Album Review: Chris Young — Neon

Juli Thanki | July 15th, 2011

chris young neonIf 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.

4 Stars

  1. Ben Foster
    July 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I enjoyed this album. The first three cuts were all good, but I didn’t like “Save Water, Drink Beer” any more than you did. But it gets back on track pretty quickly. I really liked “Flashglight” and the title track.

  2. Andrew
    July 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    The title track is probably one of my favorite new songs I’ve heard all year.

  3. Hoggy from Oz
    July 16, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    I really like the title track. Spot on review in my opinion :)

  4. Jeremy Dylan
    July 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    After I got over my minor disappointment that he hadn’t, in fact, covered the John Mayer song of the same name, I’ve grown to really dig that title track.

  5. Josh
    July 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    So happy about this site, BTW. I really missed a place to talk about country music! If you all need any help with anything in terms of getting things going, feel free to shoot me an email… I’m not sure what I could do, but I’d really like to see this place last.

    Anyway, my favorite tracks on this album, upon first listen, are “Don’t Leave Her (If You Can’t Let Her Go)”, then “Tomorrow”, then “Neon”. The first two are the kind of stuff I really wish Chris would stick to; he’s so good at interpreting songs with actual emotional depth and conflict, and he even carries the 80’s-power-ballad chorus melody of “Tomorrow” pretty well. “Neon” isn’t particularly original, but it just sounds like a classic 90’s country hit, which I’m always a sucker for.

    “When She’s On” and “You” are fun, nice-sounding numbers that don’t aim very high but accomplish what they set out to in a fun way. Nice, safe singles if he wants to go that way. “Flashlight” is one I’ll have to take a few more listens to to get a better read on, but is at least original in its presentation.

    The overall song quality is a step up from “Voices” on this album, but I still wish he would take some more risks… “pleasant” is the perfect adjective to use, but I think he’s capable of “classic”. I just don’t think songs like “She’s Got This Thing…”, “I’m Gonna Change That”, “Old Love Feels New”, “Save Water…”, etc., are catchy and good enough to demand radio play or interesting enough to be album cuts for an artist of his caliber.

    It’s still one of the best releases of the year, I just always have such high hopes for Chris Young!

  6. Matt Bjorke
    July 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    You do know that the universal ‘hate’ for “Save Water, Drink Beer” means it’ll be a single at some point. ;-)

  7. Barry M
    July 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Join the National 5 Year Moratorium Against Singing New Songs About Beer. Bottled, canned or on tap. Join now..

    (Any other liquid is acceptable..Old songs about beer may or may not be grudgingly accepted.)

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