This album was what originally sparked the explosion of ‘Bro-Country’ into the mainstream Pop world in 2013. The genre had actually existed for a long time before that (its progenitor, Trace Adkins’ “Honky-Tonk Badonkadonk”, dates all the way back to 2005), but it was in 2013 that the mainstream became aware of it and it acquired the extreme negative reputation and derogatory nickname it enjoys today. This album received a fair share of that scorn at the time, but to be honest, I think that in this case some of that hatred may not have been entirely deserved.
Don’t get me wrong, this album has all the requisite flaws that are intrinsic to the ‘Bro-Country’ genre…the synthetic slickness, the swaggering machismo, the blend of Country and Hip-Hop tropes that is ultimately authentic to neither. But anything that sparks a trend as massive and pervasive as this album did probably has some merit. After all, Bro-Country is essentially just the Country equivalent of Hair Metal, and like that genre, it’s possible to do it competently even if you don’t completely avoid its intrinsic failings. After all, party music is a valid genre niche, and that’s all this album is or ever pretended to be.
And it’s certainly true that, even in 2013, there was far worse Bro-Country out there than this…like Blake Shelton’s Based On a True Story, Luke Bryan’s Crash My Party, and Justin Moore’s Off the Beaten Path, to name three obvious examples. And after such truly horrible efforts as Jerrod’s Neimann’s High Noon, Chase Rice’s Ignite the Night, and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo in 2014 or Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights and Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up in 2015…not to mention FLG’s own follow-up album, Anything Goes…one almost wishes we had appreciated it when our Bro-Country was this capable.
The three Top Forty hits from the album, “Cruise”, “Get Your Shine On”, and “Round Here”, while not exactly breaking new ground, are catchy, effective party anthems that really are genuinely enjoyable in a primitive way. Their superiority to most of the rest of the genre is highlighted by their co-author credits—”Cruise” and “Round Here” were co-authored by Chase Rice and Thomas Rhett, respectively, and say what you will about them, they’re much better than the work either man generally did on their own albums.
The other single from the main album, “Stay”, is actually a genuinely moving ballad, and constitutes the high point of the album…but then, of course, it’s really a song by retro-rock band Black Stone Cherry that was farmed out to the duo. Given how their other attempts at ‘serious’ songwriting like “Dirt” and “H.O.L.Y.” have turned out, this makes a lot of sense. Then again, Luke Bryan got his two best songs, “Do I” and “Drink a Beer”, by allowing more legit acts than himself to do the songwriting (Lady Antebellum on the former, Chris Stapleton on the latter), so there’s at least a precedent in their field for this kind of thing.
Most of the album follows the template of the three big hits…the self-explanatory title track, the crass ode to a beautiful woman “Dayum”, the straightforward drinking song “Tip It Back”…but they usually avoid most of the more reprehensible qualities that other Bro-Country songs indulged in. “Tell Me How You Like It” is even rather sweet in its sentiments, and “Hell Raisin’ Heat of the Summer”, a reminiscence on past good times and seizing the day, actually becomes kind of touching towards the end. The only track that really approaches the awfulness of “Boys Round Here” or “That’s My Kind of Night” is “It’z Just What We Do” (yes, that’s actually how they spelled it), an obnoxious and highly unfortunate attempt at Country-Rap. That said, the vaguely Hip-Hop-inflected “Party People” is a surprisingly excellent party song, and every bit as effective as the three big hits.
Granted, the bonus tracks on the rerelease version, apart from the single “This Is How We Roll” with Luke Bryan (which is about on the level of the first three singles), are much worse than the ones on the main album. But this is a near-universal phenomenon that affects even some of the truly great albums, so it seems unfair to hold it against this one, especially since even the highly unpleasant “Take It Out On Me” or the unfortunately-worded love song “Hands On You” are not as bad as “The Motto” (a bonus track from Drake’s masterpiece Take Care) or “7/11” (a bonus track from Beyonce’s acclaimed self-titled album). (I know I bring up those particular examples a lot, but they really do serve as an effective benchmark for how even masterpiece-level albums can produce exceptionally terrible bonus tracks.)
I’m not saying that this is the best I’ve ever seen the Bro-Country genre done. Most of Jason Aldean’s Bro-Country albums are better than this, and then of course there’s Chris Young’s AM, always the go-to resource when people claim not all Bro-Country has to be horrible. And I certainly wouldn’t call this album brilliant…it succeeds admirably at what it was meant to be, but apart from “Stay”, it never really tries for more. But given the depths that the Bro-Country genre would sink to in coming years (and yes, I’m aware that FLG were far from blameless in that process themselves), this album doesn’t really seem to be much of a convincing target for hatred anymore. I’m aware that its singles did spark the whole mainstream explosion of bad Country party songs, and that therefore we can on some level blame this album for those later releases. But the reason it was able to cause enough of a sensation to start that ball rolling is because it really is good party music…catchy, lively and not stupid enough to distract you from the celebration. This isn’t by any stretch a great album, but it is a pretty decent one, and I think it’s time we cut its legacy a certain amount of slack.