Ordinarily, the name Tim McGraw and the word controversy don’t land in the same sentence. Since 1993, the Louisiana native has been tipping his trademark leather cowboy hat to traditional country stylings even as he’s infused his tunes with mainstream pop and rock sensibilities. It’s proven a lucrative combination, with McGraw’s albums consistently topping the charts and selling a whopping 40 million units.
When he delivered his latest effort to Curb Records, however, his label told him that the songs were below par. That they sounded dated. And then he was informed that the album would not be released. Record another one, he was reportedly told. Lawsuits were filed—from both directions. And McGraw seemingly came out the winner, because Emotional Traffic is finally available, fulfilling McGraw’s contract with the only label he’s ever had.
What will fans think? Well, after listening to all the songs, my conclusion is that they’ll think it sounds like … Tim McGraw. Which is to say, it’s a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. A little bit o’ lovin’ and a little bit o’ leavin’. Jesus gets an appreciative nod too … as does warm beer.
The kinda corny “Touchdown Jesus” delivers an earnest and unironic shout-out to the Lord for miraculously rescuing a needy little girl and for delivering an aging alcoholic from his dependence on the bottle: “Old man was losin’ his battle with the liquor/ … Then he stumbled into church one day and found something bigger/Beat the devil at his own game, and he poured him down the drain, yeah/Touchdown Jesus.”
“Only Human” reminds us how much we need forgiveness and hope in a world full of broken dreams. “I Will Not Fall Down” expresses a man’s resolve to do better and to keep getting up (with a beloved woman’s help) if and when he does stumble: “I will not fall down/I will not fall down without getting up/That’s when I need your love.” Similar pledges show up on “Better Than I Used to Be,” a countrified take on the themes found in Pilgrim’s Progress: “I’m cleanin’ up my act, little by little/I’m getting there/I can finally stand the man in the mirror I see/I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get/But I’m better than I used to be.” Meanwhile, grateful recognition of a woman’s sustaining strength is the backbone of “The One.”
“The One That Got Away” focuses on the determination of a struggling small-town singer who parlays her talent into stardom.
“Halo” finds a browbeaten man wearily (and fairly graphically) telling his do-no-wrong lady that he’ll just keep on submitting to her emotional lashings. “Let’s just cut down the middle,” he suggests, “Let bleed and bleed out/I’ll clean up the mess/Baby, you stand there and shout/ … I’ll crawl … down into my black hole/And you just lay low under your halo.”
Speaking of halos, albeit tarnished ones, the man making strides to live more wisely on “Better Than I Used to Be” seems to be OK with the fact that “I ain’t no angel/I still got a few more dances with the devil.” “Felt Good on My Lips” recalls meeting a beguiling Spanish woman in a bar, having a few drinks before giving her “a goodnight goodbye kiss.” Likewise, “Hey Now” describes how an attractive lass’s moves on the dance floor attract a man’s eye as he sips warm beer—which, of course, is cause for a bit more drinkin’ (“I thought the party was windin’ down/ … Gonna stay now, alright/Bring the Tanqueray out”).
Though he’s finally decided to make an honest woman of his longsuffering partner in “Right Back Atcha Babe,” McGraw also admits that the couple began sleeping together years before: “Oh, and here’s the ring that you’ve been waitin’ for all these years/As for the tears you’ve cried/When we made love the first time/Yeah, I see ya cry.” Another reference to sex shows up on “Die by My Own Hand,” a metaphorical ode to a man’s propensity for self-sabotaging his romantic prospects.
We hear one use of “h‑‑‑.”
Jesus and gin. It’s an unlikely combination that country music in general and Tim McGraw in particular thinks nothing of and in fact embraces with open arms. One minute McGraw’s singing about how Jesus inspired a lifelong alcohol abuser to pour his addiction down the drain. The next, he’s celebrating the arrival of a pretty young thing on the dance floor with a round of Tanqueray. Some of the characters Tim sings about admirably vow to try harder. Others, well, they just want to drink harder.
Shouldn’t that be at least a little controversial too?
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.