Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Can’t Say I Ain’t Country’ Is Ambitious, If Overwhelming
There should be a whiplash warning on Florida Georgia Line’s new Can’t Say I Ain’t Country album. Between the guest artists, sonic variances, skits, emotions and impulses the new project keeps your head on a swivel. So we’ll parse this project, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley’s fourth since debuting with “Cruise” in 2012. Once organized the album becomes (as promised) their most country. It’s arguably their best, but like good whiskey, songs need time to age before being distilled.
Musically three of the album’s first five songs are progressively organic, honest country songs with no filter. Paul Franklin adds steel guitar to “Can’t Say I Ain’t Country,” a song that could have been born in any era. Banjo and mandolin dominate “Simple” and for what it’s worth, you’ll find ganjo on “Talk You Out of It,” the odd duck in this opening chapter. “Speed of Love” is a two-and-a-half minute long twanger with rapid-fire lyrics that’d make Garth Brooks and John Michael Montgomery proud. It’s all good stuff shug.
From there the album adheres to the provocative, cross-genre formula this duo created with Joey Moi a half-decade ago. Florida Georgia Line call in all their contemporary influences, at times recalling the Backstreet Boys (“Told You”) Luke Bryan (“People Are Different”) and Jason Aldean. The country-rocker actually opens with “Can’t Hide Red,” the better of two sister songs to “Can’t Say I Ain’t Country” (the other being “Small Town”). Hubbard, Kelley, Rob Hatch, James McNair and Ben Stennis find a new way to package a country boy’s code. “The way we walk, the way we talk / It’s the down-home way we raised / Don’t ever wanna, ain’t ever gonna change / You can’t hide red,” they sing at the chorus. If it’s not a single sometime, it’s a missed opportunity.
With four skits Can’t Say I Ain’t Country checks in at 19 tracks, far too many to ensure no single consumer avoids skipping through one or two. This is the nature of variety. However, Florida Georgia Line don’t build albums in the traditional sense. They stack songs and aim those at specific audiences. This explains how Jason Derulo can appear on a sentimental R&B track called “Women” immediately after Hubbard finishes doing his best Big & Rich. And it explains how a tender ballad called “Blessings,” the most biographical song on the album, can follow “Swerve,” a song that warns “Yeah, I’mma two-step up to you with that booty in them pants.”
It’s whiplash, but whiplash is en vogue if you haven’t noticed. What Florida Georgia Line continue to do better than any other modern country artist is create art for the Twitter and Instagram economy. They’re not your granddad’s brand of country music because they don’t live in your granddad’s society. That is an innovator’s secret.