Is this good? No…but when you’ve hit rock bottom, I suppose you have to start somewhere.
Rodney Atkins’s last single “Caught Up In The Country” made him perhaps the biggest villain in country music last year: Not only was the track absolutely atrocious and just missed being named the worst song of 2018, but his label kept the song artificially afloat on the charts for fifty-seven weeks, setting a new record for longevity despite the fact that no one wanted to hear it (it peaked at a lousy #21). There’s no easy way to rebound from a track like that (and it’s probably impossible to do with one song), but Atkins has now returned to try to make amends with “Thank God For You,” the second single from his highly-unacclaimed album Caught Up In The Country. The song is safe, trendy, generic, and forgettable, but it’s not the tire fire that “Caught Up In The Country” was, and that’s better than nothing.
The production is the most interesting part of the song, as it comes across with a harder edge than you might expect (even if it feels a bit overproduced at times). The song opens with a growly guitar borrowed from Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene,” leaves an amplified acoustic guitar to cover the first verse, then brings in an organ and a punchy drum set pump up the volume for the chorus. (The producer drops in some slicker electric guitar riffs and a background choir jump in the song’s later moments, but they seem unnecessary and don’t add a ton to the song’s vibe.) As a result, the song has a lot more drive and energy than other songs in this lane (Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” covers a similar storyline, but has the exact opposite sound and vibe). The instruments may not always be bright, the the overall mood is upbeat and optimistic, reflecting the redemption that the narrator has found at the hands of their partner. It’s a welcome take on a tired topic, and makes good use the country-rock sound without falling into the pop/EDM trap that Atkins’s last single did.
The “by-gosh country boy” act that Atkins tried to sell on his last single fits a little bit better this time around, but he still feels a little out of place as a reformed James Dean wannabe here. His technical skills remain sharp even at his “advanced” age (in fact, when I play this back to back with something like “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before The Devil Even Knows)”, I think he sounds better now), and he’s reached a point in his career where a retrospective look at his life feels believable and even expected (even if he’s not imparting any life lessons beyond “find a good woman and settle down”). However, while he’s always had a decent amount of earnestness and charisma that helps him sell a story, the narrator’s youthful, rebellious perspective is a bit of a departure from his past work, and it’s a bit hard to picture the guy from “Watching You” as an edgy, headstrong punk-rocker. It’s a solid performance overall, but one that’s not as easy to believe as some of his past work.
The writing tells the story of an ex-rebellious drifter (with plenty of attitude and a distinct lack of a plan) who is celebrating the special someone that saved them from themselves and made them walk the straight and narrow path. It’s a trope as old as country music itself (think Johnny and June, Waylon and Jessi, George and Nancy, etc.), and this take doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t already before. The verses are nothing more than a laundry list describing a social outcast pulled right out of central casting, and the hook and chorus make heavy use of the religious imagery that was a mini-trend in the genre not long ago, making it feel even less unique than usual. (Aside from the inspired “dance you away from the devil” line, the overall writing is fairly bland and predictable.) Add it all up, and you’ve got a less-than-catchy tale that the audience isn’t all that enthused about hearing, and neither Atkins nor his producer can change their minds.
“Thank God For You” is basically radio filler as it stands now, with its interesting production choices countered by its uninteresting lyrics and a less-than-ideal fit for Rodney Atkins himself. While it’s still better than “Caught Up In The Country” by leaps and bounds, I hesitate to call it a great (or even good) song, especially considering the icons that have walked this path before. In the end, you won’t mind hearing it when it plays, but you won’t remember hearing it when it’s over.
Rating: 5/10. Don’t go out of your way to hear this one.