Album Review – Thomas Rhett’s ‘Tangled Up’ May Be One of Country’s Worst Albums

Let’s just be honest here: Thomas Rhett’s accomplishments and notoriety in country music today are solely because his dad is Rhett Akins. Thomas Rhett is a mediocre vocalist whose debut album was nothing but generic pop and bro-country schlock. There was zero originality because Thomas Rhett is not an artist. He’s a puppet willing to sing whatever his label, Valory Music Company (a subsidiary of Big Machine), wants him to sing and become whatever persona his label wants him to be. In 2013, the money was in bro-country. Fast forward two years, bro-country has faded and the money is in R&B-influenced sounds that create funky, danceable beats. Rhett developed a professional crush on Bruno Mars and says he’s changed the trajectory of his career to emulate Mars’ style of music. Conveniently, that funk pop musical styling just happens to be what makes money for Big Machine these days. Combine that all together and we have Bruno Mars Thomas Rhett’s newest album, Tangled Up.

The album begins with a club beat called “Anthem.” Don’t be fooled, just because you’ll hear a banjo in no way makes this song country. Drum machine beats and hand claps are front and center in the production as Rhett merely narrates how the song works. He speaks, not sings, but speaks lines like “this is part where the bass gonna stop” or “You startin’ to feel the momentum build so bring it on back to the chorus” and my personal favorite line of the whole song “this is the verse where you don’t know the words and you don’t give a damn ’cause it feels good.” It’s almost as if the writers are blatantly making fun of the generation that buys into this shitty music simply because it’s a “good beat.” But don’t get me wrong, this song flat-out sucks. “Crash and Burn” follows. Josh sums the song up perfectly with this segment in the single review: “Rhett does not have the charisma and soul of Mars to pull the song off. You need a high energy singer with great chops to make this song great and Rhett simply doesn’t have that. I feel like the instrumentation swallows his voice on this song. You notice everything else on this song before Rhett’s voice.” You could take that first sentence and apply it to just about every song on the album.

Up next is perhaps the worst song of the album: “South Side.” Before we even get into the terrible funk music, we get a distorted computer voice in an English accent (why?) saying, “Please commence shaking your south side.” I fought every urge in my body to not skip this song the moment I heard that sentence. I knew from that the song to follow was going to be terrible, but I just had to listen to it to know how terrible. Firstly, the funk mixed with stupid banjos sounds a bit like “Kick the Dust Up.” Rhett, again, simply sings about how a beat makes people want to shake their ass. But the second verse of this song is probably the worst verse in country music:

Like Memphis, Tennessee, got in bed with CDB
And had a baby and when the baby cried
It made this sound, ain’t no lie it was funkified

ARE  YOU KIDDING ME?! Thomas Rhett claims his new “funkified” music is the love child of Memphis Soul and Charlie Daniels! There have been some terrible name drops in country music, but this one just may take the cake. This song deserves a dedicated rant on its own. Moving on before I throw my computer into a wall. We get the first song on the album that I can actually listen to without getting angry. “Die A Happy Man” is a blues inspired love song. The sentiment is there and it feels somewhat honest: even if he never travels to see the world, he’d still be a happy man as long as he has his wife. However, I’m still not crazy about the song. The lyrics are rather bland and clichéd as Rhett still paints a shallow picture of how his wife’s looks and sexuality are what brings him to his knees and makes it hard to breathe. Also, Thomas Rhett is not that good of a singer, and in “Die A Happy Man” you can hear him trying too hard to sound sultry and sentimental.

Tangled Up is an album chock full of ideas and sounds borrowed from others. No other song is as indicative of his lack of originality than “Vacation.” There are 14 credited songwriters for this train wreck. 14! But half of those songwriters come from the band War. Rhett wisely credits the band for the song because the beat of the verses is essentially the beat from “Low Rider.” The song is about a party at home, but the partygoers are acting like they’re on a tropical vacation. It’s stupid lyrics that Thomas Rhett poorly raps set to a borrowed beat. Even the second verse where Rhett raps about  a Walgreens beach chair and Busch Light sends the same simple life sentiment of Jake Owen’s “Real Life.”

