#28: Walker Hayes – Country Stuff (2022)
MATT KELLY puts a very sharp knife into a fat platter with thin ideas that may actually be the worst album of our year of the plague, 2021.
“A lot of pop music is crap.” No shit Sherlock. Any time one of us skims through the Top 40, we expect some number of the songs are going to be ephemeral lightweights we don’t care for and won’t waste time thinking of again. It’s not a big deal to dislike a popular song.
I mean, pop charts are democratic and you wouldn’t expect to agree with any random demographic’s political opinions, so why would it be different for musical taste?
Walker Hayes’ ‘Fancy Like’, however, got a different reaction. I might have to go back to Avril Lavigne’s ‘Hello Kitty’ from 2013 for the last time a song was this dunked on by critics.
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As ‘Fancy Like’ blew up, the internet was briefly swamped by opinions – including multiple video essays – to the effect that ‘Fancy Like’ was the worst song of 2021. Some went further to put it on the All-Time Worst list. One YouTube commenter said every time it comes on the car radio they start looking for a tree to drive into, to the general approval of all.
So what’s the problem exactly? Listen to the slick oily guitar riff that rips off ‘Tell Me Something Good’, the over-produced backing vocals, the pandering sub-bass hits, and the most canned, personality-free 808s you’ve ever heard.
Yet the lyric is about how low maintenance and casual Hayes and his partner are. Paired with a sound that scrubs all the realness out of BOTH country and hip-hop, it’s nauseatingly inauthentic for audiences that still care about that. The product placement is just the rancid cherry on top.
This uncanny valley effect of Hayes being a simple feel-good country-pop fella while also seeming synthetic and manufactured continues into the album proper with the deeply suspect country/club mash of ‘U Gurl’ and the album’s tendency to box tick. Wedding playlist song? The syrupy ‘Life With You’ incorporates ‘Canon In D’.
Christian bait with plausible deniability? The lifeless rapping and pre-assembled millennial pop cliches of ‘Craig’ are here to explicitly state that Hayes may or not be Christian but he quite likes people who are to eye-rolling effect. Nostalgia bait?
The 42-year-old Hayes spends a whole song referencing ‘Back To The Future’ in Dolorean over a generic pop backing which would be milquetoast even by Ed Sheeran standards. Drinking song? Hey, there’s one called ‘Drinking Songs’ and it mentions Hank Williams Jr so I guess that means Hayes is the real deal after all.
The title track may be the worst thing of all, more messy, annoying country-rap as Hayes wallows in laziness, telling us that people in the South like Dukes Of Hazzard and grits. But when a man is capable of bars such as
“I like beers cheap and cold
I like chairs that rock and fold”
I’m a bit afraid of what would happen if he tried to be creative.
The tragedy is I get the sense Hayes is a nice guy. Insufferably lame as the record is, Hayes’ personality fares well. It comes off as a genuine effort to make a positive modern pop record which keeps country music in the conversation. However, his lyricism is tepid at best and his musical sensibilities lack imagination, causing him to fall into tropes and trends time after time.