Rascal Flatts have become a country staple simply because they make okay songs and have regularly made okay songs for over fifteen years.
Their best known singles such as “What Hurts The Most” and “Bless The Broken Road” aren’t good, but they’re not something you’d turn off if it was the only thing on the radio. They’re middle of the road country that serves as a bathroom break or to fill dead air. Unfortunately, this album isn’t even okay.
If I had to sum up Back to Us – the tenth album by Rascal Flatts – in one word, it’s lazy. There is nothing new on the album. Likewise, there is nothing challenging, few things interesting, and even fewer things engaging. Singer Gary LeVox, bassist Jay DeMarcus, and guitarist Joe Don Rooney are all old hats at the music business and could probably write an album in their sleep for how long they’ve been in the country music industry.
I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Back to Us has proven my guess right, because it certainly sounds like it was written in fifteen minutes to fill a deadline. Absolutely nothing new is brought to the table and all of the songs have the same sort of boring, middle of the road, absolutely generic sound. Rascal Flatts hits all the cliches: songs about their girl, an obligatory Johnny Cash namedrop, something vaguely beachy, something overwrought and needlessly dramatic. But that’s all they do. They just hit the cliches and don’t push past them or take the album in any sort of direction in response to the country music cliches. It’s just plain boring.
One of the songs off the second half of the album, “Kiss You While I Can,” exemplifies this laziness. On this half-hearted beach song, Rascal Flatts doesn’t commit. They just give the bare minimum. There are lyrics about summer, ocean, sand, and something that vaguely sounds like steel drums in the background, but the overall sound is like someone told Rascal Flatts to write a beach song in five minutes. Even taking out the confused aesthetic, the song suffers from confusing choices. That jump from the verses to chorus that kind of sounds like a key change is far too abrupt for it’s own good. This sort of thrown together laziness is emblematic of the entire album: nothing’s thought through and everything’s half-assed.
The songs that aren’t lazy, Rascal Flatts doesn’t simply think through. The biggest offender is “Vandalized,” a jaunty and bright song about an abusive relationship. LeVox happily sings lyrics where he compares himself to a house window and his love interest to a brick tossed through it, or himself to a mailbox and his love interest to a baseball bat. I’m not condemning songs about abusive or troubled relationships, I’m condemning songs about abusive or troubled relationships with absolutely no sign that the band knows this is a song about an abusive relationship to begin with. I cannot overstate how weirdly upbeat this song is and how there’s seems to have been no thought behind pairing lyrics about an abusive relationship with peppy horns and a guitar line that seems Xeroxed from previous hit “Life is a Highway.” LeVox ends the song by happily singing “girl you love breaking me, don’t you” with absolutely zero sign of self-reflection.
What bright spots there are are few and far between. Lead single “Yours If You Want It” is thankfully not as boring as the rest of the album. The way that LeVox intones “banged up, beat up, scarred up heart” elevates the chorus to something interesting. It still is incredibly generic, which means it most likely will enjoy a healthy time on the top of Billboard’s country charts. Another highlight, “Are You Happy Now” is a duet with singer Lauren Alaina. Admittedly, Alaina is trying a bit too hard in the song, especially when compared to the rest of the band, but her actually putting in effort is a welcome change from the entire album.
For a band that’s been in the business as long as they have, you’d think that Rascal Flatts would be able to create a halfway decent album in their sleep. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. Back to Us is lazy, a boring album whose few highlights can’t boost a terminally dull production.