2001, Music

Set This Circus Down (2001) by Tim McGraw

All I really know about Tim McGraw is that he likes to hold his cowboy hat on his head and he’s married to Faith Hill. I assumed he was a singer-songwriter, actually.

This is country pop, though you wouldn’t always know it by the rock guitars. On most of this album, there are only a couple of things telling you that it’s a country record: McGraw’s voice, which is full country; the fiddle and steel guitar, layered on thick sometimes so you know it’s country but other times utterly absent; and the songs themselves, which cover typical country themes with earnestness that isn’t usually acceptable in mainstream American pop rock. If McGraw sang without an accent, and you removed the fiddle and steel guitar, you might just think it’s a really earnest set of songs. (Perhaps embarrassingly so, if he had written them.) With less traditionally country themes in the lyrics, you might feel like this is pop artist trying to sound country.

The worst example of all of this is “Let Me Love You,” a turn-of-the-millennium Latin pop song suitable for Ricky Martin, complete with flamenco guitar, that McGraw wants us to believe is a country song. Maybe an authentic fusion of American country with a particular form of Latin music would be a cool thing to do. But to co-opt a song from one of the pop crazes of the moment and pretend it’s country because you have an accent? Like, I don’t know what to do with that. (While we’re on the subject: “Unbroken” and at least one other song briefly sound like the only mainstream popular music these guys listened to was in the ’80s.)

The first time through, I really wasn’t mad. It seemed innocuous enough to me. But it’s really a generic country pop record, with a thin gloss of rock (or pop) production.

There’s this one song where the guitar solo is, like, actually good, and I was thinking about it through like half the record the other day because I couldn’t understand how that guy be playing on the rest of it. (It’s so generic.)

I’m not a purist but I also want people to be what they are. This guy wants to be Garth Brooks, I think, but doesn’t write (some of) his own songs. And he’s doing the same thing only after Garth Brooks did it, and with even less of a “country” feel.

Are the songs catchy? Yes, they are. But there are so many better country songs in terms of lyrics. And many of those are just as catchy. And the aesthetic is kind of execrable.


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