“Like It’s The Last Time” is yet another generic pop country song about a party in a field. You have all the usual suspects here: Moonshine, trucks, raising cups up, hooking up with the girl you like, bonfires, generic mid-tempo guitars, pop beats, and an implication of Fireball shots. It’s just another song to add to the hundreds of corn field songs from the past two years. “T-Shirt” is a hookup song about a girl who keeps coming onto Thomas Rhett. Apparently the song depicts a couple who’ve had these rendezvouses before and vowed to stop, but obviously that doesn’t happen. It’s a boring up beat pop rock beat combined with terrible lyrics and bad vocals. “Single Girl” finds Thomas Rhett pleading to a single girl. He wants to be her man and Rhett, who doesn’t seem to understand the fact that people can be happy and satisfied while not in a relationship, questions why she’s single. He assumes that because she’s single that she’s lonely and that he can be the one to fix it. These assumptions are misguided, immature, arrogant and a little trashy.

Surprisingly, there’s an actual good song on this album. “The Day You Stop Lookin’ Back” is a song where Rhett sings to a girl with a broken heart. The lyrics are actually mature and respectful and the production is more organic with an acoustic guitar and very little pop effects on the drums. Rhett encourages her to stop letting a past heartbreak get the best of her because once she stops looking back, she can then move on. It’s not a great song, but compared to most of the garbage on this album, it sounds pretty good. But we return to the crap with the title track, “Tangled.” This song is straight disco with a backing vocal effects and auto tuned, funky keyboard notes, heavy drum beats for dancing, and a funk inspired guitar. The lyrics are just another song of how Thomas Rhett enjoys being with some female because of the way she loves him physically. “Tangled” is a good reminder of how poorly Thomas Rhett sings.

Another good reminder of Thomas Rhett’s poor vocal abilities can be found in “Playing With Fire.” Rhett sings this song as a duet with American Idol’s Jordin Sparks. She is a much better singer than Rhett. Her lone verse is a better vocal performance than the rest of the album, and she’s even under utilized. Sonically, it’s 100% a pop ballad, but not a bad one at all. Lyrically, it depicts yet another rotten hookup relationship where both parties know it’s bad for them. However, they give into those impulses because they love playing with fire. Thomas Rhett also collaborates with Lunchmoney Lewis on “I Feel Good.” This is a lyrical mess of random nothingness. It starts out describing a scene that would have belonged in “Vacation” then finds Rhett driving in his car celebrating the fact that he got paid. The lyrics of this song don’t make any sense, and Lunchmoney Lewis’ rap breakdown doesn’t help this stupid funk song at all.

Tangled Up finally comes to an end with “Learned It From The Radio.” This is a song where Thomas Rhett thanks Dallas Davidson, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line for teaching him how to be a cliché. “How to wake up, how to work tough, how to roll up those sleeves. How to throw down, how to get loud, and what to put in that drink. To give the stars in the sky a little halo, I learned it from the radio.” It’s every cliché list item from 10 years of mainstream country reworked into this narrative of “how I learned this, how I learned that.”

This album is a mess and shouldn’t even be called music. The songs that combine country sounds with funk sounds are just a hodgepodge of noise that would make a deaf person cringe. The actual funk, disco, R&B songs are shitty and Bruno Mars himself wouldn’t even try to record that mess. Mainstream country isn’t exactly moving away from bro-country. Sure, these songs aren’t pop rock corn field parties, but the lyrics are still the same trashy immature sentiments meant to boost bravado and masculinity. Tangled Up is an embarrassment to country music, it’s an embarrassment to funk and it’s an embarrassment to music in general.

Grade: 0/10

The Hodgepodge: The Return of Garth Brooks Has Fallen Well Short of Expectations

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When Garth Brooks announced he was returning to country music last year, many expected it to be one of the biggest stories of the year in music. After all Brooks is one of the highest selling artists of all-time and was the undisputed face of country music in the 90s. Expectations were set high and many thought he could be a voice of reason in a genre that has no leadership or direction. I was certainly one of those people too. As I said in my review of his comeback album last year, I considered Taylor Swift to be the only current artist in the same range of Brooks’ icon status. Here’s how I led off my review of Man Against Machine:

