Album Review: Chris Young — Neon
If there weren’t any text on the cover of Neon, you might not recognize the artist: Chris Young is without a cowboy hat for what might be the first time in his career. Luckily, the hatlessness and carefully coiffed hair don’t signify a major shift in his sound.
There are a few elements, such as the slicker production, that make Neon, as a whole, more radio-friendly than his previous albums, but it still has a lot of appeal—and pedal steel—for listeners who long for the days when Randy Travis and Keith Whitley zoomed up the charts. As is de rigueur for most contemporary male artists, Young namedrops a few country singers; in this case, the music and his rich, nuanced vocals sound as though he’s actually listened to those musicians he cites (Conway Twitty and Johnny Lee).
Frothy, catchy tunes “I Can Take It From There” and “Lost,” which is reminiscent of Easton Corbin’s “Roll With It,” get Neon off to a good start, but the album quickly crashes to a halt with “Save Water, Drink Beer.” Aside from its hackneyed lyrics that consist mainly of slogans that can be found on t-shirts in frat houses across the country, Young almost shouts the chorus. It’s a waste of his talents, something that’s made even more obvious due to its placement on the record: sandwiched between his two best vocal turns—”Tomorrow” and the title track.
“Neon,” written by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Trevor Rosen, goes down smooth as Tennessee whiskey. With its crying steel guitar and fiddle, the ballad sounds as though it’d be a perfect fit for the “weekend on the rocks [and] an old school jukebox” Young sings about. If you’ve got any doubts that Young is one of the finest artists to hit mainstream country since Josh Turner broke out on the scene, this song will put those misgivings to rest. Though Neon occasionally gets mired down in sap, like on the tepid album closer “She’s Got This Thing About Her,” for the most part, Young stays on the right side of the line separating schmaltz and sentimentality with tales of fatherly wisdom delivered under the hood of a car (“Flashlight”) and depictions of domestic bliss (“When She’s On”).
Young, who’s got a trio of Number One singles under his belt, has certainly come a long way since his time as a Nashville Star contestant: perhaps the most important element of his journey has been his maturation as a songwriter (he co-wrote seven of the ten tracks on the album). Neon is another step toward well-deserved stardom. Despite a few flaws, it’s an enjoyable—if short—listen. Best of all, there are no rap interludes, ’80s pop arrangements, or reggae breakdowns—just solid, no nonsense country music.
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