A little controversy rocked the Country music part of Twitter this week when radio personality ‘Big Rick’ Daniels (@OnAirWithRick) posted the following tweet: ‘Unpopular opinion: Is it me or does every Luke Combs song sounds (sic) the same? He’s becoming the Nickelback of Country music……….I don’t get the hype.’
First of all, let’s caveat that by saying anything that gets said on the internet needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, we all know that right? Everyone has different motivations for making statements online, from genuinely expressing an opinion to seeking attention via clickbait. Who knows which of those reasons was behind Big Rick’s tweet however a honest nest was well and truly stirred up! Combs recently released third album, ‘Growin’ Up’ – you can read our review of it right here – and the reaction to it has been interesting in some quarters. From a neutral’s point of view ‘Big Rick’ Daniels isn’t the only person who has expressed the view that there is a homogeneous bent to Luke Combs’ sound.
The replies to Daniels’ tweet were, typically for the internet, nothing short of tribal! MoJoe Roberts replied ‘Well, it’s a good thing you’re no longer working in Country radio because you’re way out of touch with that comment. Luke Combs is a superstar. Not up for debate.’ Christopher (@mountieman323) replied ‘Name a Country act whose songs don’t sound similar? Haha. All of George Strait’s songs sound similar and he is the GOAT. It’s three chords and the truth my man,’ whilst Joshua Anderson (@JWAndrews11) added, ‘That’s how I feel with just about every male nowadays in Country music.’
It’s fair to say that Combs’ new album, ‘Growin Up’ has divided opinion more than his two previous efforts did and there’s definitely a little corner of the internet that agree with Joshua Anderson et al but in my mind Daniels and Co are being too harsh. Yes, Combs uses a similar chord structure and vocal melody in many of his songs but what Country artists don’t? From Luke Bryan to Jason Aldean to Kip Moore to Little Big Town – when you hear a song of theirs on the radio you instantly know it’s them. Kip Moore’s new song, ‘Fire on Wheels’ actually sees him tweaking and playing with his sound a little, adding in a little 70s rock and Bob Seger-style vibe and whilst many fans like it I’ve seen plenty of ‘doesn’t sound like Kip Moore’ style comments, so this could be a case of ‘damned if you don’t, damned if you do!’
To put it simply. Combs is nowhere near Jason Aldean in terms of plagiarising his own sound, Aldean is the master of that! Since hitting on a formula on his ‘My Kinda Party’ album from 2010 it wouldn’t be unkind to say that most of Aldean’s songs since, which the notable exception of ‘You Make it Easy’, are re-writes of either ‘Tattoos on This Town’, ‘My Kinda Party’, ‘Fly Over States’ or ‘Night Train’. Indeed, the best song on Aldean’s new albums ‘Macon’ & ‘Georgia’, ‘Holy Water’, is a shameless re-write of ‘Night Train’ right down to the melody and the guitar lines.
When you look at Luke Combs’ general, default sound there is enough diversity and difference for him to not be put anywhere near the ‘Aldean’ camp of plagiarisers. ‘Doin’ This’ sounds nothing like ‘When it Rains it Pours’. ‘The Kind of Love We Make’ sounds nothing like ‘Houston, We’ve Got a Problem’. ‘Outrunnin’ Your Memory’ sounds nothing like anything Combs has ever recorded before. ‘Does to Me’ is a classic song that he has never tried to replicate and ‘Beautiful Crazy’ is a huge, personal ballad that he could easily try to write over and over again but hasn’t.
Sure, Combs’ uptempo songs all share a similar origin and genealogy but what Country artists’ don’t? Songs like ‘1,2 Many’, ‘Honky Tonk Highway’ and ‘Ain’t Far From It’ are all similar in style, with the bar-room, hardwood floor guitars and honky tonk pianos but to my ears there isn’t anything wrong with having one of those style songs on each album, this is Country music after all!
Look at artists that have drastically changed their sound. The first two that come to mind are Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves. The latter produced two of the finest Country music albums of modern times in her first two records but changed things up in a big way for her ‘Golden Hour’ album in 2018 and faced a tumultuous amount of criticism from the Country music community for doing so! Little Big Town tried to shake things up a little on their 2016 release ‘Wanderlust’, which saw them experimenting with a very different image, style and sound. It failed. And the less said about The Band Perry the better.
So, it’s clear to see that criticisms of Luke Combs for sticking to a style and a sound are, for me, unfounded. Yes, there is a default base that he builds from and yes, many of his songs are instantly recognisable as being ‘Combs-esque’ but there is nothing wrong with that. He’s nowhere near Jason Aldean in terms of mining his own biggest hits and if he did change his sound and produce something very different next time round there is no guarantee that the fans or the industry would ‘allow’ him to succeed. They didn’t with Kacey or Little Big Town. This everyman is here to stay and as long as there are songs that take him forward in terms of style and evolution on each of his forthcoming albums, like ‘Doin This’ and ‘The Kind of Love We Make’ do on his most recent release ‘Growin Up’, he will continue to dominate the charts, the airways and the arena ticket sales in the way that we’ve seen him do in the past 3-5 years.
So, the conclusion, for me, is that no, it isn’t fair to say that all Luke Combs songs sound the same, however, Twitter remains divided on the issue but no surprise there. Radio Monica, replying to ‘Big Rick’ Daniels said, ‘I’d have to say, he’s found a formula that seems to resonate with Country listeners. It’s working for now but he will eventually have to stretch his talents as the music evolves,’ whilst RabidRaceFan (@KarnAnne) replied, simply with ‘Are you high?’ Vern Schmidt (@Vernontheradio) took the debate even further with his reply, which is a whole new article and branching universe all of its own, when he wrote, ‘Everyone has their own opinion. Yours is very similar to how I feel about Stapleton.’ And I’ll let that sit right there for you to ponder, drop the mic on the floor and walk away!