In the world of music there were two albums everyone was looking forward to listening to this year: Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine. Everyone looked forward to listening to Swift of course because she’s one of the top-selling and most popular artist in music today. To add to the hype she announced she left country music and that 1989 would be her first documented pop album. Regardless of the quality of the album, everyone knew it would have huge sales numbers. This proved to be true as it’s the only album of the year to be certified platinum. It gives you an idea of how bad music sales are right now and shows you why country music was devastated to lose her. Luckily for country music, Garth Brooks has made his triumphant comeback. Garth is the only other artist that can sell more albums than Swift in music right now. After all Garth is one of the most popular selling artists of all-time right alongside the Beatles and Elvis. Regardless of what I think or anyone else thinks of Man Against Machine, this album will be the second and only other album to be certified platinum in 2014.

Sometimes I’m right on with my predictions. This time I was wrong. Man Against Machine has achieved platinum status, but it took longer than anyone predicted and Taylor Swift outsold Garth by a lot. As of April 29, there have been 626,100 copies of Garth’s comeback album sold. Originally industry insiders predicted that 250,000-300,000 copies would be sold in the first week. Instead only 119,000 copies of the album were sold. Pretty disappointing numbers for an artist some hold in the same regard as Elvis and Michael Jackson. His sales are good compared to the average, as Man Against Machine was one of the top ten highest selling albums in country music in 2014. But that really isn’t saying much considering we’re talking about Garth Brooks and the current state of country music sales is in the dumps.

For the majority of 2014 radio struggled to find substance to put on the radio and many felt Garth could solve this problem. He was the king of country radio in the 90s after all. Instead Garth has been non-existent at country radio since his return. If you’re a country music fan, who for some reason only keeps up with the genre through radio you would have no idea Garth even returned. The first single, “People Loving People,” peaked at #19 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. The followup single, “Mom,” did even worse, as it peaked at #32 on the Airplay chart. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Brooks told the outlet that he doesn’t know when his next single is coming out. Garth says he is uncertain because of the shakeup in leadership at Sony Music Nashville, as now former CEO Gary Overton has left.

Nobody wants to say it, although many are thinking it. I have no problem saying it though: 2015 Garth Brooks is completely out of touch with the music industry. He may have been a brilliant marketer and entertainer in the 90s, but it’s a completely different game in 2015. There are so many things Garth has done wrong since his return I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with his singles. First off his reasoning for holding off on a third single because of a leadership shakeup at Sony Music Nashville is complete bullshit. Chris Young just released a new single and he’s on the same label as Garth. Miranda Lambert and Jake Owen are both set to release new singles within the next month. Garth doesn’t want to admit that he completely botched the first two single choices. Man Against Machine certainly wasn’t a great album, but it was solid and contained a few fine single choices to release to radio.

Garth blindly thought he could make “People Loving People” another “We Shall Be Free” and this blew up in his face. “People Loving People” is even more generic and bland than “We Shall Be Free.” “Mom” is even more milquetoast and vanilla. Everyone knew this single was dead on radio at arrival. It was maddening to see him choose these as singles, as they’re arguably the two worst songs on the album. I think the album’s title track, “Midnight Train” and “Cold Like That” would all be great single choices. The album’s title track could especially do well at radio with its working class theme and catchy rhythm. It’s also more rock than country sounding. This should easily be the third single choice, but instead he’ll probably choose the cheesy and cliché “All-American Kid,” which is way too country for the current radio environment to succeed.

As bad as his single choices have been and the poor radio performance to show for it, there’s something hurting him even more than his lack of radio presence. It’s his refusal to embrace streaming and YouTube. Every other artist out there releases their music to YouTube because it’s smart and how many people find music nowadays. Every other artist also has their music available on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon because once again it’s just the right thing to do. This how most people consume music nowadays. I bet 95% of my readers get their music through these outlets. As admirable as Garth’s crusade is to preserve the concept of albums and selling music in this way, it’s really hurting him. Singles are the new albums. Artists today focus on making great singles over great albums because it’s easier to pull off. Even though I buy the bulk of my music as an entire album, I know I’m in the minority.

