After winning the coveted CMA Entertainer of the Year award, with the help of his hugely successful Tailgates & Tanlines, Luke Bryan now finds himself in the unenviable, but inevitable position of having to follow up its chart longevity. Armed with its hit title track, Bryan’s latest offering, Crash My Party, is fraught with catchy hooks and strong melodies, but it’s often sidetracked by reductive and forgettable lyrics (“Out where the corn rows grow/Row, row my boat/Floatin’ down the Flint River/Catch us up a little catfish dinner”). Ironically, the set’s most disposable track (“I See You”) was co-written by Bryan himself, yet he later manages to redeem his musical faux pas with the reflective life ballad “Dirt Road Diary.
The title Crash My Party alone is a tip-off that Luke Bryan is quite comfortable residing within the party-hearty persona he's slowly crafted over the course of five years -- ever since he started his pivot away from the traditional country of his 2007 debut. Looking back, it's hard to believe Bryan ever could've been pegged as a possible neo-traditionalist, a singer/songwriter who penned much of his own material and seemed intent on injecting a modicum of twang into his songs. Nowadays, after racking up happy hits like "Rain Is a Good Thing" and "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)," and cannily carving out a position as the country version of James Franco's Alien singing unironic red-state "Spring Break Forever" anthems for booze-soaked bros and gals, Luke Bryan doesn't seem like he ever once bothered with the backwood.
Luke Bryan's fourth album opens audaciously, following some T-Pain-name-checking hick-hop boom-bap with some fast-rhyming drama. Before long, though, the party really does crash: Tempos slow, themes get deep. Bryan spends several songs mooning over girlfriends or his lost small-town youth. Pop-rock riffs try to jump-start "I See You" and "Out Like That," and the all-for-one male bonding of "Blood Brothers" ignites a Bon Jovi blaze of glory.
The most uncomfortable Luke Bryan sounds on “Crash My Party,” his fourth album, is at the beginning of the second song. It’s called “Beer in the Headlights,” and it’s about a familiar kind of romantic infatuation. Mr. Bryan begins the ode by sketching out a magical rural night: “Honeysuckle in the air/Breeze blowing through your hair.” Boy, does he sound ill at ease painting this picture, the sort of scene that’s taught on the first day of Country Songs 101.
Luke Bryan’s new album comes complete with a pre-sold No. 1 song in the title track. The burbling ballad cannily upends the platinum-selling, award-winning singer-songwriter’s one-man-spring-break image, offering a vision of a sensitive boyfriend ready to drop everything — even a night out raising hell with his bros! — for the right lady. On a record choking on current country songwriting cliches — there are more tanned legs and tailgates here than in a Kenny Chesney stadium show parking lot — it is a musical Heimlich maneuver.