It’s typical for a country album to include characters like the wild renegade, the star-struck lover and the get-me-another-beer drunk. Thomas Rhett’s third studio album, Life Changes, packs ’em all into its lyrics.
Less typical, though, is Rhett’s approach to his genre. The styles he employs range from a ’50s-esque love song, to a Drake-paced vibe, to Taylor Swift-like singsong-y remorse—resulting in an album that pushes the boundaries of what country music can sound like … for better and for worse.
“Unforgettable” is the kind of song that every girl puts on repeat, hoping for a guy like this one to cherish every aspect of who she is: “And I bet right now you’re probably thinkin’/That it’s crazy I remember every detail, but I do.”
“Sixteen” nostalgically recalls the longings we harbor at certain milestone ages. At 16, “I can finally drive, finally feel alive, but I got this curfew” And how at 18, “I’m old enough to vote.” And at 21, “I’ll be right where I wanna be.” By 25, the Rhett sings about sitting on the couch with his wife thinking about how not many years before, “All we cared about was turning 16.”
“Marry Me” deals with all the insecurities a man faces as he ponders popping the question. This song has a wistfully sad, Taylor Swift-like feel to it as Rhett sings, “I could try to find her, get it off my chest now/But I ain’t gonna mess it up, so I wish her the best now/ … But she ain’t gonna marry me, no.” Rhett said in an interview that this would have been his song had he not confessed his true feelings to his wife so many years ago.
“Life Changes” likewise draws from Rhett’s personal story. He sings about how he’s realized that life, marriage and family can’t be perfectly mapped out ahead of time. Just when you think you know your plans, he tells us that you can “hear God laughing” as they change. “Sweetheart,” meanwhile, is a sweet love song from Rhett to his wife, about how one morning he realizes “that you’re my life, you’re my dream/You’re the reason for every song I sing/ … You’re my always and forever girl.”
In “Gateway Love,” a man wonders after a tough breakup, “Did you find the one, find the one I thought I was? / Was I just one piece of the puzzle you played? /I guess I was your gateway love.” Album closer “Grave” says that love, unlike earthly possessions, is eternal. And, Rhett adds, “when the good Lord” calls you home, the only thing you can “take to the grave” with you, is love.
The catchy hit “Craving You,” featuring Maren Morris, is all about being unable to resist the object of your desire. Rhett sings of a tantalizing woman’s effect on him, “Girl, my self-control’s so paralyzed.” He tells her that “the way your body moves” is like “the strongest drug” and “like that cigarette/That shot of 100 proof. ” “Gateway Love” also uses drug references, saying, “I didn’t get you high enough?/ … Are you on that heavy stuff?”
Quite a few other tracks on Life Changes also reference drinking and other illicit substances. “Unforgettable” brags about “takin’ shots like it was nothing.” “Sixteen” fondly recalls a rebellious teen’s desire to break rules and to buy tobacco with a fake ID. “Drink A Little Beer” suggests exactly that strategy for taking the edge off after a couple of rough days. That idea surfaces again in “Marry Me,” where we hear about a guy drinking “whiskey straight out the flask” to drown out his regrets. Meanwhile, “Sweetheart” describes Rhett’s wife as being “smooth like whisky, fine like wine.”
“Leave Right Now” finds a guy at a bar telling a woman he’s attracted to, to “ditch all your friends, the guy you came with” and take off with him. Similarly, “When You Look Like That” is all about a man who spies a girl across the bar who is “getting better with every tonic and gin.”
“Smooth Like The Summer” embraces all manner of hedonistic pursuits. Rhett celebrates “getting wild, wearing shades, living like we’re renegades.” He also problematically suggests, “Go on and groove like a mother with your backseat love/Tearing clothes off each other all night,” as well as smoking “just about anything.”
“Kiss Me Like A Stranger,” may very well be about Rhett’s wife. Still, that marital context is never clearly mentioned in this song about the pace of life finally catching up with a couple. Rhett says he wants to “get back to the basics and find young love and make it,” wanting every kiss to be, “like you ain’t gotten used to me yet.”
“Renegades” is the typical Romeo and Juliet song, all about a poor boy and rich girl, and his desire to “cause a little trouble,” and whisk her away no matter what her daddy says.”
Thomas Rhett’s latest effort showcases his fresh style and individuality, the latest example of a country musician who’s not afraid to creatively embrace other genres of music.
Speaking of embraces, we hear about lots of them on Life Changes. Some are the kind we can embrace, too, namely some positive nods to marriage and family. Other times, however, Rhett embraces and romanticizes reckless behaviors—drinking too much, smoking just about anything, and values that have a long history in country music.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, loving raising their little guy, Judah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).