Review – Keith Urban’s “The Fighter” (feat. Carrie Underwood)

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With the Ripcord era, Keith Urban has descended into straight up pop music. He’s always had a pop influence in his songs, but there’s always some kind of country element present. That’s now gone for the most part. I reviewed Ripcord last year to shine light on how bad music is bad music no matter what genre you put it in. His newest single “The Fighter” is the most shining example on the album. Obviously not country from the first seconds of the song, we get obnoxiously loud synth and drum loops making me think I’ve found a wormhole back to the 80s. That’s immediately the first impression I get from this song: bad 80s music. The lyrics of this song are somehow more ridiculous. We get the unbelievable premise of Urban being the man who fights for his woman, an image I don’t think I’ve ever thought of when it comes to Urban. Carrie Underwood joins in on the song as the woman of this man’s desire he saves from her scares and problems. Again ridiculous because I see Underwood as a strong woman capable of holding her own without the help of Urban of all people. Underwood’s contribution are also pretty damn scant, as she sings the same three lines for most of the song before a couple of verses in the bridge. After thinking about it more, this song reminds me of another terrible song: Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” Just like this song, it has an impossible to believe premise (Adam Levine having the moves like Jagger), a really cheap beat and a strong vocalist barely showing up (Christina Aguilera). The only things I would give “The Fighter” over “Moves Like Jagger” is that it’s more catchy and has a better hook. But this doesn’t save this terrible song. When you have a country song that’s closer to bad 80s music and Maroon 5, you know you’ve got something truly horrendous.

Grade: As a country song, 0/10. As a pop song, 2/10

 

Recommend? – No way!

 

Written & Produced by Keith Urban and busbee

Album Review – Lauren Alaina’s ‘Road Less Traveled’

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Lauren Alaina is one of multiple country artists who broke their way into stardom via American Idol. She was the runner-up on season ten, which was won by fellow country artist Scotty McCreery. Like most country artists who gained fame on a music TV show, it’s been a struggle for her to break out at radio. It’s just an innate problem those not named Carrie Underwood have had to deal with at radio. Alaina released her debut album six years ago and ever since has essentially been grinding away at breaking through before her moment came when her single “Road Less Traveled” got the On The Verge treatment. It was a big moment for Alaina’s career and more importantly is what has allowed her to finally release her sophomore album of the same name. I honestly did not expect much out of Road Less Traveled, even though I’ve always found Lauren Alaina to be a pretty talented artist. Well after giving it many thorough lessons, I shouldn’t have had such low expectations because Alaina pleasantly blew my expectations away with Road Less Traveled.

The album’s opening song “Doin’ Fine” sees Alaina singing about the feelings she experienced as her parents marriage broke down and ended in divorce. While a softer production could have really helped, this is a solid and deceptively deep song. “Three” is one of the most honest songs I’ve heard from a major label country artist in the last few years. Alaina sings of how she has to spend six years on the road to just get played for three minutes on the radio. It doesn’t get anymore honest when describing the life of an artist trying to break out at radio to please their label. Alaina also really showcases her big voice well here. One problem this album has is some of the songs are disingenuous to label country. “Queen of Hearts” is most certainly an example, as it’s loud and lacking any country elements. But as a pop song it’s decent and has a catchy hook.  There are a couple of songs that fall into the generic inspiration trap. “My Kinda People” is one of them, as it’s basically a re-skin of “Road Less Traveled.” These songs aren’t necessarily terrible, but just done to death and uninteresting. But then we get to the moments that surprise and straight up impress me. I was most surprised by “Think Outside The Boy.” Based on the title I was expecting something shallow, but it’s quite the opposite. The song is about a woman urging a young woman to not base her life around the boy she’s head over heels for and needs to think about herself because basing your life around one person can lead to heartbreak and disappointment.

Another highlight of Road Less Traveled is “Painting Pillows.” It’s a straight-up heartbreak song about being alone and crying tears into your pillow. This is a modern-day heartbreak country song done right. “Crashin’ The Boys’ Club” is a song I have complicated feelings about. On one hand the production can be annoying and the lyrics are thin. But on the other hand the beat is admittedly catchy and infectious. It’s one of those songs I feel like I should hate, but I just can’t. It’s too fun for me to get grumpy about. The most critically acclaimed song on this album has been “Same Day Different Bottle.” It’s for great reason too because it’s awesome and for me the best on the record. The song is about watching someone destroy their life with alcohol. When you factor in that Alaina based this song off watching her own father go through this, it makes the song even more powerful (kudos to writers Alaina, Caitlyn Smith and Dan Couch). Then you throw in that great pedal steel guitar. It’s simply a phenomenal song. Road Less Traveled concludes with “Pretty.” It’s another song on this album that surprises me with its depth and also sees Alaina incorporating a personal experience. The song is about sending a message to girls that you’re pretty as you are and that skipping meals to get skinnier isn’t the answer. Alaina herself went through an eating disorder, so it’s admirable to see her put this experience into a great song that it can help others in this situation.

