One thing we take very seriously here at Country California is reverence for tradition. When a legend of country music speaks, we listen. We don’t know how long these people will be with us, so it behooves us to soak up every last bit of the wisdom they bestow on us while they’re still around.
It was in this spirit of reverence that I received Reba McEntire’s tweet of last Monday: “If you haven’t heard Rascal Flatts new CD, get it!!!!! It’s great!!!! I love it!!!! Whoohoooo!” I’m not going to lie: I’ve been a tad critical of Rascal Flatts in the past, even going so far as to suggest that Gary LeVox might not be the greatest singer in the world. But that was before I knew that Reba holds their music in such high esteem that it apparently gives her fits of fangirl-like exuberance. Who am I to dismiss that sort of enthusiasm?
On Reba’s recommendation, I cued up the band’s 2009 album Unstoppable and embarked on 45 minutes of musical education. Here’s a track-by-track account:
1. Love Who You Love
“Love who you love with all that you have/And don’t waste the time that flies so fast/Love who you love and say that you do/Hold on as tight as they’ll let you.” Aww, how trite sweet.
Mood check: peaceful, loving
2. Here Comes Goodbye
Almost country compared to the previous song, but I can’t shake the feeling that the melodramatic lyric and performance might be a clue as to why the woman is leaving the guy. Nobody likes a drama king.
Mood check: beginnings of a headache
Before the beginning of the lyrics proper, we get LeVox singing “Hey yay yay yay yay.” This is bad, but not worse than a lot of other stuff on the radio. Given how much Rascal Flatts gets singled out, I’d expect it to be a lot worse. Are these guys simply the face of a whole corner of ‘country’ music that sucks just as much?
Mood check: do I really want to see this experiment through?
Same idea as the previous song (trying to get over someone), just written for the opposite gender. Oh, and this time it starts with an “ooh” instead of a “Hey yay yay yay yay.” LeVox reaches for the big notes nearly as often as Martina McBride, but lacks the ability to hit them.
Mood check: ooh yay yay hey blech
5. She’d Be California
Every California cliché wrapped into one song. “She’d be California if California was a girl” is both uninteresting and grammatically incorrect. Will there be no end to the lame guitar solos?
Mood check: underwhelmed
Begins “yeah yeah yeah… hey.” I’m really getting tired of these interjections. Much like Taylor Swift, LeVox sounds okay when he sings quietly but spoils it by reaching for too many notes he can’t hit.
Mood check: somewhat fatigued
7. Things That Matter
“Things that matter, things that don’t” is a boring hook even by Rascal Flatts standards. The song seems to end, then one last lame guitar solo starts up. You might be tempted to skip ahead. Don’t do it. Tucked in the middle of that guitar part is a 20-second steel guitar solo. Oh, so that’s where they hide their countryness.
Mood check: mentally unstable
8. Summer Nights
Begins “ha ha ha.” The lyric “We went crazy cooped up all winter long/And school is out so let’s get it on” is the best window into the band’s uncomfortable relation to youth. Is LeVox singing in the voice of someone still in school (his imagined audience) or in his own voice, which is that of a thirtysomething man? Because if it’s the latter, “school is out so let’s get it on” is an alarmingly creepy thing to say.
Mood check: profoundly disturbed
9. Holdin’ On
Same idea as “Close” and “Forever.”
Mood check: bored
“Once you made the world feel so right/Once you were my morning, noon and night” has to be one of the weakest lyrics ever. And again, they seem to like songs about departed lovers, which I suppose at least gives the album a passing thematic resemblance to something that might be called country music.
Mood check: running on empty
Same idea as Blaine Larsen’s “How Do You Get That Lonely” with a weaker lyric. LeVox’s vocal is what Billy Gilman would sound like in 2025 if he hadn’t gone through that unfortunate voice change.
Mood check: angry (to have lost 45 minutes)
I don’t know about you sometimes, Reba. I think I need a drink.