Score: 85 (B)
Let’s face it. Yelawolf’s previous album, 2011’s “Radioactive”, was a flop. It arrived to disappointing reviews, with an all around mixed reaction from critics and his fan’s alike. On Radioactive, Yelawolf was not in control, to say the least. He seemed to be forced to bend over backwards to fulfill the demands from his record label to introduce elements to the sound of the album that he was clearly not comfortable with. He sounded like a puppet. An inanimate object with his strings being pulled and forced to act in a puppet show with theatrical elements foreign to him. He was being forced to be fake, and forced to put out a commercialized, radio-friendly rehash of his mixtape, Trunk Muzik (which is the masterpiece that got him discovered by Shady and Interscope, his labels, in the first place), and you could tell by the uninterested tone in his voice throughout most of the album that he clearly didn’t want to. Because of this, he wasn’t even able to truly connect with his own audience on his own album of music. As a result, his debut lacked passion, and was therefore uninteresting. His talent was a diamond, but it was a diamond in a rough composed of lyrics about drugs, and ridiculous collaborations with artists like Lil’ Jon… the last thing you’d expect from a heavily classic rock and country influenced Alabamian hip hop act. And for most of the CD, the listener’s unable to find that diamond, and the behind the scenes attempt at making Yela’s sound more mainstream in order to appeal to more people backfired with his disconnectedness, which hurt his sales as well.
But at some point or another, a conversation must’ve been had behind the scenes. Because his sophomore effort, Love Story, is the exact opposite scenario. He clearly has a lot more freedom to do what he wants. It’s without a doubt his greatest work yet, and is even being hailed as Album of The Year so far by many people, and that’s in competition to Kendrick Lamar’s highly acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly. That type of reaction started as soon as the album leaked a few days before its release (like most highly anticipated high profile albums do). But neither that type of hype, nor the brilliance of all 5 singles released beforehand could’ve prepared me for the album being just so good.
Michael (Yelawolf) is unapologetic. He doesn’t force himself to pander to any one group of people. Did you love his fast-rapping on Trunk Muzik and Radioactive? Too bad. He fast raps two lines on the entire album. Not two songs, two lines at the climactic moment near the end of one song. Did you want straight hip-hop? Not gonna happen. He sings on every track, and several of the tracks are completely sung. The Blues, Country, and Soul is what you’re getting for considerable about of the run time. You want shock and vulgarity? Well, while antiestablishmentism is a recurring subject, it’s delivered with taste. Some tracks don’t even contain so much as a subliminal hint at something inappropriate, and some not even a single curse word.
Michael’s himself on this album. His only focus is to make good, high quality music. And boy, did the years of hard work pay off. Let’s review this track by track.
The album is great, I swear. But the opening track... not so much. The skit preceding the music was mildly amusing, but, overall, the opening track actually scared me, because I fleetingly thought we were getting another disappointment with Love Story, because the first track was so unentertaining. It’s obvious Yelawolf wanted to start the album off with a hyped up rock-rap song. He shouldn't have. He’s not very good at making loud songs. “Get the Fuck Up”, “Good to Go”, and “Marijuana” off of Trunk Muzik, “Throw it Up” off of Radioactive and his verse on Tech N9ne's “Worldwide Choppers” are the only 5 instances in his illustrious career I think of where he pulled it off. I’m sorry, but while it has some good lyrics, it’s just overall “euughc”, because it’s so incredibly cheesy because of the unsuccessful attempt at getting you hyped for the rest of the album. And why even try to do that anyway? It’s not a very hype album. It’s very smooth and quiet. If Outer Space is released as a single, it will make a good club hit, but as a piece of music, it’s overall unsuccessful at being anything you can really zone in listening to. Again, it’s not the lyrics, but the flow of the song the force me to give this a 6.3/10.
Change is what the album should’ve started off with. The song starts off with Yelawolf singing about how he’s changed as a person, and how he sees himself.
With the second verse, he switches to rapping. He keeps the same subject matter as the first, but sounds a little more intense and self-confident. The third verse is what makes this song, however.
