When it comes to Rascal Flatts, accept no imitations.
Usually I’m pretty good at recalling how a song goes after hearing the title, but the one song I remember completely forgetting about when putting together my 2017 song list was Rascal Flatts’s last single “Back To Us.” Apparently country radio didn’t think the track was worth reminding me about, as it earned an unsightly #46 airplay peak and claimed the title of the trio’s worst performing single ever. In the face of these dismal numbers and the encroachment of Dan + Shay onto their turf (seriously, the pair’s having more success with RF’s shtick than RF is), the trio has scrapped their Back To Us album after just two singles and shipped “Back To Life” to radio to try to reclaim lost ground. It’s a cute song with some decent production and writing, and will at least put you in a better mood if nothing else.
Think of the production here as a massive overcorrection from Jason Aldean’s way-too-dark “Girl Like You,” because the sound is so bright and cheery that it borders on saccharine. It features the same old instruments everybody else does (spacious electric guitar, methodical piano, background steel guitar notes, and snappy mix of real and synthetic percussion), but the tones are so bright and the feel is so broad and capacious that the listener is bombarded with positive vibes from the intro to the outro, and it’s honestly a little overwhelming. Despite its moderate tempo and 3/4 waltz timing, there’s actually a decent amount of energy here thanks to the bright mix, and it really helps the lyrics generate the “Awww…” reaction they’re aiming for. Compared to a song like Dan + Shay’s “Speechless,” this song sacrifices sexiness in favor of doubling down on the sheer joy of being in a relationship, and it does a much better job of passing its emotion on to its audience. (In contrast, “Speechless” loses a lot of that joy and doesn’t gain much sensuality from its slower, darker approach.) It may be a bit too sweet for its own good, but it’s easy on the ears and will at least leave you feeling a bit better about the world.
At this point, there isn’t a whole lot left to say about Gary LeVox that hasn’t already been said: He’s a capable, charismatic performer who’s been owning light, fluffy tracks like this one since the start of the millenium, and he throws down yet another easy, earnest performance here. His voice is no longer the unique instrument it was in 2000 with Shay Mooney on the charts, but it’s still a powerful tool that LeVox uses to forge a strong connection with his audience on this track. His flow is a bit awkward at points (he occasionally falls into the Willie Nelson-esque trap of reading through his line too quickly), but his range is still impressive (especially on the high side), and the lovestruck narrator role still fits him like a glove. The group’s harmony work is also solid, remaining as distinguished and distinguishable as it ever did. The trio has conceded nothing to age, and for them to pull off a young-love song like this in 2018 is pretty impressive.
On some level, every lovey-dovey song like this sounds the same: The narrator gushes over all the little things their partner does to drive them wild, and how said person give the narrator the strength to carry on even when things are bleak and hopeless. While many of the usual tropes are here (love notes on the mirror, rain on the roof, feet on the dashboard, singing the wrong words to songs, etc.), there are also some more-interesting details that catch the listener’s ear: They like “coffee with her sugar in the morning” and “takes an hour to pick a movie out” (the latter brings to mind Brad Paisley’s “Little Moments”). Still, the song is more about execution rather than novelty, and in that respect the lyrics do their job by bringing enough detail and personality to the table to allow Rascal Flatts and their producer to infuse them with emotion and elevate them to a higher level.
“Back To Life” might be cutesy and sticky-sweet, but there’s still a place on the radio for material like this, especially when it’s done this well by a master of the craft. Rascal Flatts has been churning out songs like this for a long time, and as much as Dan + Shay want to play in this space, they haven’t quite captured the feeling of the trio that preceded them. Maybe you won’t remember this thing in a few months, but it’ll at least make you smile while it’s around.
Rating: 6/10. Go ahead and try it out, but monitor your blood sugar levels closely and don’t overdo it in one sitting.