Tim McGraw gives us a lot to digest with this one.
As the man who has become a surprising revivalist and breath of fresh air in the mainstream over the last few years, even some independent fans and Americana snobs keep one eye in the direction of the black hatted one to hear what a new single might have to offer. After all, it was Tim McGraw who took Lori McKenna’s brilliant “Humble and Kind” hard to #1, as well as to big award wins at the Grammys and CMAs. “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” “How I’ll Always Be,” and a handful of other Tim McGraw singles in recent years actually give you a sliver of respite when you’re stuck in a Corolla with your cousin and they insist on blasting the Kicker Country Cumulus station.
Tim McGraw recently took time from crushing his core-sculpting exercises and scratching items off of Faith Hill’s honey do list to record a new single called “Neon Church.” If someone simply handed you a lyric sheet for this song, you’d probably nod in approval, even though the whole drawing of parallels between a barstool and a church pew has been reused more times than the car seats in a family with seven kids. But hey, this is the mainstream, and Tim McGraw. It’s a drinking song. So that’s something I guess.
It’s the music and production of “Neon Church” where the battle lines will be drawn in the sandlot, and straight down the middle of the country music cultural divide. The song starts out in a way that immediately makes you worry that McGraw has backslid into his adult contemporary phase, which in all honestly, he probably has with this song, at least to an extent. But more than adult contemporary, the best way to characterize “Neon Church” might be “epic,” and not in an entirely flattering way.
A wall of sound blasts you in the face as this song gets going, like walking into a men’s bathroom with still air and someone struggling with his pants around his ankles in stall #2. It sounds like someone hired Steve Vai to fly to Nashville, sling a guitar over his shoulder, and do his worst on this track for an afternoon. “Neon Church” is like the country music version of Journey. McGraw may be no Steve Perry, but this song does favor Tim’s higher range, which is fine, but at this pitch he loses a bit of his Louisiana twang, creating further distance between this song and the “country” label.
But all criticisms aside, and after a week of listening, it’s relatively fair to conclude that “Neon Church” is harmless, mostly at least. It’s sure as hell of a lot better than “Truck Yeah” and “Lookin’ For That Girl,” which both inhabit the douchebag fraternity of Tim McGraw lead singles from the recent past. The first song you hear from a new Tim McGraw record is almost guaranteed to be the worst. So you take your lumps and hope McGraw buries his nose in Lori McKenna’s Soundcloud demos for whatever is coming up next. This song will be a monster hit though, and has already been added like hell at corporate radio.
“Neon Church” is not great, but it could be worse. Sorry Tim, but that’s the best compliment I could muster here. Your pectoral muscles remain ravishing though.