But then again I don’t think Dave Cobb could have saved some of these dreadful songs. I spend a lot of time comparing this album to Riser, even though I didn’t plan on it, but it’s for good reason. It just highlighted Dierks’ strengths so much more and to give you an idea of the quality gap between the two albums, I would probably take “Drunk on a Plane” over most of the songs on Black. My advice is to listen to “I’ll Be The Moon,” “Roses And A Time Machine,” “Can’t Be Replaced” and just skip the rest of this album. Black is without a doubt the worst album I’ve heard from Dierks Bentley.