Critical Voices: Thomas Rhett, Life Changes

September 22, 2017

Source: Flickr

Life Changes is country pop act Thomas Rhett’s third studio album since his 2013 debut. It is reminiscent of the transition seen in Taylor Swift’s Red, with the sound caught somewhere in the limbo between country and pop music. Despite song titles like “Drink a Little Beer” that might suggest an older audience, his album cover contains a boyband appeal. Awash in pastel pink lighting, Rhett gazes off camera, striking a pose like he could join the ranks of One Direction. That said, the album art is a perfect match for the music that he’s putting out. Life Changes is quintessential ear candy: catchy and fun to listen to but ultimately lacking in substance.

Rhett’s new album is an innovative study of how country mixes with different genres. “Gateway Love” borrows from R&B, with smooth vocals and a lush, dreamy backing track. Doo-wop and jazz are reimagined with a modern pop feel for “Sweetheart” and “Kiss Me Like A Stranger.” Although “Leave Right Now” opens to soft acoustic strumming, it surprises with a Chainsmoker-esque EDM drop in the chorus. It is a song that could easily find fans outside of the country bubble. “Drink a Little Beer” is the most egregiously country on Life Changes, with enough banjo to pull the entire album into the “country” genre. While the prominence of his country twang seems to vary from song to song, Rhett lays it on thick in this track. The song even features Rhett’s father, country singer Rhett Akins, who found moderate acclaim in the 90’s.

The musical composition is imaginative, but its lyrics seem to fall short. Rhett is a decent singer, but his singing pales in comparison to his instrumentals. Lyrics like “She got a blue check mark by her Instagram” are superficialities that this album could’ve done without. In “Smooth Like the Summer,” his monotonous vocals in the song’s chorus are lackluster and lifeless, but quirky whistling and light synth beats save the song and give it a 2000s-bubblegum pop throwback.

Fortunately, “Marry Me” features more sincere lyrics. There is a palpable rawness in Rhett’s voice as he sings about watching an unrequited love walk down the aisle to another man. All this builds up to a chorus that sounds exactly like a slowed down version of Taylor Swift’s “Style”— almost as if Rhett had to pick between either good vocals or good instrumentals on this album. It is not that Rhett isn’t a talented singer, but if it wasn’t for his southern drawl, his vocals would easily fall under the category of “generic pop radio hits.”

The instrumental arrangements themselves are delightful to listen to, but the album is undermined by dull and uninspiring lyrics. Frustratingly enough, it’s these same lyrics that are sure to worm their way into your head and have you humming along long after you have stopped listening. All in all, it is a fun menagerie of experimentation. There is an infectious lightness about the album, and Life Changes stands a firm reminder that Thomas Rhett is not country— he is pop country.

Voice’s Choices: “Leave Right Now” “Unforgettable” “Renegades”

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