Rascal Flatts started the week on a high note: Its win for best vocal group at Sunday's Academy of Country Music Awards for the seventh time surpassed the record set by Alabama. The trio is sure to have a great week next week when "Unstoppable" comes in at No. 1 on both the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums chart.
There's a reason Rascal Flatts has sold a gazillion records (okay, not quite that many, but they're consistently multi-platinum in a world where that's a rarity these days.) They've found the improbably perfect intersection of slick and emotional. The songs are so cleanly produced you can eat off of them, but Gary LeVox's voice (love it or hate it and a lot of folks, me included, think he often sounds like he's been sucking helium) convincingly conveys heartache.
Also, to their credit, unlike a lot of country artists, Rascal Flatts and producer Dann Huff bring the same energy to the CDs that Rascal Flatts brings to their live shows.
While Rascal Flatts flies the country flag high, they're country only by dint of the shift that has happened in country over the last few decades that would make the Eagles or Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers country acts if they were starting out today. They are country-flavored pop, but that's what country radio embraces these days and pop radio does not.
First single, "Here Comes Goodbye," has already soared up the country charts. It's a classic song about heartache and how the break-up build-up can be the worst part since you know the pain that's coming afterwards. The trajectory of a break-up follows with "Close" a touching ballad about knowing it's time to let go, yet your heart won't let you yet. Similarly, "Forever" examines a relationship that lasted just long enough for the singer to know what he's missing when it ends.
But it's not all Debbie Downer stuff here. "She'd Be California" is a peppy, upbeat song about a golden girl. "Love Who You Love" is a reminder, as cliché as it may be, not to take those around you for granted as life can change in an instant.
The only serious misstep here is "Summer Nights," a completely lamentable throwaway. But with its irresistible toe-tapping beat and "Holler if you're feeling sexy" refrain it's tailor-made for live shows (which, undoubtedly, explains its inclusion here and the added in crowd sounds). The tune contains one of the worst lines we've ever heard: "Let that Igloo cooler mark your piece of paradise." Oh c'mon...
Oddly, the album shifts from that the horrific "Summer Nights" to the album's best track, "Why." It's a quiet heartbreak of a song that LeVox resists oversinging. His understated performance and the subtle arrangement make it all the more affecting.