Country Perspective’s Worst Albums of 2016 So Far

As our week of highlighting the best and worst of the first half of the year closes, we spend today looking at some of 2016’s worst albums thus far. As mainstream country has shifted away from bro-country and into pop, we’ve seen albums that are one of three things: completely pop music, bro-country hanging on by the very last threads, or a hybrid of the two. Needless to say, these albums have done nothing but continue to dig mainstream country into its hole.

As you’ll notice, we haven’t reviewed most of these albums, mainly because we didn’t want to spend the time to write a review about the album and complain about the same old things we’ve complained about time and time again. But we have listened to the albums. For the most part, mainstream country music released several boring, middle of the road albums, but there were a few that sank lower than that.

Without further ado, here are the worst country albums of 2016 so far…

Cole Swindell – You Should Be Here 

Cole Swindell’s second album pretty much did the exact same thing as his first album and any EPs he’s released. The album kicks off with an awful duet with Dierks Bentley called “Flatliner.” A majority of You Should Be Here is straight bro-country with a hint of Nashville Pop thrown into the song’s productions. “Middle of a Memory” finds Swindell lamenting over the fact that a girl he wanted to hook up with left the bar without him. The party never stops for Cole Swindell, with “Home Game,” “Up” “Party Wasn’t Over”, and “Stay Downtown” combining scenes of drinking and hook-ups. You Should Be Here is full of shallow music, and the album’s best song, “You Should Be Here” only mustered a 4/10 grade here. The icing on the cake of the album comes with the final song, “Remember Boys.” After making a name for himself as one of country’s bros, not to mention hit song after hit song about random hook-ups for just one night, Cole Swindell thinks he can be taken seriously as a “remember boy”: someone who’s serious about a relationship with someone. Please. Cole Swindell has been and continues to be a joke.

Randy Houser – Fired Up

The biggest flaw of Randy Houser’s Fired Up is that the track list is 15 consistently boring party songs with awful puns and terribly juvenile words and phrases. There’s a bonus track called “Whiskeysippi River” and “Little Bit Older” that features the phrase, “a little bit older a little Budweiser” as if it’s supposed to be some clever pun. Fired Up starts off strong with “Back,” but the rest of the album falters. The first single, “We Went,” was one of the worst singles in 2015. And the album’s second single, “Song Number 7,” essentially rips off Luke Bryan’s “Play It Again.” There was no originality brought into the album, with bro-country after bro-country. Perhaps the only bright spot of the album is that there isn’t as much pop music in the production, but at the same time, the music isn’t all that country.

Keith Urban – Ripcord

No matter which genre you stick Ripcord in, it’s a terrible album. This album felt like a to-do list of stuff Urban wanted to try because he felt like it and there was absolutely no direction planned for it. Some of it sticks like on “Wasted Time” and “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.” The rest however is pretty much a complete mess. I hear so much from country fans that an artist’s songs aren’t bad as pop music if I dismiss it as not country music. So the overall point I wanted to make with this review was to show that genre lines really don’t matter the most when it comes to judging music’s quality. Many refer to bad country music as pop and that’s insult to pop music because there’s a lot of great pop music (see Beyoncé’s Lemonade). This album even insults pop. It’s pretty simple: there is great music and there is bad music. Ripcord is bad music.

Kane Brown – Chapter 1 (EP)

Kane Brown exploded onto country music proclaiming himself to be country’s Justin Bieber. If by Justin Bieber, he means pop star, than he hit it right on the nose. Brown’s music is nowhere near country, and his first EP with Sony proves that Kane Brown is just another metro-bro clone making the same kind of music as every other solo male act. “Wide Open” is sung with no charisma and terrible vocals. The vocal effects on “Last Minute Late Night” are annoying, while Kane Brown begs for a late night booty-call. “Excuses” and “There Goes My Everything” are straight pop songs dealing with heartbreak, but Brown’s monotone vocal delivery is terrible. Chapter 1 is completely corporate manufactured pop music sung by a different puppet.

