Dear Thomas Rhett: Last time I checked, “fix” and “temporarily paper over” weren’t the same thing.
Does anyone remember when Rhett was committing blasphemy back in 2015 by brazenly mixing pop and R&B elements into his music? Fast forward four years, and Rhett has essentially conquered country music, ushering in both the R&B and Boyfriend country trends and suddenly becoming one of the more predictable artists in the genre. While I still consider him one of the better artists around, his single choices are starting to feel a little stale, as they continuously rehash his love life (“Look What God Gave Her”) and family history (“Remember You Young”). For his third single, Rhett finally tries to do something different by pairing up with Jon Pardi and releasing “Beer Can’t Fix” as the third single from his Center Point Road album…except now he’s just copying Pardi, Chris Janson, Luke Combs, and most every other current country singer by pitching beer as a cure-all pill for life’s woes. Frankly, it’s a take that I’m getting really sick off, and while this track is catchier than the others, it’s a hard song to truly enjoy.
The foundation of the production here is about what you’d expect from a Thomas Rhett single: A restrained acoustic guitar that barely lifts a finger to carry the melody, slick electric guitar riffs, and percussion that runs the gamut from hand-played drums to a conventional drum set to Grady Smith’s favorite clap track. There are, however, a few off-the-wall elements to note: A prominent bass that does most of the melody-carrying work, a horn section that adds some flavor on the latter choruses, and even a whistling solo that outshines the electric guitar jamming over the same period (although neither guitar nor whistle feels overly inspired). The result is an upbeat, groove-laden, slightly tropical mix that rivals anything Kenny Chesney has put out in the last decade, and one that does a nice job drawing the listener into its carefree atmosphere. It’s the sort of energetic, toe-tapping arrangement that aims to move you physically instead of emotionally, and it mostly succeeds in this regard, even if it can’t mask the odor of the writing completely.
Vocally, Rhett is his usual charismatic self on this track, and thanks to the one thing the lyrics get right, he feels more sympathetic and believable than on a song like “Vacation.” I’ve pulled my hair out over a bunch of songs that set their performer up for failure, but this is the rare track that actually sets its artist up for success:
- Its technical demands (in terms of range, flow, and power) are relatively flow, allowing Rhett to stay firmly planted in his comfort zone.
- Much like the old “there’s no I in team” saw, the song puts the focus on the listener by discussing “their” problems (generically vague as they are) instead of the singer’s. The narrator is merely a guide to a good time in the wake of a disaster, and Rhett has more than enough experience and earnestness to project credibility in the role.
For his part, Pardi matches Rhett’s relaxed, reasuring persona note for note, and the pair demonstrates a surprising amount of vocal chemistry despite sharing very few harmony vocals. I’m still not a huge fan of Pardi’s voice, but I seem to be building up a tolerance to it over time, and he sounds decent enough to make the song work. In short, the vocals are not the problem here.
The problem here is the snake oil the writing is trying to peddle, as the narrator spends the song listing all the possible problems a person might have and offering beer as the solution to all of them, declaring that “there ain’t nothin’ that a beer can’t fix.” Alcohol doesn’t “fix” anything: Not only is it a temporary respite from problems that will be patiently waiting for you when you sober up, it can often make things worse rather than better. (How many bad decisions have started with the phrase “We were drinking and…”?) There are some disturbing parallels to Janson’s “Fix A Drink” here, from the simplistic view that nothing matters when you’re buzzed to the lack of any real action plan to address the discussed grievances, and while the issues discussed here are “smaller” and more personal than the worldwide issues Janson referenced, it doesn’t make the narrator’s flippant attitude any easier to stomach. (It also doesn’t help that there are some awkward moments where the writers try to cram too many syllables into a line, such as with Pardi’s “championship ring” verse.) I declared that for “Fix A Drink,” “the shallow ignorance of the song’s premise is a bit too large to paper over,” and despite the decent production and vocals, the same mostly applies here.
I’ll give Thomas Rhett a little credit here: He excels at the likeable, lighthearted narrator, and his producer gave him a mix with some decent groove and bounce for “Beer Can’t Fix.” Unfortunately, the poor advice and alcohol dependency contained within the track makes its impact about as temporary as a single Budweiser, and no amount of alcohol can fix what’s broken here. Rhett remains a capable performer, but let’s not forget how quickly Thanos made an end run around Rhett and the rest of Nashville to claim the country music crown. If Rhett doesn’t step up his game soon, he’ll be on the outside looking in sooner than you think.
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two, but I’m afraid “Beer Can’t Fix” this one.