A case of privileging quantity over quality, Hope on the Rocks is country mega-star Toby Keith’s 16th studio album. Keith has put out an album a year for the last eight years, and you would think at this point in his long and successful career he wouldn’t need to keep popping out albums like the Duggars pop out kids. Keith also has a successful clothing line and an entire chain of restaurants based off his 2003 hit single “I Love This Bar.” This just leaves me wondering: If not for the money, why would Keith give us a subpar album filled with duds and propped up by one hit radio single?
To kick things off, the title track is just a bummer; it doesn’t have a “hope” of making it onto my iPod. “The Size I Wear” is a honky-tonk tune that misses the humorous mark and slips into musical misogyny. In it, Keith describes his ideal pair of jeans — I mean, girl: “She’s 5”2, 95 pounds, and round in the places she’s supposed to be round.” He even casually makes fun of his drinking buddy, who has to dance with her less attractive friends all night because Toby has already laid claim to Little Miss 5-foot-2.
“I Like Girls That Drink Beer” is good country fun and the only track off this album anyone will remember a year from now, although by then Keith will be releasing his next album anyway.
“Haven’t Seen the Last of You,” “Missed You Just Right,” “You Ain’t Alone” are the sad side of Hope on the Rocks, and if you’ve just gone through a tough breakup, you might give them an appreciative listen. Otherwise, skip them.
“Get Got,” “Haven’t Had a Drink All Day,” “Scat Cat” and “Cold Beer Country” are all products of the same classic Keith equation: good guitar riffs, wailing harmonica and a solid brass accompaniment. Unfortunately, though these tracks might have been impressive additions to a green young country singer’s first record, on a Toby Keith album they just fade into the background, and listeners are left with a vaguely disappointed feeling of “I’ve heard this before.”
The deluxe version of the CD is like a deluxe meal from McDonald’s: Consumers should be warned it will inevitably cause buyer’s remorse and possibly indigestion. There’s nothing wrong with the live versions of “Whiskey Girl” and “Get Out of My Car,” except that including live recordings of old songs on a new album is just an excuse to charge $4 more for the “deluxe” album. No, Toby’s real crimes against country music are the “re-mastered and remixed” versions of “Red Solo Cup” and “Beers Ago.” “Beers Ago” is a really good song that doesn’t gain anything from the addition of an overbearing, electronically imposed hip-hop beat; “Red Solo Cup” on the other hand was ridiculous enough the first time around. Even Keith admitted it was “the stupidest song I ever heard in my life” the first time producers tried to convince him to record it.
At the end of the day, I respect Toby Keith as a musician, a businessman and a patriotic American, but Hope on the Rocks hopefully isn’t indicative of the direction his music is heading; because if so, it will be his career that is on the rocks.