Apr 9, 2015

Single Review: Thomas Rhett - Crash and Burn

Thomas Rhett loves him some Bruno Mars. He's made that clear in past interviews. He even covered Mars' "When I Was Your Man" for a one-off single. So? Big deal, you say. Most of us like Bruno Mars; he of throwback rhythms, sock-hop soul, and late night come ons. Mars appeals to teens and olds alike with his general classiness and big, catchy smash hits that are ubiquitous to movie soundtracks, kiddie dance teams, trendy clubs, and awards show spectaculars alike. That's all true, but Thomas Rhett is a country singer, or at least when he filled out the job application his dad handed him, he checked off "country singer" on the Preferred Specialty field.

"Crash and Burn," Rhett's new single, may not be the least country single ever released to country radio (Sam Hunt and Jerrod Niemann have something to say about that), but it continues the push away from anything resembling Hank, Waylon, Tammy, Alan, or hell, Garth… that the Nashville machine continues to support. On the plus side, at least it errs by going the classy-pop-R&B route rather than the trashy-hick-hop route of most of Rhett's peers, but still …it's not country. It's catchy as hell, but it's not country.

The vocals are decent enough, but the performance fairly lacking in the soul you might expect from a tune like this. The songwriting is solid (Chris Stapleton's name is on it after all), it's the production that does all the damage. Snaps, claps, whistles, beats… (I'm not sure I hear a single stringed instrument in there). The backing vocal (which I believe is an unfortunately disguised Stapleton) at times even sounds like that great country music icon, Nelly.

Mainstream country has been trying to rebrand the "country" in its genre name as "every type of music popular in the country called America" rather than "rural music" for a while now. The argument can be made that Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (at times), Garth Brooks and others already took country away from its roots with their crossover music and that it's all cyclical… but I'm not sure it is anymore. Cyclical now means trading one non-country trend for another, bro-country for EDM for blue-eyed soul for who knows what's next. I'm doubtful the cycle will ever return to traditional or even neo-traditional.

"Crash and Burn" isn't a flashpoint or a particularly aggressive slight against all traditional country fans hold dear; it's just another signpost in a great genre's loss of identity. This sounds like a smash hit; I just wish it was on pop radio alongside Bruno.


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