 

Dan + Shay – Obsessed

Obsessed is bro-country attitudes wrapped up in boy band pop. Sure, Dan + Shay have “From the Ground Up,” a well written love song, but it’s impossible to call this album country music. Slick computer generated beats with R&B influences, Dan + Shay are the poor man’s Justin Timberlake. This album is produced and the songs are written solely to appeal to the teenage girl demographic. As with most of the albums on this list, Obsessed falters because it’s a pop album marketed as country music.

 

Maren Morris HEROMaren Morris – HERO

Maren Morris’ debut album is anything but country music, despite how good the music actually is. The songs are well produced and well sung by Morris. When you look at Nashville Pop, HERO is an example of how it’s done right. It’s not a country album, but it’s marketed as such. Therefore, we can look it through the lens of country music and call it one of the worst “country” albums of the year. 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.

Review – Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here”

Cole Swindell became a hot shot artist in mainstream country music right away. All four singles from his debut album peaked in the top three of the Country Airplay Chart. However, all four singles were bro country party anthems or shallow hook up songs. Cole Swindell, thus far, has been a one trick pony. With that said, he appears to be turning the corner a bit. His newest single, presumably a lead single from a forthcoming album, has a more serious tone. It’s new territory for Cole Swindell to explore with his music. However, the attempt at seriousness comes with some speed bumps and I’m not sold on Cole Swindell as a serious artist with “You Should Be Here.”

Before all you Swindell fans jump to the comments ready to berate me for not liking the song, I’m very aware at the circumstances surrounding the song. I know Cole Swindell wrote “You Should Be Here” with his late father in mind. But being a song about a loved one who has passed doesn’t make the song automatically immune to criticism.

The main problem I have with “You Should Be Here” is that the lyrics still read like a calculated hit. It’s almost as if the song was approached with the mindset of “I want to write a solemn song about a passed loved one, but it still needs to be a hit on the charts.” Mentions of cold beer and saying cheers are hooked into the chorus. The setting is fairly generic, which allows almost anyone to plug the song into their life. It’s a calculated song, written to appeal to the masses. For a song about a father who has passed on, I would have loved to hear something personal, something raw, something real. The lack of vulnerability from the lyrics takes me out of the story. How am I supposed to take this seriously as an “I miss you” song if you can’t tell me anything about the person except for they’d be having the time of their life at whatever place? The entire song can be summed up with: “hey it’s another place that we’d have a great time at. I wish you were still around to enjoy these moments with me.” The lyrics barely scratch the surface of depth and remembrance enough to detract the average listener from the notion that it’s another Cole Swindell song about a boozey good time.

The phrase “you should be here” is the only sense we get from Cole about his feelings toward the late loved one. Compare this to “I Drive Your Truck”, another song using common mainstream country tropes to tell a song about death. But the reason why Lee Brice’s song works is because the story is built around the truck. The story tells us that Brice is in pain after the loss of his brother in the song. “You Should Be Here” doesn’t attempt to bring any sort of real, honest emotion to the lyrics. Also, this is yet another song that Cole Swindell sings with little to no vocal inflection; he doesn’t sell the emotion of the song (unlike Brice who’s vocals soar in “I Drive Your Truck”).

My theory is that there’s a lack of confidence from Swindell. As I said before, he’s a one trick pony. It’s not that I don’t think he’s capable of writing an honest, vulnerable song. But I don’t think he’s confident in himself to do so for a radio single. I think Cole Swindell believes that if he doesn’t write about drinking alcohol and saying “cheers” than he won’t succeed as a country singer. I could go on with this theory, but the point is, “You Should Be Here” seems like a lazy attempt at bringing heart and the pain of losing someone into a song. I appreciate that Cole Swindell is taking some strides in his writing and trying to include more heart and honesty, but I’d love to see some commitment to the task. I connect to an emotion as a listener of music. “You Should Be Here” doesn’t have any emotion. It doesn’t hit the mark for me of a good, heartfelt song.

Grade: 4/10