Lauren Alaina really surprises me in a great way with Road Less Traveled. I was expecting mostly songs like the album’s title track and there were a few like it on this album. But for the most part this album delivers really good music and at times even great music. I really enjoy the majority of this album and there are multiple songs I would love to see released as singles. I’m still not hopeful radio will take to her, but they should. Alaina reminds me of just how talented she is on this album and I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be one of the best country records from a major label in 2017.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Same Day Different Bottle, Pretty, Think Outside The Boy, Painting Pillows, Three, Doin’ Fine

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Holding The Other, Queen of Hearts


Review – Lady Antebellum’s “You Look Good”

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Lady Antebellum was one of the biggest acts in country music in the late 2000s, racking up multiple hits. But when they chose to go on hiatus in October 2015 radio had seemingly left them behind in favor of younger, more pop friendly acts. So it was a smart move of the group to take a break and really give people a chance to miss the trio. In 2016 both Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott released their own solo projects, each seeing a varying degree of success. Kelley earned a Grammy nomination for “The Driver” and Scott got a #1 hit on Christian radio for “Thy Will.” The trio is now reformed and my hope upon their return was that they took the great things about their solo projects and incorporated it into their new music. Their return single is “You Look Good” and man they did not go the way I was hoping. Instead this feels more like a continuation of the dreadful 747 era. I’m not sure where to begin with this mess. I guess with the obvious: the horns. There are a lot of horns incorporated into this song, which as I’ve said before I’m perfectly fine with horns in country songs. While it’s probably the best part of the song, they’re just sort of there and jammed into the blatant pop rock production when they could have incorporated in an interesting way. And for a song that seems to be striving for higher energy, it fails too. After a couple of listens you realize this song is almost just as lifeless as most songs at country radio right now. Then we get to the lyrics, which are just hilariously thin and vapid. I mean look at these chorus lines: And baby you look good all day, all night/You look good, so fresh, so fine/You look good, got everybody watching you like cameras in Hollywood/Baby you look good/Aw baby you look good. This also another country sex song that fails to create a sexy vibe with its lyrics and production. You would think the producer of this song busbee would know how to execute this coming from pop. Just listen to Bruno Mars’ latest album. I digress. But all in all I find “You Look Good’ to be a major disappointment and based off this I am not looking forward to their new album Heart Break.

Grade: 1/10

 

Recommend? – No Way!

 

Written by Hillary Lindsey, Ryan Hurd and busbee

Album Review – Maren Morris’ ‘HERO’

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Remember my pop album review of Keith Urban’s Ripcord a few weeks back? If you haven’t read it, I would recommend you at least read the point at the end. To give you the short version of it, I’ve pretty much come to conclusion now that there’s no such thing as bad country, good pop. There’s only good music and bad music. It’s important to say this up front as I discuss Maren Morris’ new album HERO. This is probably one of the most anticipated albums in country music this year as Morris’ single “My Church” has been a big hit and really helped her rise in popularity. Morris has really caught a lot of eyes and with this album it would determine just how high she can go in the immediate future. After hearing her self-titled EP released late last year, I knew coming in that there would undeniably be a pop influence on this album. And I was right. By right I mean more than I would ever realize because HERO is not a country record and calling it as such would be an outright lie. This is a pop soul record with a couple of country songs and a country influence in spots. However I’m not going to spend an entire review shouting it’s not country because that would be a waste of time and foolish. No, I’m going to review HERO for what it is because this album is too enjoyable at times not to talk about.

Some heavy acoustic guitar plays in “Sugar.” This lingers throughout the song in combination with an upbeat pop production as the song revolves around a crush Morris has on a guy. This includes a few too many comparisons to how this crush makes her feel. In comparison to the rest of the album, this is one of the more forgettable songs due to the lyrics being a little clumsy and the production being a bit too overdone. It can get annoying after a while. “Rich” is where you get a good indication of where this album is willing to go. The song is about Morris saying if she had a dollar for every time she swore her ex off and every time he made her feel pain, she would be pretty rich. And she paints a pretty vivid picture of just how rich she would be in the chorus. These chorus lines work for the most part, although I find the line about diamonds and P Diddy to be cheesy and outdated. I imagine this is where the staunch country fan stopped listening.