Back to the YouTube subject, some artists get big mostly through this outlet. A non-country example is the a cappella group Pentatonix. Their brilliant covers of hit songs helped many people discover them. Another non-country example is hip-hop artist Lunchmoney Lewis, as his video for his hit single “Bills” has gotten over 10 million views as of this writing. Lewis was a complete unknown coming into 2015 and now he has a hit single, mostly thanks to YouTube. Garth is cutting off an entire outlet that could not only boost his single sales and radio airplay, but introduce him to a whole new generation of listeners. Many younger listeners have no idea who Garth Brooks is and really don’t care. Garth isn’t on YouTube or iTunes, so he’s completely off the radar in their minds. You can’t buy just his singles, so there’s another turnoff. Throw in the fact you can’t stream his music at all before listening and it perfectly explains why Brooks is in the situation he’s in. His GhostTune store is the Zune to Apple’s iPod.

Garth is trying to do things his own way in 2015 and it simply isn’t going to work his way. Most people are no longer driving to Walmart to buy a CD and instead purchasing their music online digitally. Digital is the name of the game. Garth said this himself in an interview with CMT. Why aren’t you following your own words, Garth? It’s pretty simple: ditch GhostTunes, join iTunes, make your music available for streaming, allow your music to be sold individually instead of as a whole album, and pick better singles. Brooks can still be a factor in 2015 and make the impact on country music we all envisioned he could. But he needs to make changes quickly. They say an old dog can’t learn new tricks, but Garth better if he wants to be relevant again.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Whitey Morgan is releasing his much-anticipated Sonic Ranch album to the public next Tuesday. I’ve had an early copy for months and I’ve been dying to review it here on the site. This is an album you do not want to miss out on, so stay tuned for my review on it next week.
  • Jon Pardi is releasing an EP next week titled The B-Sides, 2011-2014. These are songs I’m assuming didn’t make the cut for his debut album Write You A Song. We haven’t heard a new single from him for a while, so I’m guessing there will at least be one new single from this EP. We’ll definitely a review on this.
  • Kelsea Ballerini is releasing her debut album The First Time next Tuesday. Based on what I’ve heard and seen from Ballerini, I’m not that excited about it. She’s proven to be the female equivalent of Sam Hunt to this point with her brand of pop music being marketed as country music.
  • Mickey Guyton announced this week that she’s releasing a self-titled EP on May 26. Unlike Ballerini, I’m excited to hear new music from Guyton. In a perfect world her single “Better Than You Left Me” is on the cusp of the top ten instead of “Love Me Like You Mean It.” This one will definitely get reviewed.
  • Luke Bryan is releasing his new single from his new upcoming album next Tuesday. As everyone speculated, it’s called “Kick The Dust Up,” a Dallas Davidson co-written song. I can only imagine how bad this song is going to be.
  • Chris Young just released his new single “I’m Comin’ Over,” which is the first track of his new upcoming album set to be released this fall. You’ll see my review on it soon.
  • Toby Keith’s new album is coming out on June 26 and it’s titled 35 MPH Town. I wonder if he acts like a grumpy old Baby Boomer throughout it like the album’s title track?
  • Steven Tyler just released his first country song, “Love Is Your Name.” Believe it or not, it’s actually not terrible. We’ll have a review on it soon.
  • Kid Rock is releasing a single to country radio titled “First Kiss,” off of his new album. This is nothing new, as a few years ago “All Summer Long” was a big hit on country radio and Kid Rock knows how to make money. I’m curious to see how well this does on the Airplay chart.

Throwback Thursday Song

Alan Jackson – “Chattahoochee” – The warm weather is coming and summer is just around the corner, so I thought why not choose one my favorite summer country songs. Fun and traditional don’t have to be mutually exclusive, bro country artists. Plus there’s no other video where you can see Alan Jackson on water skis!

Non-Country Song of the Week

Adele – “Take It All” – After having a great conversation with Noah in the comments section of last week’s Hodgepodge about Adele and the impact she could have in country music, I went back and listened to her 21 album. It’s as good as I remembered and instead of pointing out one of her great singles, I instead chose to point out a great album cut, “Take It All.” The piano play is top-notch and Adele’s voice is just awesome.

Tweet of the Week

You want to know what else didn’t make me excited about Ballerini’s album? When this was brought to my attention. Kudos to Windmills for pointing this out.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Hunt Idiot #150

It’s another comment left under Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album. We’re now at the point that Hunt fans are using Brantley Gilbert quotes to defend him. Oy.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

The Hodgepodge: What Is Going To Happen to Mainstream Country Music Next?

