Tuesday, August 19, 2014

album review: 'ignite the night' by chase rice

There's one thing that tends to be true about trends in music: the acts that jump on the trend last tend to be the absolute worst. We're looking at the group that's not perceptive enough to realize it's dead and gone, the group who are gunning for the quick cash-in, and those who weren't talented enough to ride the wave when it first began to crest.

And thus I knew that as I had chronicles the rise and subsequent collapse of bro-country, I dreaded the acts at the tail end of the trend, the ones who owed their careers to helping craft the music and now had the chance to grab a hold of the spotlight, if only for a brief time. And thus, I couldn't help but feel a certain amount of dread when I prepared to look at the major label debut of Chase Rice, who was most notable for his big single 'Ready, Set, Roll' that is only now inching up the charts. And really, that song annoyed me right out of the gate, a grab-bag of country cliches with some of the most sterile and electronic production I've heard thus far this year in country music outside of Cole Swindell. And like Cole Swindell, he got his start writing for other country acts, most notably co-writing 'Cruise' with Florida Georgia Line, a song I don't exactly dislike but one that doesn't inspire anything close to intelligence.

Now to be fair, like Florida Georgia Line, Chase Rice at least seemed to be having some fun on his song and I had heard that some of his deep cuts did actually talk about things outside of the bro-country catalogue, so I steeled myself for the absolute worst and looked up his major label debut Ignite The Night. What did I find?

Well, I got what I was expecting. In fact, I got simultaneously more and less, which makes this album at least interesting. However, that interest is for all of the wrong reasons, because Ignite The Night by Chase Rice sucks, a sloppy, derivative, poorly produced mess of a record that if there was any justice would be the end for bro-country as we know it. And what's all the more infuriating is that there are so many signs of potential on this album that there is no goddamn excuse for this record to come out this poorly. 

So before this review goes downhill fast, let me stress that there are a few things about Chase Rice as a performer that could have worked. For one, he's not a terrible singer - he's got a bit of grit and decent enough charisma - and the mix often places him right to the front of the mix which maximizes his presence. He doesn't have the boundless raw charisma of a Jake Owen or the rich baritone of a Chris Young or Luke Bryan or even the hangdog roughness of a Billy Currington, but his vocals have a little more polish and subtlety than Florida Georgia Line, and you can tell he believes what he's selling. And on top of that, from a technical songwriting point, he and his arsenal of collaborators do have a knack for a fast-paced wordy brand of songwriting that plays well to the pseudo-rap cadence he has going on. And I'll say this in Chase Rice's favour, he never comes across in his songwriting or delivery like an asshole or a creep, and the album mostly stays away from bad breakup songs to not spoil the 'good time' party vibe.

And really, this record coasts on trying to maintain that vibe. The majority of the songs on this record fall into two camps: party jams featuring all the hallmarks of bro-country, and 'romance' songs where it's a lot less about the romance and a lot more about Chase Rice drooling over the girls he writes about in detail. And despite the pileup of bad lyrics - we'll get to those - what really hurts these tracks is conceptually, there's barely anything to them, even by bro-country standards. 'Ready Set Roll', 'Do It Like This', 'Mmm Girl', 'U Turn', '50 Shades Of Crazy', 'How She Rolls' fall into the 'party-hookup' vein and feature lyrics that you could swap out from song to song across any bro-country artist that dropped an album last year. And 'We Goin' Out', 'What's Your Name', and 'Gonna Wanna Tonight' aren't far removed, the first aspiring to be an epic bro party anthem and the latter two are hookup tracks. Hell, 'Beer With The Boys' is really just a dumber, more upbeat version of Luke Bryan's 'Crash My Party', and 'Look At My Truck' is really a song showing off his beatup truck and memories for a girl hidden behind some decent description. The frustrating thing is that when Chase Rice gets away from all of this, he can write some decent songs: 'Beach Town' is a song talking about a fling on the sand, 'Carolina Can' is a song where Chase Rice tries to cope with the loss of his father through reconnecting with his roots, and 'Jack Daniels & Jesus', easily the best song on the album by a mile, is a piano ballad showing his estrangement from his family thanks to alcohol abuse and loss of faith. It's a shockingly real and personal song that shows Chase Rice might have serious chops as a dramatic songwriter - so why does over half of the album feel completely interchangeable?

Well, interchangeable except for some of the awful lyrics, that is. I'll give Chase Rice points for being able to set a scene descriptively, but I'll immediately take those points away for some truly questionable songwriting. Putting aside the fact that nobody wants to taste moonshine on the lips of their date when making out on the song 'Do It Like This', does any girl looking for guys want to be described as 'having their tummy on the prowl'? Is it ever a good idea to compare your planned party to the lecherously creepy and genuinely repulsive film Project X from 2012? Or to make Usher references on 'U Turn' that are a good ten years out of date - dude, don't drag Usher into this, you aren't even on his plane of existence with regards to talent. Or '50 Shades of Crazy', a lazy reference to the titular book that doesn't even bother to reference it or BDSM or even anything the girl does that might be considered crazy? That's one of the most obnoxious things about this record: it describes girls only by what they look like, not what they do. There's no stories here beyond Chase Rice's own story, and while that's compelling when you see it, all the women feel like sexy paper cutouts that start to blur together, which makes lot of the songwriting behind them painfully interchangeable, the same bro-country cliche girls with different flavors of lip-gloss.

Granted, that's not the only place where the songs feel interchangeable, and this takes us to instrumentation and production - and really, where to start? The ubiquitous, incredibly stiff drum machines and synthesizers that feel completely incohesive with any guitars or real drums? To their credit, it looks like the producers realized the synthetic elements dumped all over this album didn't fit with any guitar texture - and their solution was to crush the guitars into a thin-sounding slurry that runs together with the cymbals, synths, and whooshing reverb into a melody-less mass that the mix then tries to crank up with as much presence as it can possibly have. I challenge anyone to remember an instrumental melody line from this record that stands out as memorable - most of which are coming from painfully watery guitars lines that have no presence against Chase Rice's voice and sound awful against the acoustic instrumentation. And look, there are moments that aren't bad: 'Carolina Can' and 'Gonna Wanna Tonight' has a certain ghostly swell to it that definitely betrays Shane McAnally's influences in the songwriting, but when you throw in drum machines and very obvious autotune, it doesn't fit with the instrumentation and comes across as tacked on unnecessarily. The shrill keyboard tone on 'Look At My Truck', the sputtering beat and synths of 'U-Turn', the drum machines all over this album - look, thanks to his guitar tones, Chase Rice is already playing some of the most polished and sterile country music devoid of interesting melodies, but why make it worse by minimizing those melodies? Again, the best song on the album is 'Jack Daniels & Jesus', because it's a stripped back piano melody that features clear tones, a strong melody, and keeps it simple. Once again, genuinely good song...

And that's why this record angers me as much as it does. Chase Rice could have done better than the sterile, bro-country slurry he pumped out - hell, the song 'How She Rolls' has some vestige of guitar texture so it's clear he could have added some grit to these songs and he didn't. I don't mind good time party music or pop country or even bro-country done right, but give it some flavour and personality. Chase Rice, however, is playing to the lowest common denominator - leering, shallow, recycled, and completely forgettable. And he's better than this. 3/10, avoid this album, and maybe, just maybe, it'll be the death knell that bro-county so richly deserves.

No comments:

Post a Comment