George Strait is one of the greatest country artists of all-time and few would dispute his king of country music title. He proved it years ago. But sometimes even a king can miss. With his newest album Honky Tonk Time Machine, it’s a big miss for me. In fact, I find it an absolute chore to get through most of this album. The album starts off well with “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar.” It’s a bar anthem for the working class, everyday men and women looking to tie one off after a long week. Throughout the years he’s consistently knocked these songs out of the park and this one is no different, as it’s his bread and butter to perfectly capture the feeling of this familiar theme.
“Two More Wishes” is an enjoyable tune about Strait likening his bottle of alcohol to a genie in a bottle, using it to make the woman of his dreams appear. I love the casual, easy-going nature of the song, as it works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I enjoy the stripped-down sound of “Some Nights” and the lyrics really capture the feeling of existential dread in the wake of a hard breakup. Just like bar anthems, Strait knocks out heartbreak ballads in his sleep. After this song, the album unfortunately takes a big dive in quality. I can’t stand “God and Country Music” and for two big reasons: 1) The preachy, saccharine and sanctimonious nature of the lyrics. 2) A child singing. I know it was a big deal for Strait to have his grandson on the song, but I just can’t stand the sound of children singing. It’s like nails on a chalk board for me.
“Blue Water” would be a great song about finding a break from the troubles of life in an ocean if it was a minute shorter. That’s because the hook gets annoyingly repetitive after like two minutes. I can only listen to “blueeeeee waterrrr” so many times before I want to rip my ears out. “Sometimes Love” is a song on this album and that’s all I have say about that. “Codigo” is an ad poorly disguised as a song. If Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan cut a song about their own brand of liquor, people would be screaming for the death penalty for them. But Strait is apparently immune from being criticized for this. Well I’ll say it: this is corporate, huckster, shilling, horseshit and Strait should be ashamed for cutting such a song.
I want to like “Old Violin” and I respect Strait for addressing mortality and his life. But I’ve heard Willie Nelson release at least five songs in the last few years address this same topic, where the songwriting absolutely runs circles around the lyrics of “Old Violin.” Sorry George, but Willie set the bar and you didn’t meet it with this song. “Take Me Away” is boring and forgettable. “The Weight of the Badge” is predictable and as a result it fails to make an emotional connection with me. I feel like this song spends too much time telling me how hard it is to be a police officer and how admirable they are instead of showing it through strong storytelling and letting me come to this conclusion on my own. It’s like taking a camel to water: don’t drag me to it, lead me to it.
The album’s title track is trying to be an upbeat and raucous bar anthem that makes you want to move your feet, but it fails to do so, and I put this on the weak and at times weird lyrics. These lyrics in particular stand out: “He’s gonna make damn sure the jukebox don’t rock/And the record’s gonna be the only thing that bops/He’s an old-school cold longneck DJ/And look at him now, here comes them old green snakes.” What? I feel like the songwriters just threw a bunch of words together, made sure to sprinkle in a couple common words people will only hear and then hope nobody actually reads the whole lines. This isn’t different from a lot of the ridiculous tripe populating the top of the country charts.
“What Goes Up” is a reminder of why I don’t like most overtly Christian songs: they’re boring. The lyrics sound like they’re directly quoting from the Bible or a church sermon instead of taking a story and then relating it back to spirituality/religion and how it plays a role in the emotions/story. A great example of this is Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on that Mountain.” The final track on the album, “Sing One with Willie”, is a fun song and it’s great to hear two legends finally do a song together. But after a few listens I’ve had my fill of the song. It’s a shame they couldn’t have collaborated on a song with more substance instead of a novelty track. That’s really the story of this album: I expected more.
I’m sure George Strait will bounce back on the next one, as this is a rare blip on the radar for an all-time great. But still it’s hard for me to label Honky Tonk Time Machine as anything but a big disappointment and a large step down from his previous album Cold Beer Conversation.