Is Thomas Rhett too close to the “Angels” to make this song work?
I was something of a Rhett booster in the early days of the blog, partially because he was able to successfully navigate the transition from his clueless Bro roots to his current position as a devoted family man. Since then, however, Rhett’s work has gotten pretty stale: He released an uncountable number of odes to his wife, veered hard back towards the Nashville meta, and then released the exact same drinking song twice. He’s still a solid performer who is capable of elevating a mediocre track, but it’s got to be the right song, and “Angels,” the third song from his Where We Started album, isn’t quite the right song. It’s a classic tale of love, redemption, and spirituality, but it doesn’t quite square with Rhett’s squeaky-clean image, and its lack of detail causes it to struggle to hold the listener’s attention.
The production here is a fairly standard guitar-and-drum mix, primarily driven by an acoustic guitar and supported by electric and steel guitars (the electric axe is more of a background piece, while the steel is used mostly to fill space between the lyrics). An organ provides some spacious atmosphere, the drums do little more than keep time, and that’s pretty much all you get here. The main distinguishing factor of the mix is its 3/4 time signature (once a staple of the genre, you rarely here this sort of thing today), and its tempo is slow enough that the track practically qualifies as a waltz. Even more surprising than the beats per measure, however, is the neutrality of the instrument tones: The song seems to want to strike a balance between gratefulness and solemnity, and as a result it doesn’t create much of an atmosphere to support the track. A song like this should be unabashedly positive, rooted in the undeserved good fortune of the narrator and how appreciative they are for that fortune. The lack of auditory support forces the other pieces of the song to make their case that much more convincingly, and while they get part of the way there, the struggle and strain seems unnecessary to me. Outside of the time signature being a callback to old-school saved-by-love tracks, the sound really doesn’t do anything to move the track forward.
As much as Rhett would like you to think he’s a rough-edged bad boy who’s been saved by love, we all know better: The man has been one of the slickest performers in the industry for almost a decade now, and no one who’s written that many love songs about his wife can credibly claim “I dang near drug [an angel] through hell.” This is the kind of song best sung by an rougher-edged artist (ideally an “outlaw”-type like Dierks Bentley or Eric Church, but any sort of hard-living good ol’ boy will do), and the worst thing Rhett’s done lately is dump copycat drinking songs on the public. That said, Rhett still has charm to burn, and he’s no stranger to lionizing his partner, so he’s still kinda-sorta in his element here. I think it comes down to market saturation: Rhett has sung so many songs like this that the audience immediately writes it off as something they’ve heard before, and it’s really hard to Rhett to draw their interest, especially when he’s not a great fit for the narrator’s role thanks to his family-oriented persona. It’s a decent performance, but it feels more awkward than it should, and for as many straightforward love songs as he’s dumped on us, he’s actually better when he sticks to his vanilla script.
The lyrics here…well, I’m not quite sure what angle they’re going for here. The song leans into the classic “partner as angel” comparison and goes all-in on spiritual language to describe the relationship, but it doesn’t really give us the context for where the narrator is coming from. There’s plenty of self-flagellation as the narrator chides themselves for their “selfish heart” and their “lessons to learn” and their failure to live life by the book, but the reaction feels a bit over-the-top for such garden-variety faults. I think the track was going for a redemptive angle with the angel saving the speaker despite their shortcomings, but it doesn’t go deep enough and provide enough examples of just how crooked the narrator’s path was (which I think hurts its audience retention numbers; some juicy details would have helped hold the listener’s attention). Instead, we’re left with a standard “I’m not worthy” tale that really that makes just enough of a halfhearted effort at a redemptive arc to make the song feel like a bad fit for Rhett as an artist.
In the end, “Angels” is a pretty “meh” song for me. It’s yet another gooey love song that only kinda-sorta tries to be something different, and its efforts only make the song feel less convincing. The sound doesn’t do enough to push the song’s agenda, the lyrics don’t do enough to strike out in a more interesting direction, and for all the love songs Thomas Rhett has sung, this feels like the least natural fit for him. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not really a good song either, and it contributes to the sense that Rhett seems a little stuck right now, and isn’t quite sure what direction to go next. My two cents is that he should go back to the family angle that made “Life Changes” such an interesting song, and give the uninspired love songs a rest for a while.
Rating: 5/10. It’s a thing, I suppose.