Album Review: What Makes You Country by Luke Bryan
Fairly Good, Based on 4 Critics
Paste Magazine - 70 Based on rating 7.0/10
In a section of the music industry where chart hits and radio plays still rule the day, Luke Bryan--arguably the biggest star in country music--is now attempting the most difficult follow-up effort ever. Two years ago, his fifth album Kill The Lights was the first in history to send six singles to the top of Billboard's Country Airplay chart. Released in a steady drip across 2015 and 2016, those hits--"Strip It Down" and "Kick The Dust Up" the biggest among them--cemented Bryan as a superstar, status he earned when his previous two albums (2011's Tailgates & Tanlines and 2013's Crash My Party) dominated the country charts and peaked in the upper reaches of Billboard's albums chart.
A nyone who needs reminding of the vast gulf that can still exist between British and American pop culture might consider the case of Luke Bryan. His name is unlikely to provoke more than a blank stare in Britain, but in the US he is one of country music's biggest stars, a man who has sold 34m albums and singles, and whose last album, 2015's Kill the Lights, kept Dr Dre's Compton off the No 1 spot in a much-publicised chart battle. A look at his website is like a glimpse into a parallel musical universe: tours that ignore Manhattan and LA in favour of farms in Centralia, Missouri, and Edinburg, Illinois; gigs in South Carolina cancelled as a result of weather evacuations; merchandise that includes not merely T-shirts and trucker caps but cornhole boards, ideal for your next tailgate; and sponsorship deals with hunting equipment retailers.
"People talking about what is and what ain't country," sings Luke Bryan at the opening of What Makes You Country. He poses this at a time when the contours of mainstream country are shifting, a change that coincides with Bryan turning from an upstart into a veteran. During his decade of dominance, the sound of mainstream modern country was largely the sound of Luke Bryan: cheerful odes to country, drinking, and love.
Country superstar Luke Bryan's sixth album What Makes You Country opens with the title track, a stomping Southern rock assertion of downhome cred that says, essentially, country is an expression that comes in many shapes and sizes. Fair enough, because over the course of 15 tracks he outlines a template for modern country that includes the surprisingly believable R&B sex jams "Bad Lovers" and "Hungover in a Hotel Room," as well as the icy, synth-driven flip of gender roles in "Pick It Up" and the gloriously goofy sing-along "Drinking Again. " There are a few whiffs, like the foul "She's a Hot One" ("She might be a mess, but she's a hot one"), but Bryan truly excels when he's all nostalgic for the uncomplicated ease of a summer fling in "Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset" or subtly acknowledging the beauty of all types of love in the gently uplifting "Most People Are Good.