The moment I saw the flames on the single cover, I had a feeling this review was going to be rough.
Remember when Blake Shelton was “the safest artist in country music?” Unfortunately, over the last few years Shelton has been not-so-quietly making a play for Jason Aldean‘s title as the angriest artist in country music, which came to a head in 2019 with his back-to-back atrocious singles “God’s Country” and “Hell Right.” The backlash to the latter track scared Team Shelton back to his bland roots with a pair of Gwen Stefani duets and the forgettable “Minimum Wage,” but he’s going back to this well of grievances with his latest single “Come Back As A Country Boy.” Instead of being the lightweight-but-heartfelt homage to rural life that I expected, this piece of junk is an over-the-top exclusionary track along the lines of “Old School’s In” and “The Worst Country Of All Time,” and its horrible execution weighs it down so much that it may be one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.
The production is reminiscent of “God’s Country” in the worst possible way: It’s got an ominous, almost apocalyptic vibe dominated by growling guitars that take the mix to a very dark place. After an unsettling opening featuring a choppy string section, creepy synth tones, and a wolf howl (you know, the sort of thing you might start a Halloween movie with), we’re left with a mix filled with minor chords and defined by dark-toned electric guitars and a punchy drum set (there’s a steel guitar here that adds a few stabs here and there, and while it’s a nice touch, it’s tone is noticeably different and clashes a bit with the rest of the arrangement). That fire on the single cover turns out to suit the song’s mood rather well, because scorched earth and bleak, barren landscapes are exactly what this mix bring to mind (which isn’t exactly great marketing for the “country boy” lifestyle). There’s a deep, visceral anger to this sound that is neither justified nor necessary, and it makes the song come across as overly dramatic while also pushing the listener away rather than drawing them into the subject matter. A song like this could easily be set up as pleasant, reverent or even whimsical, but instead this mix snarls at the user and warns them to keep their distance, which I am more than happy to do.
Shelton is a talented, charismatic singer who is capable of great performances, so why why why does he insist on coming across as a grumpy old man telling people to get off of his lawn? While there aren’t any technical issues to speak of (and at least he’s not screaming at us this time like he was on “God’s Country”), there’s still an edge to his delivery that makes it feel needlessly aggressive towards the audience. We get it bruh, you’re all about that country lifestyle—why do you have to get up all in our faces about it? There’s simply no reason to sound this PO’d here, yet Shelton draws a hard line with his words that puts the listener on the defensive instead of inviting them to find common ground. This divisive attitude turns my stomach and turns the audience off, and I can’t fathom why Shelton chose to take such a bleak and angry approach to the subject when there were so many other options available. (Okay, actually I can; more on that later).
The lyrics here are best summed up as hot, flaming garbage, and they fail hard for three reasons:
- At its core, this is just another “I’m so country!” song, with the narrator going as far as to proclaim that they would never want to live any other way. This means that we’re which means we’re getting slapped across the face with all the same tired tropes: The beer, the trucks, the dogs, the boots, the fishing, the hunting, the Hank Jr. reference…is this really all that “country” has to offer? (Also, that “money has trouble making” line is about as weak an attempt at wit as I’ve seen in a while.)
- The narrator is the poster child for the exclusionary, “us vs. them” attitude that’s becoming increasing prevalent in this genre, to the extreme that they declare that they would rather be dead than be anything but “country.” (They even claim that they “don’t wanna be born into money,” which I do not believe for a second.) They’re basically declaring that anyone who doesn’t fit this narrow definition of “country” should be scorned and would be better off dead, and I absolutely hate this closed-minded line of thinking. Seriously, what is so bad about other ways of life? Should someone stick a gun in their mouth because they don’t like drinking or fishing? I don’t think so, and insinuating that “non-country” lives aren’t worth living is beyond infuriating.
- So let’s say you can overlook the first two points and are curious about this whole “country” lifestyle. Here’s what the song offers you:
My back is always breaking, my dogs are always barking
My money has trouble making and my truck has trouble starting
I’m up before the sun, either hauling hay or hunting
My work ain’t ever done, but son, I wouldn’t trade it for nothing
That sounds like a terrible way to live! Personally, I prefer my trucks to be reliable, my back to remain in one piece, and my work to eventually finish while not forcing me to wake up at 4 AM every day. The writing paints country living as a endless cycle of pain and misfortune, which isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of fun. If you’re trying to convince people that “there ain’t no better life,” you’re doing it wrong.
In other words, the people responsible for this drivel (oh, HARDY was a co-writer? Quelle surprise!) need to have their pens taken away until they complete a few more English classes.
Let’s not mince words here: “Come Back As A Country Boy” is one of the worst songs I’ve ever had the misfortune of reviewing. The production is overly dark and ominous, Blake Shelton is unnecessarily angry and aggressive, and the writing torpedoes its own argument that the “country” lifestyle is superior to all others by making “country” sound as unappealing as possible. It all begs the question: Why on Earth would anyone let a song this bad get out into the marketplace?
Back when I reviewed “God’s Country,” I mentioned that “there’s no money in the middle anymore…so you might as well play to your base and project as much defiance and swagger as you can as you declare that your way of life is superior to all others.” That reality has only wedged deeper into our society since 2019, and it’s threatening to split us apart entirely. As dangerous as such an attitude is, pandering to it has proven to be good for business, and thus we have artists like Shelton taking a hard line and stoking the crowd in order to fatten their wallets.
If Shelton is looking make a statement, I think it’s time I made one of my own. Mr. Shelton, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. His name is Michael Ray.
Rating: 1/10. GET THAT GARBAGE OUTTA HERE!