Sometimes artists’ teams are just smart. When presented with a potentially polarizing, musical melting pot of an album (including plenty of bro-country signifiers), Thomas Rhett’s people chose the catchy, soulful, tongue-in-cheek ‘Crash and Burn’ as the record’s lead single, and followed it up with the most meaningful and most country song on the album. How’s that for (mostly) appeasing the critics (and fans)? Ultimately, of course, the likes of ‘Vacation’ and ‘South Side’ are probably going to make it to radio, but for now, I can feel positive in the fact that one of bro-country’s biggest stars is sending a good song to the airwaves.
‘Die A Happy Man’ is a song that Thomas reportedly wrote for his wife of three years Lauren, after she jokingly complained he’d never written an epic love song for her. It’s incredibly smart to release it as a second single, largely due to all the commentary surrounding his increasingly R&B-styled sound; what better way to prove he belongs in the country format than releasing a song with actual country credentials? I mean of course, in practise he belongs far away from country, but there’s no denying that despite the soulful off-beat (a la Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’) this is unavoidably (contemporary) country. With lyrics that describe his wife in superlatives and how she makes him feel, the chorus ties it all together by explaining that no matter whether he gets to achieve his other goals and dreams, he’ll die a happy man as long as she’s with him. Even if you have strongly disliked Rhett’s output up until now, you’d have to be pretty cold-hearted not to find this sweet and believable.
The music is also refreshingly stripped-back. Dobro accents illustrate simple, gently percussive acoustic guitar playing, while subtle electric guitar underpins the chorus and pedal steel provides texture from the second verse onwards. There’s also a stronger beat from mid-way through the song, but it’s not overwhelming and merely serves to carefully build to a subdued peak. It’s by far one of the slowest and most minimalistic tracks on country radio right now, and it’s delivered earnestly inside his range’s sweet spot. The video helps too, picturing him and Lauren in beautiful places hanging out, playing, laughing and of course, kissing. It all comes together and works really well.
There aren’t any other songs on ‘Tangled Up’ that are on a level with ‘Die A Happy Man’, and I’m so glad that this one got to see the light of day. Let’s hope it’s a huge success and that other artists learn from it going forward.
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