Thomas Rhett, Life Changes | Album Review
Thomas Rhett puts together an enjoyable, well-rounded effort on this third album, ‘Life Changes.’ ‘Life Changes’ represents the new generation of country.
Thomas Rhett hit it big in 2015 with his sophomore album, Tangled Up. Tangled Up ended up going platinum, led by a multiplatinum, Grammy-nominated single, “Die A Happy Man.” With momentum on his side, Rhett drops his third studio album, Life Changes. Like Tangled Up, Rhett doesn’t play by a pre-established ‘country’ script. He’s willing to expand upon the tried-and-true, incorporating numerous styles, including pop, electronic, and R&B. It doesn’t always work seamlessly, but more often than not, Life Changes is captivating.
Promo single “Craving You,” featuring Maren Morris, commences Life Changes in spirited fashion. A solid country-pop joint, the chemistry between Rhett and Morris is excellent. Serving as the opener, it’s a smart choice, given the high-flying energy. While “Craving You” doesn’t feel as dramatic as some of the most pop-centric moments of Tangled Up, it still may not win over traditionalists.
While “Unforgettable” seems a bit underwhelming at first, there’s magic with successive listens. Arguably, “Unforgettable” doesn’t win over a crossover audience or build the Thomas Rhett country base, but it’s thoughtful. There is, however, a bit more country-ness here. Notably, thematically, Rhett reminisces on his courtship and eventual marriage. Similarly, on highlight, “Sixteen,” he continues to be reflective. He examines life and the things associated with particular ages. In his eyes, as he gets older, he grows more mature and priorities change. #Life Changes.
“Drink A Little Beer”
There’s rarely a country album without reference to beer. Right on cue, “Drink a Little Beer” arrives, featuring Rhett’s daddy, Rhett Akins (Akins is Thomas’ actual last name). Despite the criticism that Thomas gets for bending country, “Drink A Little Beer” is definitely firmly planted in the country idiom. Ultimately, it’s a fun record, with great guitar soloing, solid vocals, and a dash of that corny, tongue-n-cheek southern charm.
Following the quick tempo and unapologetic country of “Drink a Little Beer,” “Marry Me” finds Rhett reflecting on love lost. Specifically, an old flame is marrying somebody else, and he sings about how it affects him. Ultimately, it’s a relatable situation, as well as being an enjoyable, relatable song. This isn’t game changing by any means, but sound.
“Leave Right Now” finds Rhett exploring beyond country music. This is the most dramatic example of the album, incorporating EDM. Is “Leave Right Now” even country music? Probably not, but there are some country cues incorporated into this electro-pop record. Traditionalists will pan it, but more contemporary listeners of various genres will appreciate it. Lyrically, this isn’t deep, but musically, it’s definitely interesting that Rhett is willing to go out of the box. Follow-up “Smooth Like Summer” is a bit more traditional, but still embraces modern pop.
There is clearly an autobiographical tone to “Life Changes,” which once more finds Thomas Rhett reflecting on the past, present, and future. Highlighting the autobiographical nature of “Life Changes,” Rhett talks about adopting a child from Uganda, and having a baby on his way. This particular part, the bridge, amplifies the thoughtfulness of this particular record. While this is a serious record, it’s not blasé. He still delivers the title track in a fun, memorable way. The reminiscing isn’t new at this point, but Rhett continues to do it well.
Thomas Rhett incorporates some soul on instant hit “When You Look Like That.” While this doesn’t sound traditional, there are still plenty of country fundamentals in play. These are most notable lyrically, particularly on the chorus.
“How are we not supposed to crawl to the next bar / Make out on the dance floor / Take it too far out the back door / Leave an open tab, when you look like that?”
Among the best moments are the ad libs at the end, where he lets loose. As soulful as “When You Look Like That” is, “Sweetheart” sounds as if it came directly out of the 1950s. Is it quite as authentic as the music from that time? That would be a stretch, but give Rhett credit for the throwback vibes.
“Kiss Me Like a Stranger”
“Kiss Me Like a Stranger” ranks among the smoothest songs – cool as a cucumber. Again, it’s clear that Rhett has an appreciation for R&B and soul. That said, this isn’t necessarily the perfect fit for country traditionalists, subtle country cues or not. Still, a beautiful slow jam. “Renegades” atones for traditionalists, at least to a certain extent. It’s edgier and guitar-driven. Vocally, Rhett is more assertive, even if this isn’t a surefire ‘twang’ fest.
“Gateway Love” reverts back to blurring the country lines. Initially, “Gateway Love” sounds more urban-pop or urban contemporary as opposed to fitting for the honky tonk. Like many of the contemporary joints that grace “Life Changes,” elements of country music “keeps it in the family,” but not for the conservative-minded. Grandness and supporting choral vocals helps to make closer “Grave a grand listen. Though “Grave” begins abruptly, everything eventually comes together, blending country and gospel to make one big ole uplifting, chivalrous song.
All in all, Thomas Rhett puts together an enjoyable, well-rounded album. This is clearly representative of the new generation of country music, which will please some and turn off others. Traditionalists who enjoy their “tractors being sexy” won’t be on board. More liberal listeners – perhaps even non-country listeners – will enjoy the eclecticism of Life Changes.
Gems: “Craving You,” “Unforgettable,” “Sixteen,” “Life Changes” & “When You Look Like That”