Today, we’re going to be focusing on an artist who didn’t quite make an impact in the 90’s the same way that say, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson or Travis Tritt did. That artist in question is Ty Herndon.
Now, pop-country is going be a dominating force for reviews this week, and that holds up for Ty Herndon as well. Sure, Ty incorporated plenty of fiddle and pedal steel in his songs like any 90’s artist did, but he was always a little more slick in his delivery than his contemporaries. Much like Mark Wills, Ty wasn’t afraid to blend that neo-traditional sound with pop elements in his music. Now, I don’t have a problem with pop influence in country music, as I’ve stated before. Heck, his song “Living For A Moment” is one of my favorite songs from the 90’s, and as such, I tracked the guy even after his mainstream fame ended.
I can’t exactly say I’ve been a huge fan of his material ever since then, but still, he’s kept that blend of contemporary with neo-traditional in a way that feels authentic. With the winds of country changing in all sorts of different directions (as well as being more pop than ever before), I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his new material. So I dug into his latest album, House On Fire hoping for the best. Did I find it?
No, oh dear Lord, no. You see, House On Fire is easily Ty’s most pop leaning album to date, and the thing is that’s the least of its problems. We’ll get to why soon, but I’ll state upfront that this is easily one of the worst country albums I’ve heard all year.
So before we dig into what makes this album as bad as it is, let’s acknowledge the few positives first. To start, Ty Herndon has always been a pretty good singer despite not really being all that distinctive. For the most part, the vocal production plays to his favor as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a fan of the way he stretches out the hook on “Go” or the overall flow during the verses during “If You” (but believe me, we’ll be getting to both of THOSE songs…). But really, it’s essentially fine. I can’t really find any places to really nitpick to death here.
It doesn’t take a long to really dig into this album and find what’s wrong with it though. I’ve said it before on this blog and I’ll say it again, I don’t mind pop-country. Like any sub-genre, you have acts who do it well, and you have acts who don’t. With that being said though, House On Fire has to bear some of the most lifeless, generic production I’ve heard on a country album all year. There’s all sorts of annoying, unnecessary electronic effects, and there’s definitely no meat or nuance to any of the instrumentation on this album at all. The album mostly just flutters between generic mid-tempo songs that are just so tedious and boring to listen to. If you thought Chris Young’s I’m Comin’ Over was the most lifeless thing you’ve heard then you’re in for something special here.
Now, to give any vestige of credit here, songs like “World I’m Livin’ In” and “Stick With What I Know” aren’t actually that bad in terms of their sound. The latter is probably the best song on this album for having a solid acoustic groove backed by plenty of pedal steel. In other words, there’s some actual nuance to this song. “World I’m Livin’ In” chooses to bring in a solid gospel choir that once again adds at least SOMETHING to this album beyond just a generic wall of sound. They’re not excellent songs but they’re decent enough.
Of course, the absolute breaking point on this album for me comes courtesy of the lyrical content. Again, just like the production, there’s very little weight to this album. You have some generic party songs like “That Kind Of Night” and “All Night Tonight”, and your predictable love songs like “Sweet Way To Go” and “Just Friends” which are all devoid of any real texture or distinctiveness to really qualify as standouts.
Where this album kind of works is when Ty gets a little personal with his writing. It’s no surprise by now that he’s an openly gay man, and so it’s natural to see him sing songs about that struggle with who he used to be as well as where he is now. Sure, songs like the title track and “World I’m Livin’ In” are way too overproduced for my taste, but they’re coming from someplace personal and I can respect that, even if they don’t feel as fleshed as out as they could be. “Fighter” is another one of those personal songs, and while the whole motivational theme is playing it way too cheesy for me to enjoy it, again, it’s coming from someplace real and I can at least respect that.
What I can’t respect is some of the attitudes portrayed on this album, and this leads to the three absolute worst songs on this album. “Blame It On The Mustang” finds this man blaming his Mustang of all things for allowing his ex-lover to get away and leave him. Sure, don’t blame it on something you might have done or take any responsibilities for your actions, blame it all on your freakin’ car. That’s mature. Speaking of mature, we also have “Go” which finds the male narrator wishing his lover could get home so he can tell him off about his cheating ways and kick him out of the house. As he states, he can’t wait to see him go. Again, you may have a right to be angry at your lover for hurting you, but revenge is a dish best served cold my friend. The amount of smug, asinine behavior in this song just blows my mind.
Of course, the crown jewel on top of all of this is “If You”, another song where this male narrator is having the time of his life telling his lover that he’s done with their relationship. He can’t say THAT word since “he’s on the radio” (what?), but he can abbreviate what he wants to say and say “If You” hoping it comes across as “eff you” instead. Yes, Ty, you managed to sneak in the word, fuck. If only you did with class or actually made this pun clever at all. It’s this type of obnoxious that you’d find on an Old Dominion album of all things, not some guy who actually was pretty good in the 90’s.
So overall, I didn’t like House On Fireby Ty Herndon at all. The album is easily his most faceless, badly produced album of his career, and the sad part is he’s capable of more. There’s some decent songs here coupled with a lot of passable songs, but there’s nothing I can really say is a standout. Heck, I’ve listened to this album three times by now and I can barely remember any of it outside of the few truly awful songs. Sorry, Ty Herndon, but I’m feeling a 3/10 for this album.
Best Song: “Stick With What I Know”
Worst Songs: “Go”, “If You”, “Blame It On The Mustang”