Damn you Thomas Rhett for making me have to figure out who the hell “Lunchmoney Lewis” is.
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Forget what I or anyone else has to say, if you attached a lie detector test to Thomas Rhett and asked him if he thought his new album Tangled Up was in any way country and he had the audacity to answer “yes,” the seismic needles would start jerking harder than when San Andreas finally gives up California into the Pacific Ocean.
I predict we’re a mere six months away from a “country” artist releasing an album that is completely and totally not country (just like Rhett has done here), an album better categorized in numerous other genres (like Tangled Up), and when a reporter confronts the artist straight up about how the album is mislabeled, the performer will just say, “Yeah, so what if it isn’t country? What are you going to do about it? Evolution.”
The hubris, the insult of calling Tangled Up “country,” the effrontery to the institution and the brazenness of the act are unparalleled, and start country music down a brambled path towards a terrible demise where it can’t define its own borders or distinguish itself from the rest of American music. For the first time, we ask the question, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” and cannot give ourselves a reassuring answer. The circle is in perilous danger of snapping in half from the reckless abandon and selfish aims of today’s stars, and the pieces being carelessly tossed in the mud—cast aside like some forgotten trinkets in a mad obsession with today and the here and now.
“We’re one of those genres that sort of lives in this bubble that everyone is a little bit scared to poke that bubble, because we’re worried about what will happen when that bubble breaks,” Thomas Rhett is quoted as saying, apparently clueless how the bursting of bubbles is commonly used as an analogy for the total implosion or annihilation of things.
“To me, I want to be that artist that when my buddies are watching me, they’ll say ‘Dang, I can’t believe they just did that in their concert.’ Or they hear a song on the record and go ‘How in the world did they cut that song and get away with it?’ There’s something kind of rebelliously fun about it.”
In other words, Thomas Rhett regards the destruction of country music and its cultural foundations as sport and amusement.
A product of nepotism and an incarnated machination of the Nashville machine, Thomas Rhett doesn’t possess particularly impressive songwriting skills. Rhett has not ascended to his station in music from the strength of his vocal prowess or musicianship. Thomas Rhett isn’t especially pretty or charismatic, or artistically talented as a performer. Thomas Rhett’s ultimate gift is his ability to relinquish his free will unconditionally, suppress any and all inclinations to express himself artistically in anything resembling an original form, and allow producers to do their worst with his name and likeness as their fully indentured economic vehicle, with the ultimate result being capital acquisition on a grand scale. He might as well be a hologram.
There’s no material basis, no lineage to trace, no current event to point to, or logical explanation for why this R&B-influenced form of “country” has cut across the entirety of the mainstream, swallowing souls and spitting out regurgitated disco tracks left and right, except to point to it as a symptom of a broken organization that has no ideas left, and nowhere else to turn.
Trying to find a sliver of originality on Tangled Up is a test of fortitude and will, not only from the patience and attention to minute detail one must posses to search for such a rarity, but in the search process one is being mercilessly pummeled by inalienably banal audio affronts that make concentration and patience impossible. Virtually everything on Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up is begged, borrowed, or stolen. Nothing has been “created” here except the facade of originality, which is wafer thin and anemic. With songs such as “Crash and Burn,” and “Vacation,” the thievery from artists like Sam Cooke and War is obvious. In the case of the latter, songwriting credits were even dished out. In the case of the former, they should have been.
Songs like “Anthem,” “South Side,” and “Tangled” are selections that are better suited to be categorized in every single other major American genre instead of country. With “South Side,” the lyrics read like a sonnet to stupidity.
Now people on the left, shake your south side
People on the right shake your south side
Every single girl shake your south side
All around the world shake your south side
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
It’s all Sam Hunt’s fault for starting us down this Metro-Bro road, but on a personal level, Sam Hunt at least comes across as somewhat personable and well-spoken. Thomas Rhett? He comes across as a wide-eyed goober who is too slow to understand he’s become Music Row’s ultimate tool.
Tangled Up isn’t without its efforts to appeal to a more attentive, cultured, and country crowd. “Die a Happy Man” is what passes for the “country” song on this record simply because it has steel guitar plopped between R&B sounds. It’s an attempt to justify the umpteen trespasses Tangled Up possesses against country music, to shield Rhett from criticism as a token gesture. It should be taken as an insult instead as an olive branch. “The Day You Stop Lookin’ Back” actually has a semblance of a story and purpose, even though it is beset with electronic drum beats like so many of this album’s selections, and the production is sanguine, and predictable.
Sam Hunt could be written off as an anomaly. But artists such as Brett Eldredge, and now Thomas Rhett adopting this R&B approach in a wholesale, album-wide, across the slate manner marks the institutionalizing of Metro-Bro within the format in a manner that puts country on perilous footing, precariously balanced and susceptible to bursting (to use Rhett’s) analogy, with the result being the complete evisceration of the country music institution in its traditionally-accepted form.
I had a rather unfavorable view of this effort.