Luke Bryan has made a career of being country’s polite party boy. He doesn’t have the dangerous edginess of an Eric Church or Jamey Johnson (or even of his good buddy, Jason Aldean), but he surely knows how to show you a good time (as evidenced on his “Spring Break” series of EPs), and possibly get you to shed your clothes while doing so.
On his new album, “Crash My Party,” out today, the reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year delivers another round of songs designed to show that he’s still the guy you want by your side, whether it’s to chug your beer or cry in it (and here, he does his fair share of crying). The songs are uniformly commercial and relatively risk free, but for Bryan fans, it will be a nice new chapter in a pleasingly familiar book, if not a particularly high-octane one. With his career riding a high on the back of this ACM award, it would have been nice if he’d taken a few risks, but that doesn’t seem to be what he or his fans want. Look for "Crash My Party" to bow atop the Billboard 200 and the Billboard Country Albums chart next week.
Here’s a track-by-track review:
“That’s My Kind of Night”: A straight-up, good time opener. As he does a lot, Bryan throws in all the country tropes: a truck, getting out into the country (he is the one guy that figures his little country cutie likes it “way out where the corn rows grow,” instead of downtown. He’s got a mixtape that includes country and hip-hop: “ A little Conway and a little T-Pain,” he sings. Despite (or perhaps because of) the lowest common denominator cookie cutter lyrics and his somewhat awkward delivery, the song is already soaring up the Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, no doubt due to the driving beat. Grade: C
“Beer In The Headlights”: Country music provides cute word play in its titles better than anyone, and this song is no exception. This mid-tempo track delivers the same message as “That’s My Kind Of Night” —he’s alone with his girl out in the country, hanging out in or by his truck, and her beer is in the headlights—and yet he delivers it so much more convincingly here. His voice, which can be a little nasally, fits the melody much better. Grade: B
“Crash My Party”: After this "Spring Break" EPs and 2011 album, "Tanlines and Tailgates," it was understandable from the title alone that folks expected this tune, the first single and title track, to be an upbeat kicker. Instead, it’s a mid-tempo invitation to love, a less sensual, sweeter “Come Over.” His love is welcome anytime, anywhere because he knows she’s a better time than anything else he’s got going on. “This is a drop-everything, kind of thing, swing on by, i’ll pour you a drink, the door’s unlocked, I’ll leave on the lights...” If a women sings it, sadly, it still can sound desperate. Here, it sounds like a beautifully open-ended invitation. Grade: B+
“Roller Coaster”: Bryan is in the amusement park of love, and his lady is twisting him around like a roller coaster, keeping him on the edge of his seat, and not necessarily in a good way. It’s a potentially dark ride. Grade: B
“We Run This Town”: Bryan takes a look back at his formative years in this wistful mid-tempo, guitar-driven track. “From crazy kids to dirt road kings/Oh, we didn’t know nothin’, but we knew everything,” he sings of those days when he and his buddies “thought we made the world go ‘round.” Grade: B
“Drink A Beer”: Bryan does vulnerability well, no more so on “Crash This Party” than on “Drink A Beer.” His friend has died and he has no answers. He sits on the edge of a pier, the one they used to sit on together, and drink a beer. Enhanced by spare production, the acoustic guitar ballad doesn’t try to be a tearjerker, and that’s part of its appeal. It just invites you to live in the moment of finding out bad news and being in shock and needing to just breathe. Grade: A-
“I See You”: Bryan, who co-wrote this spiky, jaunty track, returns to the bar, but in true fashion, is still stuck on the one girl who has dumped him. The bevy of beauties try to lure him onto the floor, but he can’t forget. Grade: B-
“Goodbye Girl”: Another mid-tempo track and another tune about a girl who has the ability to break his heart (though he never seems to crushed by anything). He’s given her the keys to his heart and even though she “scatter(s) in the wind just like a dandelion/reminding me again that you ain't ever mine for long,” he can’t be the one to pull the plug on the DOA romance. Emotionally, Bryan seems willing to take songs only so far and this is another example. Grade: B-
“Play It Again”: Bryan delivers the best sexual euphemism in this mid-tempo tale of meeting girl who he falls for on the spot. “Soon as I sat down, I was fallin’ in love/Tryin’ to pour a little sugar in her Dixie cup.” I may be reading too much into this sweet tale of falling in love over a song and a dance. One of the best songs on the album. Grade: B+
“Blood Brothers”: The Dixie cups return, but this time he’s drinking “bad booze” out of them in this song, that like “We Run This Town,” looks back at an earlier time. This time the content is slightly edgier (as is the guitar), as Bryan recounts a rough-edged youth “We were young as we were dumb/when we piled in an old pile of junk/It was all-for-one and all for one/Bunch of outlaws without a gun.” Sadly, he can’t really sell the grittiness the song deserves. Grade: C
“Out Like That”: He’s out with his girl in a truck again and he’s delivered songs like this on every track. His girl is driving him wild and he doesn’t want to hold back. They’re going to dance in the rain as the lights from his headlights capture the beauty of her face. A sure bet for a single and a likely No. 1. Slightly up-tempo rockers like this with this kind of theme are Bryan’s sweet spot. Grade: B+
“Shut It Down”: Another song with nice word play- this time build around how “any hay to make can wait for now” (literally), as this farmer and his wife go make hay while the sun shines figuratively. Who doesn’t love a guy with a farmer’s tan? Grade: B
“Dirt Road Diary”: The second song on the set co-written by Bryan takes a seemingly autobiographical turn as he relives his youth, riding in a car with his dad and as he got older, reveling in “tan legs and some Dixieland delight.” He seems to enjoy looking back a little on this album and the triptych of reminiscences serve him reasonably well. Grade: B