Something felt different about this album from the moment I saw it’s album cover art. Tim McGraw has certainly not shied away from trying out different sounds and approaches in his career, although his temporary fling in bro country scared him away from this for a bit. But he’s started inching back towards this. The concept and production’s presentation of this album is intriguing. The experimentation of the production shouldn’t be entirely surprising, as McGraw shows hints and dabbled with it a lot on his previous album. With Here on Earth, he dives deeper into experimenting and while it works for the most part, it feels like a lot is left on the table too.
It starts off promising with the lush and string-laden “L.A.” It sounds very much like something you would hear on a Glen Campbell album. The same can said of “Not From California,” which has one of the best deliveries on the album as he conveys his ache and yearning. Then you get to a song like “Chevy Spaceship.” It feels like this album mostly contains songs like this: corny and a bit cliché, but well intentioned heart behind them. When it comes to these songs on this album, it’s hit and miss.
“Chevy Spaceship” surprisingly works for me, but in kind of an ironic way because it’s unintentionally one of the funniest songs I’ve heard this year. This is thanks to McGraw delivering lines like “I got the good stuff sittin’ right here/We can catch a little buzz lightyear” and “Let me come by and pick you up/We can do some intergalactic lovin’” with utmost seriousness. It’s just stupid and goofy enough to win me over. I can say the same of “Good Taste in Women.” This is usually a song that would annoy me, yet McGraw’s charisma and the catchy delivery make it effective.
“Sheryl Crow” comes off a bit forced at first, but again I find the charisma and joyful nature of the song to be endearing. “7500 OBO” sounds quite stupid on paper, but once you figure out it’s more about erasing the memory of an ex and less about selling a truck, it’s an easy song to find a connection with. Also McGraw sampling his own “Where the Green Grass Grows” and directly referencing it in the song is a surprise, but a welcome one. It’s a bit egotistical, but since the sampling fits the song and is done to the benefit of the song, I can overlook this. The fiddles are so memorable and reintroducing them on another song won’t get a complaint out of me.
There’s also though the flip side of corny on this album where it doesn’t work. “Hallelujahville” and “Doggone” are gratingly mawkish. With the album being too long for my taste at 16 songs long at just over an hour, these are the first two songs I would cut. “War of Art” and “Hard to Stay Mad At” are based around solid ideas, but it’s too cookie cutter and bland in style. “Here on Earth,” “Hold You Tonight” and “If I Was a Cowboy” are a little better, but suffer the same issue to a lesser extent. If these three songs were less formulaic (lending to better replay value) and given a bit more “depth,” it would have went a long way into help making this a great album.
McGraw would have did better too by having a few more serious songs on the album, as he does a pretty good job delivering on the few songs in this vein. “Damn Sure Do” is a warm ode to reaffirming your commitment to a loved one and lead single “I Called Mama” is a nice song about how reminders of mortality makes you reexamine your appreciation for what and who you have in your life. “Gravy” is another song in this same lane, as the laid back and smooth nature of the production lends well to conveying the emotions of the lyrics.
What’s funny is if you asked ten different people who listened to Tim McGraw’s Here on Earth about their thoughts on it, I think each would give you completely different answers about each song on this album, as each song’s appeal and this album as a whole’s appeal is very much going to come down to your own personal preferences with corny country music. Not to mention the production’s lack of focus could come off as interesting like it does for me or make for a lackluster listen.
Ultimately for me it works more than it doesn’t work. On one hand I could easily make the argument that this album is only a couple changes away from being great. On the other hand I feel like this is an album I’m going to remember because it’s so weird and different from what McGraw has done previously. Here on Earth is an odd album, yet it’s quite interesting and worth at least one listen if only to figure out for yourself where you stand with it.