“Jack makes good whiskey,” but Nashville makes the clichéd stuff.
I spent much of my last review harping on the Music City meta, but Tyler Hubbard’s latest single makes for a pretty good case study as well. A decade ago, Hubbard was the man defining this meta, as he and the mostly-invisible Brian Kelley helped usher in the Bro-Country era and played a major role in spreading the sound and subject matter that dominated the 2010s. While Florida Georgia Line was both controversial and cutting-edge back in the day, today Hubbard seems to be more of a conformist, crafting his solo career within the confines of Nashville’s rules rather than thumbing his nose at them. The results have been mediocre at best: “Undivided” was a forced can’t-we-all-just-get-along track that nobody wanted or listened to, and his latest effort “5 Foot 9” is even less interesting: It’s a paint-by-numbers buzzword salad dumped into a gelatin mold and formed into a love song that is neither interesting nor romantic. In other words, the song is exactly what the powers that be in this genre want their songs to be: Checklist-compliant and easily forgotten.
I bemoaned the sick, soulless sound of “Catching Up With An Old Memory,” and while “5 Foot 9” is a sign of the progress Nashville has made since the height of the Metro-Bro era, is also a sign that the genre still has a long way to go. The song opens with a bright, lively acoustic guitar and a bass-drum-only percussion line, includes a few steel guitar rides for flavor, and turns the bridge solo over to a dobro-esque instrument, eschewing the synthetic instruments that dominated for a decade and rediscovering the power of acoustic instruments. All of this is good…but once the chorus hits, more guitars and percussion jump in (not the mention the echoey audio effects), and the whole arrangement gets squashed together into in indistinguishable wall of noise, a phrase I’ve been leaning on more and more over the last few years. A mess like this draws the listener’s attention away from the writing and makes it really hard to re-engage with the song until the unnecessary sensory overload subsides. Another issue is that the short bridge solo is the song’s only distinct-sounding feature—otherwise, this sounds like every other song on the radio right now, even without the snap tracks. I’d really like to see Nashville do more to distinguish artists with they’re sounds, because otherwise neither the song nor the artist can really justify their place in the genre.
Speaking of artists: Hubbard right now is a man that’s running from his past, and he hasn’t yet put quite enough distance himself and FGL to sound credible in the narrator’s role here. There aren’t any technical issues to speak of, and at this point he’s now the one that newer artists are trying to mimic (*cough* Morgan Wallen *cough*), but as the primary lead singer of Florida Georgia Line, his voice is the one associated with Bro-Country anthems like “Cruise,” “Sun Daze,” and “Smooth,” which makes it hard to picture them as a responsible individual committed to a longstanding relationship. (If that sounds familiar, I said the exact same thing in my “Talk You Out Of It” review four years ago.) To his credit, it’s not for lack of trying on Hubbard’s part; he just doesn’t have the charisma or charm to make a clean break from his history here. (The lyrics do him no favors either, but we’ll get to that later.) At best, this is a run-of-the-mill performance that fails to let the audience share in Hubbard’s good vibes (or even convince them that he’s sincere), and probably wouldn’t sound any different with anyone else from Nashville’s young male assembly line behind the mic.
And then *sigh* we get to the lyrics:
Jack makes good whiskey
Red dirt makes good riding roads
Country makes good music
For kickin’ up dust in a taillight glow
Dry wood makes good fires
Good years make good swings…
I thought we had finally moved past those annoying laundry lists of the last decade, but it seems I was mistaken.
Supposedly this is a love song towards the narrator’s partner, but in reality it’s a thinly-disguised checklist song that makes sure to use all the buzzwords: Whiskey, red dirt roads, taillights, trucks, fires, a “small-town accent,” God, Tim McGraw (I guess at least it’s not George Strait this time?), and a bizarrely-specific reference to gravel driveways that felt especially forced. Oh, and just as I noted in “Talk You Out Of It,” the narrator’s praise of the woman is limited to their physical attributes (“5 foot 9, brown eyes in a sundress”), save for a “dancing with the raindrops” moment that feels surprisingly dated (only Gene Kelly and Pokémon dance in the rain). Throw in the worst title/hook mismatch that I’ve heard in a long time (seriously, if you heard this song you’d never guess the title, and “5 Foot 9” isn’t exactly a catchy name), and you’re left with an track that feels rote and lazy, one that will disappear from your mind thirty seconds after the music stops.
“5 Foot 9” is a weak effort that simply doesn’t measure up, even in the bland, generic meta we’re living through right now. It might check all the required boxes to get onto the airwaves, but it tries to expend the least possible effort while doing so, and as a result we get boring soundalike production, atrocious writing, and Tyler Hubbard trying to wave his hands and make you forget every Florida Georgia Line track he fronted over the last ten years. Hubbard can’t change the past, but he could take more interesting steps towards the future: As much as the Bro-Country era drove me up a wall, at least it was a bold, fresh step for its time—now all we get are reheated leftovers that all taste the same. Instead, he’s stuck in the same bland morass of sameness that everyone else is, and we’ve got better things to do with our time than stand for it.
Rating: 4/10. Skip it.