Grammy Award–winning country artist Thomas Rhett made a mediocre return to pop country with his fifth album, Where We Started.
While there are some catchy songs and interesting ideas on the first couple of songs, Rhett did not make strides to expand on his sound or to break from the constraints of pop-country, and the album runs out of steam by the second half.
Where We Started features a catchy first half of an album that, even on its own, is constrained by the limits of the country genre. The first half of the album, combined with a much weaker second half, leads Where We Started to be a disappointing production from such a well-respected songwriter in the country scene.
Lyrically, Rhett did not depart from the topics of his previous work, filling his album with cliché songs instead. From songs about beer like “Anything Cold,” to songs about his faith like “Angels,” to a massive helping of love songs, Rhett didn’t branch out from the standard pop-country formula with his lyrics.
There is, however, one exception. “Death Row,” a song about Rhett’s humanizing experience of meeting criminals, is a unique way for the singer to express his faith in God. Rhett recounts how he talked about both fishing and faith with the criminals.
“I thought that he would be a monster / It turns out he’s a whole lot like I am,” Rhett sings, planting the idea that people who have become outsiders in society still deserve a chance at redemption.
The message of “Death Row” is a tough one to convey and one that his audience may not necessarily agree with. Still, it includes Rhett’s most striking lyricism and storytelling of any song on the album.
“I can’t say that he’s in Heaven, who am I to judge his soul? / But Jesus don’t play favorites, ain’t a name that He don’t know,” he sings.
Beyond “Death Row,” the lyricism on Where We Started doesn’t do much to impress compared to the level of storytelling that is expected of a country artist.
While Rhett doesn’t drift too far outside his country comfort space soundwise, there are a few notable moments of interesting instrumentation. The catchiest and hardest-hitting riff is on “Anything Cold.”
The song builds to a fun chorus, as Rhett sings “I’ll even take a Zima, vodka in an Aquafina, or a margarita made in a can,” before asking for “anything cold.”
The riff on “Angels” attempts to communicate an insightful examination of his faith but wraps it in cliché lines.
“I don’t talk to God like you always tell me I should / I don’t live my life every day like you prayed that I would,” Rhett sings.
Another one of the biggest problems with Where We Started is that it feels too long. The crux of that issue is how top-heavy the album is, which leads the five tracks following “Mama’s Front Door” to feel like filler.
Even these few semi-acceptable moments from the first half are not enough to convince country haters that this album is anything special.
It’s as though Rhett created an EP and threw in a few extra songs at the end to turn it into a 45-minute album.