Friday, April 17, 2009

Rascal Flatts - Unstoppable

So let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat -- many country music purists and critics don't like the country/pop sensibilities of Rascal Flatts. Those folks won't find much to like on the band's sixth studio album, but they're in the minority and have been for a decade.

Rascal Flatts know what works for them musically and stick with that on their newest offering, Unstoppable. The sound is unmistakably country, but it never gets overly twangy and listeners can relate to the lyrics about love, loss and family even if they grew up in an urban or suburban area.

The album starts strong with "Love Who You Love," whose non-gender-specific message has been celebrated by members of the LGBT community. Even more surprising -- in a good way, since much of the country music community tends to favor more conservative values -- all three Rascal Flatts members have stated that they have no problem with the song being interpreted as a message of acceptance for the gay community.

"Here Comes Goodbye," the album's second track and first radio single, showcases the range of (oh-so-aptly-named) lead singer Gary LeVox's voice and the emotion he can bring to a song. The single -- which shares a theme of the unexpected loss of a loved one with a previous Rascal Flatts' smash hit, "What Hurts The Most" (2006) -- peaked at #11 on The Billboard Hot 100 and is currently #33 after seven weeks on the chart. This week, "Here Comes Goodbye" is also #1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.

"Close" and "Holdin' On," the third and third-from-last tracks respectively, feel like musical mirrors of each other, perhaps designed to show that the male and female experience isn't as different as we think. "Close," which was co-written by Flatts' bassist Jay DeMarcus, is the story of a woman holding on to mementos from her last relationship ("it's just a worn out Notre-Dame t-shirt/she's gotten mad and tried/to throw that thing away/at least a hundred times/but she's got it on tonight"). "Holdin' On" is the same broken-heart-not-ready-to-move-on story, but this time it's the man who's "holdin' on to the wheel/on to the way she made him feel/on to the shifter, on to the pictures/every precious moment with her."

The title track, an ode to the power of love, shows the band at its best. The guitar-driven, triumphant ballad showcases both LeVox's earnest voice and the trio's beautiful vocal harmonies. "Unstoppable" is the kind of track that turns people who aren't country music fans into Rascal Flatts' fans.

For pure fun, the best track is "Summer Nights," co-written by LeVox. The playful tempo and lyrics capture the feel of a late-night bonfire party on the beach, a perfect feel for a springtime album.

While I don't invest in many country music albums, Unstoppable is yet another Rascal Flatts' album that's worth owning in full. The band doesn't reinvent themselves or their country/pop sound on the disc, but sometimes there's no need to mess with a good thing.

Watch the music video for "Here Comes Goodbye":

Listen to audio clips from all 11 tracks from Rascal Flatts' Unstoppable here.

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