HARDY surprised me last year when he dropped his HIXTAPE album last year, as it was an album I found a good bit of an enjoyment in. The main appeal I harped on throughout the review is the fun nature of the songs and how it unashamedly embraces common themes in country music that many people want to ignore or pretend it isn’t a part of the genre. While singing about drinking beer, Friday nights, neon and trucks are done well past the point of fatigue in the genre, you can’t just completely erase these aspects and just have songs that have to possess some deeper meaning or topic. Otherwise you’re just Americana and Tyler Childers described that “genre” best. You have to have a balance and fun is very much a part of this equation.
However, there is a fine line between stupid fun and stupid nonsense. Unfortunately HARDY crosses more into the latter on his new album A ROCK. The album opens with one of the better songs in “TRUCK.” Despite it being heavy in well-trodden country tropes, it does speak to a lot of country listeners out there and it’s details like HARDY mentioning stuff like in memoriam stickers you see plastered on the back of people’s trucks that shows he understands this crowd. While it may not exactly be my cup of tea, that is the listener HARDY is targeting and songs like this do a great job of it.
The bad on this album begins with “BOYFRIEND.” It makes my ears perk up at first because it sounds like a diss on boyfriend country, a rare mainstream backlash to the mainstream. But then I’m bamboozled, as this ends up being the most nauseating boyfriend country song I’ve heard yet. It’s so saccharine and predictable, it makes me openly gag. But it wouldn’t shock me at all if this schlock ends up being a huge hit. Predictable is the name of the game for “GIVE HEAVEN SOME HELL” too, as I knew before even hitting play it would be about a friend wishing a recently parted friend with the salutation in the title. This song would work if something interesting was actually said in addition, but it isn’t.
“BOOTS” is about falling asleep in a pair of boots and then waking up in them. That’s it. That’s the song. What? Anyway, it gets worse with “WHERE YA AT.” This is one of the biggest piles of word salad bullshit I’ve ever heard. This song seems to be a challenge in how many damn basic mainstream country clichés can be jammed into one song. I only listened to this song twice before reviewing because each time I listened I began to develop a light headache. This is one of the worst songs of 2020. “AIN’T A BAD DAY” is a return to something good on this album though. It’s about a man realizing and accepting blame for his alcoholism throwing away a good relationship. I applaud the introspection and the conveyance of the crushing regret of the man’s actions.
“ONE BEER” is a song I covered in my review of HIXTAPE last year, so go check out that review if you want to read my thoughts on it. I still maintain it’s a good song, although I’m against the idea of gaming sales and streaming numbers by shoehorning old songs onto an album. “SO CLOSE” is about a love that fell just short of working and I have to say this song may be the best on the album. Ashland Craft joins HARDY on the song and they pair well together on this rock country ballad. The stars and rocket imagery used as a comparison for the nature of the relationship is effective too.
“BROKE BOY” is another annoying song about a man basing success around having a hot girlfriend/wife. Just like I said about Tucker Beathard’s “One Upper,” this is not a character I really feel motivated to get behind and why country artists feel the need to continue to push these type of songs baffles me. “HATE YOUR HOMETOWN” is an ugly song about a man being bitter and angry over an ex who ditched him and their small town. The whole premise of this song is HARDY being like “I’m not trying to be a raging asshole, but…” and then proceeds to be a raging asshole. While we all experience this kind of blind rage in a brutal breakup, it doesn’t make for a good song. Nor does this elicit any sympathy for the ranting asshole this song represents. This is essentially a redux of “Redneck Crazy.” The only thing missing is the stalking.
“UNAPOLOGETICALLY COUNTRY AS HELL” is first off a mouthful of a title. Second, this is another song like Tim McGraw’s “Chevy Spaceship” where it’s so goofy, on the nose ridiculous with it’s theme (in this instance how country you are) that I can’t help but be amused as hell. I mean how can you not laugh at a line like “I don’t give a shit if you don’t give a damn” being delivered so earnestly? It rivals the actual parodying done by the Hot Country Knights. The album’s title track closes the album and it’s another one of the highlights. It’s a bit silly to base an entire song around a rock, but HARDY makes thoughtful use of this simple object as he explores different stages of life. While he’s not making any mind-blowing observations, it’s songs like this that shows one of HARDY’S best strengths and that’s relating to the average listener in a way that connects with some depth.
A ROCK is unfortunately a step down for HARDY. While there are some good moments on this album, the bad moments overshadow them and likely will end up being the singles that come from it. This album’s biggest issue is flat-out lazy, predictable songwriting that doesn’t manage to evoke a sense of newness nor fun. Regardless don’t be surprised if HARDY starts becoming a bigger household name in country music, as his style and approach is similar enough to the most popular artists in the genre at the moment in Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen that he seems well positioned to become the next hitmaker in mainstream country.