Retro Review: Lonestar, “Mr. Mom”

Won’t anyone think of the children? Because country music certainly won’t.

I’ve written in the past about the lack of maturity in modern country music, and one of the effects of this trend is the near-total disappearance of songs that mention kids in any capacity. On some level, this shift mirrors a larger societal change: Country music is continually chasing a younger audience, but the age at which people are having children is increasing, so the music and the market have been diverging for some time now. Outside of a few isolated examples (Thomas Rhett’s “Life Changes,” Elvie Shane’s “My Boy”), you won’t find any children on the airwaves.

It wasn’t that long ago that country music was obsessed with chasing the “suburban mom” demographic, trying to capture the hearts and minds (and wallets) of women who doing the dirty work involved with maintaining a home and family. A good example of this is our song for today: Lonestar’s “Mr. Mom,” a 2004 multi-week #1 from the band’s Let’s Be Us Again album that wound up being the group’s final chart-topping hit. We’ve already discussed Lonestar’s career at length on the blog (real talk: I’d completely forgotten about writing that thing. 2019 feels like it was 50 years ago) and how the group went all in on courting women with kids in the early 2000s, but “Mr. Mom” is where “I would argue that the group officially jumped the shark.” This was a forced, over-the-top attempt to connect with the mothers of young children, and while there’s certainly a kernel of truth to its madness, this track felt silly to the point of absurdity, and it struggled to connect with its audience as a result.

The first issue with the song is the production, which feels a bit too sunny for the subject and includes some questionable sound choices. Opening with a mandolin and a fiddle is fine, but neither instrument gets any meaningful screen time afterwards, and the pairing of an electric guitar and something I can’t positively identify (organ? accordion?) on the song’s signature riff creates that synthetic, slightly-squealing sound that has a weirdly-absurdist feel, coloring the song is a less-than-ideal light. Most of the track is covered by acoustic guitars and a drum set, with the mystery instrument and a steel guitar floating around in the background but neither being loud enough to make much of a difference (the keyboard gets some space on the second verse, which at least lets people notice it). The overall vibe here is bright and bouncy, but it’s a bit too saccharine for my tastes, to the point where I think it trivializes the underlying point of the song. The producer’s heart was in the right place here, but they went a little overboard trying to make the song sound fun, and instead made the song more of a joke.

As strange as it might sound, I think lead singer Richie McDonald has the opposite problem on this track: He really doesn’t capture the frantic desperation of a father in over his head with child care. On the verses, he comes across as fairly placid, delivering his lines like a news anchor with little of the exasperation and fatigue that you might expect from someone in his position. (The problem seems to be that he’s trying too hard to keep up with the song that he can’t put that much emotion behind the lyrics; his best line is the closing “Honey…you’re my hero,” because he’s freed from the song’s time constraints and has room to make the line feel tired.) The volume goes up a little on the choruses and you kinda-sorta feel the panic in his delivery, but it’s not enough to get the audience to take him seriously. (I’m not that impressed with the band here either: Neither their harmonies nor their instrumentation work are distinct enough to be noticeable, and you can kind of see how McDonald could convince himself to embark on a solo career a few years later.) It’s not a terrible turn behind the mic, but it’s not enough to get the listener invested in the story.

The lyrics here read like an old episode of The Flinstones or The Jetsons (I can definitely see why they animated the video for this song): A newly-unemployed dad takes over the child care duties as their wife goes to work, and discovers just how much work caring for kids can be. I like the level of detail here, and that “charcoal cake” line is pretty good, but the chorus is a little disjointed and feels a bit like a laundry list as a result, and there are some brand name-drops that feel a little random (I guess “Pampers” might sound better than “diapers,” but “Maytag drier” is just there to fill space in the line). I know they were going for ‘overwhelming’ by dumping all the narrator’s misadventures on us like an overturned toy box, but doing so obscured the underlying message a little bit (you’re rubbernecking at all the chaos so much that you don’t really stop and think about how the wife, and many women in general, have been putting up with this themselves for a long time). The writing wants to use humor to make a point about how amazing mothers are in general, but I think it goes for laughs so much that it glosses over the key point, and even the closing line “now I know how you feel, what I don’t know is how you do it” is too late and isolated that it doesn’t draw much reflection from the listener. The writers went in here with good intentions, but they just didn’t stick the landing.

If you’re looking for country music that addresses more ‘adult’ concerns, “Mr. Mom” may be an example of this, but not a very good one. The production and writing get a little too cutesy on the topic of child rearing, and Lonestar doesn’t distinguish themselves terribly well here, leaving the song feeling a bit empty when it’s all over. Still, for all its faults the song is at least an attempt to talk about something beyond the Friday nights, first loves, and fiery breakups of life, and that’s far more than 95% of Music City bothers to do today. I think part of the reason modern country music struggles to resonate with me is that as I’ve gotten older and (in theory) matured into a responsible adult, the genre hasn’t matured with me, and focuses on things that simply aren’t a part of my life (if they were ever a part of them in the first place). Country music used to have something for everyone underneath its umbrella, and I’d really like to see it get back to that big-tent philosophy, even if we get some mediocre stuff like “Mr. Mom” as a result.

Rating: 5/10. There are far better country songs about the trials of parenthood than this one.


One thought on “Retro Review: Lonestar, “Mr. Mom”

  1. Kyle, have you heard some of Matt Stell’s new tracks? I thought “Shut the Truck Up” was pretty good. Vivid writing that has some fun word play and leans into the trope of personifying cars. Somewhere Over the Radio was also not bad and somewhat reminded me of David Nail’s “Sound of a Million Dreams”.

    Anyways, been reading the blog for a few years and I appreciate the throwbacks! Like you, few country songs catch my ear these days.


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