The lead single and the song I imagine many thought would indicate the direction of this entire album, “My Church,” follows. This anthemic, gospel-inspired tune is about how Maren’s church is country music (although the rest of the album says otherwise). When she turns on her favorite country music (Hank and Johnny Cash, as mentioned in the song), it feels like a spiritual experience to her. She genuinely loves country music. Part country, part rock and part gospel, this song is catchy and fun as hell. I’ve listened to this song a lot and it just doesn’t get old. One of the most mature songs on HERO is “I Could Use a Love Song.” In a world dominated by the hook-up culture and dating apps, Morris speaks for many young adults who have a negative outlook on finding love and feeling disheartened about capturing that feeling. It’s really kind of melancholy, yet in a way kind of hopeful too. It’s definitely one of my favorites on the album.

This is followed by “80s Mercedes,” an upbeat song about a woman and her 80s Mercedes-Benz. When she’s driving it she feels confident and beautiful, clearly holding some strong sentimental value to her. This is a pop country song, with a heavy dosage on the former. Despite the heavy pop influence that would normally annoy me, there’s just something about this song that is infectious and likable that I can’t knock it. It’s something I can’t explain, I just know I enjoy hearing it and I have no problem admitting it. It’s been announced as the second single from the album and I think this could be a big summer hit. Morris shows off her humorous side on “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry.” The song is about a woman telling her friend to leave her boyfriend after cheating on her yet again. As the woman tells her friend, this is the third time he’s been caught, so it’s past time for another chance and time to kick him to the curb. She tells her though that he’s a really nice guy, but then her friend retorts back, “That’s like saying drunk girls don’t cry.” It’s a sassy, honest and funny take on the classic breakup song upon first listen. However after hearing it multiple times, it can become skippable and best left as an album cut.

“How It’s Done” is one of those songs you can either take or leave. The song is about a relationship going to the next level, which is sex. Now many popular country artists do a terrible job at describing sex in songs because the lyrics suck, are immature or are just clumsy. Morris does a better job than most of them, but it’s one of those songs that can wear thin after a while. The production kind of reminds of an album cut off The Weeknd’s latest album. Overall it’s a decent song I guess. Morris sings about regret on “Just Another Thing.” From late-night calls to an ex to drinking and smoking, she knows it’s just a list of things she shouldn’t do and yet she keeps indulging them. The song has a bluesy, soulful sound with pop sensibilities. Combined with the witty lyrics, it’s subtly one of the better tracks on the album.

“I Wish I Was” is a more traditional country song with some blues added in. It’s about a woman who is in a relationship and makes the realization that it isn’t going to work. The man thinks it’s true love and he’s found the one, but she breaks it to him that it isn’t true love. She wishes however it was true love and that she was the “hero” in the story who got all of the glory of being in love. Personally I find this to be one of the best tracks on the album because once again Morris takes a mature approach to relationships and describes it so well. It’s arguably the best vocal performance from Morris too. I think it would be a mistake to not release this as a single, although I have a feeling the more pop sounding songs would take precedence over it.

The inspirational-themed “Second Wind” is next. One of the songs I immediately thought of in comparison with it is Maddie & Tae’s “Fly.” Both really don’t have a concrete them and are just centered around the tropes of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” and “never give up.” Although I would say “Fly” is better because of the production and instrumentation. This isn’t a bad song and has a nice sound, but it’s one of the more forgettable on HERO. The album closes with “Once,” a waltzing pop song on love. Specifically it’s after both sides of the relationship have called it quits, but thoughts of once was still lingering. Morris acknowledges from her point of view while she still can’t shake it completely and knows it’s over; she still wants him to remember that he loved her once and that’s something that will never disappear. The swell in the chorus really gives this song a punch and really ends the album on a good note.

HERO will probably be the most polarizing album of 2016. Undoubtedly the biggest sin this album commits is it being called a country album. It shouldn’t have any business charting on the country albums chart too. If you’re angry about this and this prevents you from enjoying it, I don’t blame you because it would get a zero as a country record. But once you get past this, you find yourself listening to a really enjoyable pop album. Morris does such a great job at times looking at relationships and feelings from a mature point of view. When her and the songwriters on this album (busbee, Natalie Hemby, Laura Veltz, Jimmy Robbins, Jessie Jo Dillon, Luke Laird amongst them) get it right, the songs really shine. Everything that comes out of Morris’ mouth comes off as genuine, honest and sincere. Her career though may not be in country music and more suited for pop. But as a music fan I can’t help but appreciate HERO as a pop album (key descriptor). I think this album will primarily appeal to younger listeners and fans of pop music/people open to pop over older listeners and staunch country fans. Not everyone is going to like this album. But for those who do, you’ll really find some enjoyable songs.

Grade: 7/10

*parts of this review are taken from my review of Morris’ self-titled EP last year

 

You can listen to the entire album on Morris’ YouTube page here.