It’s a tricky moment for any singer who dares to step out of the comfort and constraints of an established group effort, especially when that group is Florida Georgia Line. FGL might have fallen from the heights of their unstoppable trajectory across the top of the country music highway in the 2010s, at a time when big money was sweeping through Nashville. However, their legacy and impact on the genre are undeniable and still being reconciled today.
A first solo effort after such a behemoth has one of two purposes – you bank on the formula of your established success and give the people more of what they want, or you use it as an opportunity to make something so good, so unexpected, that people forget where you started. If done well, the latter is the gold standard.
The self-title of this album and the unfussy straight-to-camera cover art suggested that this is what Tyler Hubbard would be going for with his first solo effort. So what’s the reality? Did we miss anything? Did the constraints of FGL really keep Hubbard from his true musical destiny all those years? Well…not really. Across 18 songs, things remain much the same in Hubbard’s world. Though we get slightly more of a glimpse into his psyche and influences than we’ve been afforded before, Hubbard still loves his wife, his buddies and where he’s from. He likes riding red dirt roads, catching a buzz and his favourite boots.
That’s not to say that some of these songs don’t ignite a tapping of toes. Throughout the album we get hints of steel guitar, underlicks of banjo and even some fun on the keys. 5 Foot 9 (the album’s lead single and its most ‘songwriter’-esque effort), Baby Needs Her Lovin’, and Everybody Needs a Bar are undeniably catchy. Much like with FGL, just don’t read too much into it. If you find your head nodding along, go with it. Tough and 35’s are more reflective, though they don’t contain enough rich lyrical detail to offset the routine of their sentiment – what doesn’t kill you makes you tough and sometimes you gotta slow down and appreciate what you’ve got.
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There are some sincerely emotional moments on the album. In fact, the final two tracks are two of its best – that they don’t come earlier on is one of its great shame. Miss My Daddy is a beautiful ballad that reflects on the loss of Hubbard’s father in a helicopter crash in 2007 – the things he taught him, the moments he’s missed and how he wishes he could see him again. Way Home is an effective follow-up where Hubbard sounds his most honest and vulnerable.
Elsewhere, songs have titles that have a habit of building momentum that never quite materialises. The listener follows eagerly, assuming there will eventually be some drop, some hook, some kind of lyrical play or reveal in the final throes of the chorus. It doesn’t happen. ‘Here with her, my whole world looks just like…Paradise’. ‘Can’t nobody quite love me like…She Can’. ‘Girl, I think I love you is what I’ve been trying to say…By The Way’.
The result is an album that is…fine. Hubbard had a difficult job here in being both solid and surprising, and at times we get glimpses of both. If the smash success of 5 foot 9 tells us anything, it’s that leaning into that surprise more often might be the key to his continued success.
Tyler Hubbard is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music now