“Country” has become nothing more than a label put on albums for marketing purposes. “Country” no longer has a definition other than “whatever won’t make it in another genre.” Therefore, as a reviewer, I find myself in a curious position of reviewing albums like Kip Moore’s Wild Ones, a decent rock album incorrectly labeled as country. Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini slapped country labels on their pop albums, making Sam Hunt’s album crap in two genres and Kelsea’s an incorrectly labeled album that would have been decent in the correct genre. In the case of Brett Eldredge, I find myself reviewing a decent, if generic, r&b album slapped with a country label, thereby turning it into a pretty bad country album.
The album begins with “Fire,” an upbeat, infectious song in which Eldredge is caught up in a woman’s “fire.” I commend him for the energy and life brought to this song, but there’s one glaring problem: it’s blatantly far from country, and this is the opener. And the search for country begins. I don’t find it on the next track, an r&b song called “You Can’t Stop Me.” Here is a party song made intolerable to listen to by the inclusion of Thomas Rhett, the poster child for this trend in country music. Next is the single, “Lose my Mind,” which is about a woman who makes him “crazy, and I kinda like it.” This suffers from the obvious problem of the stupid line about being in a straightjacket, as well as the same problems as “Fire”–Brett brings energy to this song certainly, but it’s still not country. Still, “decent but not country” is better than whatever I just heard with “You Can’t Stop Me.”
“Wanna be That Song” is a decent love song with lyrics that paint some nice pictures–“every life has a sound track,” and he wants to share those moments and be a part of hers. This song is pretty well-written; I only wish it had more country instrumentation because it is just a well-written r&b song. But there is heart in this song, and it is appreciated. Next is “Time Well Spent,” a beach song with the premise “wasted time is time well spent.” I find nothing especially noteworthy or offensive about it; it’s just there. “If You Were my Girl” is a love song listing all the things he would do if this were the case; it has the same problem as “Time Well Spent”–nothing stands out here at all. This is a problem throughout the album; the lyrics are bland in many of the songs. The title track, “Illinois,” shows some more heart–Brett Eldredge is from Illinois, and this is a nice ode to his home state, the “wild blue yonder.” This is a rare personal moment from Brett and the most country song on the album. I might call this “r&b country.”
“Just a Taste” sees Brett once again singing a forgettable song about a girl, whom he refers to as his “favorite flavor”–enter the token bro country offensiveness. “Drunk on Your Love” is a terrible R&b song about waking up with someone and still being “drunk on your love.” This is the worst song on the album, and if they labeled it r&b, it would still suck. Next is “Lose it All,” a song in which Brett seems to be warning a friend that he will “lose it all” if he doesn’t change his ways. Brett says, “Take it from a man who knows just how to break a heart, listen hard and listen close, I got it down to an art.” This is a surprisingly well-written song, and a bright spot on Illinois.
“Shadow” is next–here is another good song about a “shadow,” his alter ego, following him around; there’s one glaring problem, however–this is blatantly a rock song. If anyone here is familiar with the Christian rock band Skillet, you will understand when I say it’s so much a rock song that they could pull it off if they wanted to. It’s a good rock song and actually one of the better songs on the album, but to call it country is laughable. This is probably the most hated and polarizing song on Illinois, but I disagree here. Now, here’s my unpopular opinion: on an album of actual country songs, this song would have stood out as a fun experiment that worked, and people would have loved it. Think of Zac Brown Band’s “Overnight,” the r&b standout on the otherwise country Uncaged. As it is, “Shadow” is just another non-country song badly labeled as such on Illinois, an album already full of such material. The album closes with “Going Away for a While,” a catchy song about leaving to get away from the pressures of life.
Overall, Illinois is generic and forgettable. It’s mostly an r&B album, and as such, it would be a decent but bland album. However, someone thought to give this album the designation “country.” “Country” it is most certainly not, and although there are a few good songs and personal moments, this fact can’t be overlooked. It says a lot to me that what I consider the best song on this album, “shadow,” is the most blatantly non-country song of them all. So, would I recommend this album? Well, if you like r&b, maybe. If you like rock, listen to “Shadow” certainly–in fact, that’s what I’ll post here. If you were hoping for country, then keep looking.