Whenever an artist goes on an extended hiatus from releasing new music, it’s not something that’s really noticed at first. You just assume they’re going to keep releasing music at the same pace they always have. Then more time passes and you start to notice it more and more. All of the sudden five years have passed and now you’re chomping at the bit to hear from them again. That’s the certainly the case with Jack Ingram, who’s last album was released in 2009 on Big Machine Records. A lot has happened in seven years, as Ingram left Nashville to head back to Texas where it all began for him. Like many Texas artists who try their hand on Music Row, it only takes a couple tastes of major labels in Nashville before you’re ready to get back to making the music you want. That’s the certainly the case with Ingram and his new highly anticipated album Midnight Motel. You can tell this is the exact album he wanted to make. I found this is for the better and the worse.
Midnight Motel opens up with “Old Motel.” The song is about love, with an old hotel representing this love. It can stand the test of time or it can be burnt to the ground when it’s gone. It’s a solid song that could have been better if the theme was expanded upon further. There’s also an acoustic version at the end of the album that I think sounds better. This is followed by “It’s Always Gonna Rain,” a ballad about hope. The song goes into detail about Ingram’s father and grandfather looking up the sky just like him, dreaming and praying for better days. But they also know there’s always going to be rain in life too. You deal with the bad hands dealt in hopes of a good one coming soon. It’s one of the most realistic inspiration songs I’ve heard in a while.
“I Feel Like Drinking Tonight” sees Ingram tackling demons and the unfairness of life. Ingram though sees the best way to get through your problems is sitting at the bar and drinking your sorrows away. The gritty guitar play makes for a great backdrop to the theme of this song. Perhaps the standout track of Midnight Motel is “Blaine’s Ferris Wheel.” The melancholy tune seems like the most talked about song of the album and for good reason. It’s about a promoter and friend of Ingram named Blaine, whose venue was in San Angelo, Texas. If you listen to the version of the album where Ingram talks about the inspiration of this song, he tells a story about Merle Haggard backing out of a gig at Blaine’s venue and getting Ingram to fill in. The song goes much deeper on many levels and you can hear this just in Ingram’s voice as he sings. This is one of those songs where you just need to hear it for yourself to appreciate.
The piano-driven “Nothing To Fix” is a song about learning lessons the hard way. It’s also about how if you’re not broken you can’t be fixed. If this sounds vague, then you’re correct. This song doesn’t really do anything to give these themes a meaning, no matter how well-meaning. The instrumentation though is quite good. Up next is “What’s A Boy To Do,” a breakup song. A man searches for the words he needs to say to win his ex back and make up for what he did to make her cry. Of course he really can’t and is left wondering what if as his love is now gone. It’s a solid, yet unspectacular take on losing love. “Trying” is one song that Ingram absolutely nails on this album. It explores the fears of dying, both literally and figuratively. A man dreams of dying, but wakes up to find he’s in an unhappy relationship and left saying he’s trying his best. It’s one of many moments on the album where the listeners have to search a little to find what the song has to say.
If I had to pick the most cliché song on the album, it would have to be “Champion Of The World.” The song is about a man always feeling like a screw up in life and being looked down upon by everyone; that is until he found his wife who makes him feel like a champion of the world. It’s a well-meaning song, but I’ve heard it so much before that it doesn’t really make much of an impact on me. The most upbeat song on the mostly downbeat Midnight Motel is easily “I’m Drinking Through It.” It’s one of those venting drinking songs you’ll be singing along with the moment you first hear it. After all we all have problems and lot of people get through it by drinking through it. This is probably one of my favorites on the album and also one of the few songs on it to have an infectious hook to it.
“Can’t Get Any Better Than This” suffers from the same thing that holds down “Nothing To Fix” too. It’s a vague song about appreciating what you have and realizing you can’t have life any better than what it is in front of you. It’s a feel good song and that’s all I have to say about it. One of the final songs on Midnight Motel is “All Over Again.” It’s sort of a nice bow on the whole album, as it goes through a little bit of everything that is explored on the album: life being unfair, making mistakes, love and dealing with it all. It’s all well and good and there’s nothing dishonest about the lyrics. It’s about the most honest take as you can find on this crazy thing called life.
Ultimately I found Jack Ingram’s Midnight Motel to be an album I just like and respect for what it strives to accomplish, but I wanted to love and enjoy it. There are moments on this album where I think the latter will happen, but it’s weighed down by a lot of songs that are just sort of there for me. It’s kind of hard to describe what exactly this album lacks. I guess I would say it’s purpose because a lot of the songs don’t do enough to really make me connect with them and rely on the listener to make it work. It just feels like an album that Ingram and his inner circle will get, but the rest of us are kind of scratching our heads trying to figure out. I would go so far to say this album gets too personal and almost forgets about the listener on the other end. This is a situation where a good producer would step in and bring some restraint to the album in this regard. In order for these gut-wrenching, personal songs to work, they have to try to form some sort of connection with the listener and this album fails to do this in multiple instances on the album. The instrumentation feels like an afterthought at times on this album too. It could really helped make some of these songs stand out better. I know this probably won’t be a popular review, especially amongst Ingram fans. But it’s hard not to express I was left wanting more. Midnight Motel is basically a 180 degree turn in comparison to Ingram’s last two albums, but not necessarily for the best.