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Over the last couple of weeks we’ve discussed right here in The Hodgepodge what I think is going to happen to mainstream country music next. Two weeks ago I discussed why mainstream country music is on a path of destruction and how decision-making now can have a huge impact on the future of the genre. This would lead to the mainstream country bubble popping. Last week I then discussed what the state of the genre would be like after that bubble popping and why I advocate for it to happen. So if you haven’t read those first two posts, read them before proceeding with this post.

This week I’m keeping it short in my opener because I want to hear more from you the readers on what you think of all of this. I want to know what you think will happen next in mainstream country music. Your guess is as good as mine. We’ve discussed in the past the genre splitting, something I pretty much ruled out happening for now. But maybe you feel different. Perhaps you think we’re on the cusp of another neo-traditional movement like in the mid-to-late 80s. Whatever you feel I want to know what you think is going to happen to country music in the next five to ten years. There are no wrong answers, as I’m pretty sure none of us own a crystal ball or time machine. And if I did have one of those I would be using it to get tomorrow’s lottery numbers.

So what is going to happen to country music next? Voice your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll be there waiting to discuss.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Roots/Rock artist Pat McGee is releasing a self-titled album next Tuesday. I’ll have a review on that one.
  • The bluegrass quartet Della Mae will be releasing a self-titled album next week. I’m not very familiar with this group, but my interested to hear what they have come up with on this new album.
  • Craig Wayne Boyd just released a new single, “I’m Still Here.” Thank you Ryan for brining this to my attention. For those unaware Boyd was kicked off his label Dot Records and is now with an independent label. You can definitely sense the emotions Boyd went through after being let go by Dot on this new single. I hope to have a review on this one soon.
  • A few weeks ago I forgot to mention that Canadian country artist Dean Brody released a new album titled Gypsy Road. It was on my radar, but with so many releases it slipped through the cracks. It’ll be reviewed by Ryan.
  • Brantley Gilbert is releasing a platinum edition of his 2014 album Just As I Am later this month to commemorate the one year anniversary of it. It includes eight new songs and no I am not reviewing it. We will review singles from it though. One interesting song in particular is a pro bro country song titled “Same Old Song.” That’s right pro. If it gets released as a single, it will be reviewed. If not it will be promptly ignored.
  • The Cadillac Three just released a new single titled “White Lightning.” No, it isn’t a cover of the iconic George Jones song. Based on one listen it sounds better than their previous singles. We hope to have a review on this one soon.
  • Ashley Monroe announced she will be releasing her sophomore album on July 24. No album name has been officially announced, but you can view the track list for it here. Vince Gill is once again producing, after being the producer for Monroe’s first album Like A Rose.

Throwback Thursday Song

Sturgill Simpson – “You Can Have The Crown/Some Days” – Simpson recored this live at the Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis, Indiana two years ago before he was heralded by everyone in the country music industry as the next big thing. These two songs mesh together perfectly. It’s still hard to believe how far he has come in just a couple of years. That third album can’t here quick enough.

Non-Country Music Recommendation of the Week

You see the name Lunchmoney Lewis and you’re thinking this guy isn’t much of a singer. But you’re dead wrong. He just came out with his debut EP Bills and some of you may be familiar with the lead single of the same name. Lewis is one of the charismatic hip hop artists I’ve heard in some time. He brilliantly combines hip hop and R&B in this EP, while also mixing in some great humor. The horn production and piano play is stout too. If you’re going to listen to pop music, this is an artist worth checking out.

Tweet of the Week

I see nothing wrong with this meme. Keep our highways clean! By the way if you’re not following Farce the Music yet you’re doing it wrong.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Smile

iTunes Hero Slams FGL

This week instead of jeering an idiot iTunes reviewer, let’s applaud an iTunes reviewer doing it right. This was under Florida Georgia Line’s album Anything Goes. Bravo to you sir or madam for this nice little takedown of a terrible album. Usually they’re compared to Nickelback (the comment above this one did this), but an N’Sync and New Kids on the Block comparison works too.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!