Usually such a list is only reserved for the worst songs at the halfway pole of a given year, but 2016 has been especially lush with heartbreakily bad efforts, including from some artists who tend to be on the right side of the good music/ bad music divide. So before we really take the gloves off and rail on the worst songs, let’s reflect back on 2016 biggest disappointments in the album category.
Dierks Bentley – Black
We’ve always known that Dierks will release a terrible song on you, but then he’ll turn right around and atone almost immediately. On Black, you keep waiting for this atonement, you keep waiting for things to turn around as track after track rolls by, searching for that distinctive Dierks song that’s sensible and pragmatic, but still really says something. And it never really comes. This is not the Dierks Bentley that Cody Canada named his kid after, or even the Dierks of his last record Riser. This is the realization of Dierks Bentley the Music Row tool.
This is not the Dierks we know and love. This is a Dierks record where he says “girl” 30-something times, and the perspectives of the songs are told from behind a smartphone. “Somewhere On A Beach” is insufferable. Dierks’ monotone cadence on “Roses And A Time Machine” is like corkscrews in the ears. I get a sense that somewhere out there is a discussion about how his duet with Elle King called “It’s Different For Girls” is all wrong, while another side is saying it’s supposed to be taken sarcastically. But cast my vote for the song being wrong-minded and presumptuous. And just because a song is about a breakup doesn’t immediately make it deep, especially if it is done in a douchebag perspective perpetually stuck in 22-years-old like so many of these songs.
As someone who’s apologized for Dierks often, and defended him just as much, Black is a big ol’ disappointment, and a blemish on his musical legacy that no street cred can erase, and now excuses can explain away. (read full review)
Blake Shelton – If I’m Honest
So full-time coach for NBC’s reality show singing competition The Voice, and part-time country music artist Blake Shelton has a new record out, and has successfully parleyed interest in his drama-laden personal life into elevated interest and sales of his music. Well let’s take a good long sniff and see what we smell.
If I’m Honest starts off with the most objectionable example of a Bro-Country song this side of Chase Rice. Called “Straight Outta Cold Beer,” it’s somehow even worse than what the title implies. Just in case you thought that most despicable era in country music history would go away with a whimper, here’s proof from the boneheaded songwriter Ben Hayslip that we still have some leftover Bro-Country song inventory that must be purged out of the system before we can finally write the epitaph on this mess.
But If I’m Honest is not a Bro-Country record, or exclusively a revenge record. In fact it’s far from it. If it’s anything in a nutshell, it is Blake Shelton’s headfirst dive into the adult contemporary era of his career. Early 2000’s Tim McGraw, eat your heart out. A plurality of the songs on this 15-track album are textbook examples of divorcee country 2016 style, which means ultra contemporized, scrubbed of anything sonically or lyrically that actually resembles country, and curated for 40 and 50-something cougars to listen to while they relax in bubble baths for two hours surrounded by fruity-smelling candles. (read full review)
Maren Morris – Hero
R.J. Curtis of All Access says this album is a “masterpiece” and the best album of 2016 while comparing it to Randy Travis’ Storms of Life and Garth Brooks’ No Fences in how it could completely reshape the country format. And we don’t even need to wait until the 2nd half of the year to conclude this, just shower Maren Morris with all the plaudits now.
Well shit if that’s the case I guess I got the wrong album, because all I’m hearing is derivative, rehashed pop diva hip-hop crap from a honky chick hailing from white flight suburbia trying to exude too much attitude in songs that mix rap cadences with cultural misappropriations in an attempt to pander to a new demographic of music listeners since mainstream country has scared off or abandoned its core audience from the last 60 years.
In a word, Maren Morris’ HERO is bullshit.
This is way more Beyoncé than Barbara Mandrell, or even Taylor Swift. Meghan Trainor’s record is more country than this. HERO is simply an urban format album released to the country format because on KISS-FM this shit would never fly. HERO the female equivalent of Sam Hunt’s Montevallo. (read full review)
Keith Urban – Ripcord
You may ask yourself, if you dare venture onto the radio dial these days to partake in the popular country channel, why the airwaves are filled with 40-something and 50-something performers like Keith Urban soliloquizing about teenage and young adult life? Well the answer is demographics. There are way more human beings out there living regular lives, raising kids, and looking forward to retirement than there are pimple-faced teenagers trying to get laid. But those teenagers and young adults are the ones the advertisers covet. So ultimately this trickles down to the artists of popular country music, who are solely employed to lure these spend-happy younger consumers to radio to keep the mainstream country music system flush with ad revenue. And the ultimate result is an effort like Keith Urban’s new record.
Ripcord is a synthy, shallow, rhythmic-centric gaggle of immediately forgettable efforts that is obsessed with the doings of early adulthood in an unhealthy manner for a 49-year-old performer, and offers absolutely no type of statement or expression either sonically, lyrically, creatively, or otherwise.
Ripcord is a mess, and presents Keith Urban as the ultimate country music tool. The final song “Worry ‘Bout Nothin’” has a line that goes, “Tryin’ to make the money but the money ain’t gonna make me,” but that is exactly what Ripcord‘s sole purpose is about. You’re telling me when Keith Urban was a kid and was dreaming about a career in country music that this is what he envisioned? Ripcord‘s entire mission is to hopefully usher in a 3rd decade of earning performance for a 50-year-old performer to for a record label completely out of ideas other than follow the leader. On this record, Keith Urban is nothing more than a vessel for focus group-tested and data-driven producers to make hyper-catchy rhythms to unlock the highest commercial potential in an aging franchise name that we all know will eventually succumb to the inherent ageism of the industry. (read full review)
Randy Houser – Fired Up
New Theory: Many 3rd tier mainstream major label country stars are nothing more than musical dumping grounds for all the excess songwriting material left over at the tail end of a dying trend. That’s about the only explanation for the relentless onslaught of outdated and terrible material you’re exposed to on Randy Houser’s new album Fired Up.
It’s really pretty incredible how bad this Randy Houser record is. Not that we should be too surprised. He may have put enough time and distance between himself and a songwriting credit on Trace Adkins “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” to be forgiven for any wrongdoing there, and he may have quite the strong voice, but much of the Bro-Country era was spurned by the tip of Randy’s songwriting pen, as it was his buddy Dallas Davidson, both of whom are all over this record.
And 17 songs? This album is merciless. There can be no other explanation than they wanted to get all this Bro-ish material out there before the trend completely dried up, so they crammed as much material as would fit on a compact disc without requiring a double album. (read full review)
(albums not yet reviewed, or so irrelevant they’re not worth paying attention to.)
• Kane Brown – Chapter I (ep)
Let’s hope Kane continues to struggle in the real world where he can’t fudge the numbers and this unfortunate country music career gets squashed in the womb.
• Cole Swindell- You Should Be Here
The masters of Bro-Country are filing into line to prove they have gravitas in the face of dwindling support for their party hardy dreck falling so quickly out of favor. Prove you can be an artist of substance, or you may not be long for this world. As scary of a proposition as this must be for Florida Georgia Line, think about if you’re Cole Swindell, whose dwelled solely in the wake of artists like Florida Georgia Line for his entire career. But old habits die hard, and it’s easier to do a U-turn in a battleship than to retool Music Row’s songwriting consortium on the fly.
• LOCASH – The Fighters
Hopefully the world dies before I’m forced to review this.