Review: Midland’s ‘Let It Roll’ Album Is a Near Flawless Continuation of Their Unique Style
On Let It Roll, Midland manage to avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump" by relying on what makes them so damn compelling in the first place: complete and utter commitment to the theme.
If there were any critics still grasping onto the deflating balloon of the "inauthenticity" argument, they'll certainly find those theories flaccid. Midland's 14-track follow-up to their debut album On the Rocks is as airtight a record as they could make at this stage in their careers. And if you're here to split hairs on whether or not the characters they assume in their songs are the most historically accurate representations of themselves, well, you're missing the point of country songwriting in the first place.
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Here's the most important part of this review: if you liked Midland's debut album On the Rocks, you will absolutely love Let It Roll. When it comes to the band's brand and style, Let It Roll is a near flawless continuation. If you weren't sold on Midland before, they're probably not going to change your mind this time. And in a lot of ways that's what makes Let It Roll all the more of a triumph.
Here's the trickiest part of coming out of the gate with such a defined style and sound: you leave very little room for deviation, lest you completely jar everybody into a "huh?" moment. They didn't diverge from the path or explore drastically new artistic voices. They just got better.
Even when bassist Cameron Duddy and guitarist Jess Carson take over lead vocal duties (on "Lost in the Night" and "Roll Away," respectively), it comes as a cheeky, but on-brand surprise. And though their lead vocal character may not be as fully developed as Mark Wystrach's, the creative decision to have them sing lead in the first place still feels warranted.
Midland and company rely upon impressively few country lyric tropes when making one of the most "obviously country" records of the year. In fact, they only say the word "whiskey" three times, all in one song, and it's not even the song called "Every Song's a Drinkin' Song." And when they need a country cliche, they dig deep into the bag and pull out, what else, but "Fourteen Gears," a trucker song from their early Austin days. When even your cliches are option C and D, you know you're trying to offer something old in a new way.
"Cheatin' Songs," written by the trio plus original collaborators Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, is easily one of the most beautifully written songs in the band's repertoire. "I Love You, Goodbye" is a close second. "Playboys" may be the only song where the listener feels a bit hit over the head with play on words to a point where it's like, "Ok, maybe this idea was a verse, not a whole song." But that's a fairly nit-picky take on a song living in a genre known for its propensity to dive a little too deep into "gee, aren't I clever-isms."
Midland may be the only artists in modern country music who haven't written and recorded a song for the primary purpose of garnering radio play. Even their biggest song to date, "Drinkin' Problem," was by most counts not "supposed" to work at country radio. And then the full album wasn't "supposed" to deliver the promise "Drinkin' Problem" made.
And if Midland's countrypolitan vibe is trend-chasing, somebody should tell everybody else aimlessly wandering Music Row it's a trend in the first place. Three years past their debut single breakthrough, Midland remain undeniably distinguishable amongst a sea of indistinguishable artists and songs hoping for something to break through.
The beauty of Midland's super twang, rhinestone and fringe, early '80s schtick, as it were, is that they believe every ounce of it — and that makes their music believable in turn. We're all in on the ruse, and the cleverest part of the ruse is that it's not a ruse at all. Love it or hate it, it's objectively compelling. And Let It Roll proves the Midland boys can keep our attention.
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