In the third verse, Yelawolf gives you advice for life. Just, advice for life, in general. Lines like “Do not succumb to the masses ideas/or the ridicule and judgment/of those who follow the ideas for the weak”, “Carry your flame to the fire/do not wait for the fire to carry the flame to you”, and “feed, do not starve” among many other great lines, combined with a loud flow laced with electronic-esque backing vocals, make this verse make this song the best inspirational rap song I’ve heard in a while. This is the type of song you can put on whenever you feel weak or incapable and you can be recharged, and to make a song that does that takes real talent and passion. This song demonstrates a uniquely good ability to apply real life struggles to the music you make on the part of Yelawolf. It’s one of the best tracks on the album, and is powerful and has a high replay value, and is absolutely a stand out.
I do feel like it could’ve used darker, smoother production, however. And while I do care to hear about Yelawolf’s life, I’m not sure the first two verses were deep and powerful enough. They were good enough, but it’s not a proper build up to the perfection that is the third verse. That’s just nitpicking, though, and I honestly give this song a 9.3/10.
Another highlight follows Change. American You is well…. for…. American You. The chorus and first two verses (which are sung) diss people who are successful and up on a high horse about it, and try to conform to ridiculous standards of not showing emotions, never doing anything “bad”, and never getting tattoos, as if that puts them on some sort of moral high ground. Then, the third verse is for the average hard-working American… American You if you will. The verse addresses how hard-working the average American is, and how little they generally receive in return. But it also addresses the better things of the life of a hard working normal American, like how they’re normally overall good people.
The song then ends off telling you to disregard anybody who is so stuck up they find your normal behavior “offensive,” and you get a hat tip from Yela himself. In addition to the awesome theme, this whole song is put together with pristine production quality. The beat is dark, yet light hearted, the chorus is pretty catchy, and the build from the beginning all the way through the third verse and the final run-through of the chorus that follows it is consistent, and dramatic enough to be satisfying, without going overboard. It’s really a perfect song, and I, personally, am able to find no flaws in it whatsoever, so it gets a 10/10 from me.
Whiskey in a Bottle
Whiskey in a Bottle is classic Yelawolf. Of course, as a follow up to “American You”, Michael has to talk about his own habits and “slumerican” life, so the song is just talking about a whole bunch of things from his rural Alabama lifestyle, from food, to southern state football rivalries, to “spittin’ shotgun pellets out [his] chilli bowl,” as well as his thoughts and how he lives. And it’s done with yet another unrelentingly catchy hook and a nice build up through the three verses. 9.8/10 here.
Ball and Chain/Till It’s Gone
Ball and Chain, the shortest song on the album, at one minute and 35 seconds long, is successful with its short run time. Its subject matter is how about how Yelawolf feels as if he used to be the world’s prisoner, and is no longer. This is conveyed with many absolutely brilliant metaphors that show Yela’s incredible songwriting ability. But the whole purpose of the song is to be an interlude that sets you up for the next song, Till It’s Gone.
Till It’s Gone is one of the best songs on the album. But I was unable to fully appreciate it, because it was released as single beforehand. Box Chevy V, Whiskey in a Bottle, American You, and Best Friend all made sense, but, “Till It’s Gone” made zero. It’s not only straight up not a good single, but it’s vital to the flow of the album. I feel like this album would’ve impacted me a lot more if I’d never heard “Till It’s Gone” before. But I kind of struggled to pay attention through this song, and it kind of ruined the impactfulness of this part of the album, because it was placed so strategically, it was one of the most important songs to establishing the album’s overall feel. It came after a slew of songs encouraging you to be yourself that said fuck everybody who’s set on being an adversity for whatever reason. More importantly, it came after Ball and Chain, an interlude that, again, conveys how Yelawolf feels as if he used to be the world’s prisoner, and is no longer. After skimming the surface of this idea for 4 tracks including Ball and Chain, Till It’s Gone finally jumps into specifics, talking about how he refuses to be used, and chastising those who try and use him, explaining that a huge signifier of maturity is “handl(ing) your own.”
It’s a song I should’ve been intently paying attention to, and I should’ve been left thinking, “Woah, that was awesome! This is an insanely good album!”
Instead, because it was released as a single, I zoned out while listening to it during my run-throughs of the album, and was left thinking “Oh, finally, it’s over, now on to the next song for more never-before-heard-content!”
Overall though, it is a great song. During the verses, Yelawolf continues with the insane metaphors he started using during “Ball and Chain,” and the song has an excellent build up through the end, which you see a lot of on this album, and it has a devilishly catchy chorus. All things considered, I’ll give it an 8.5/10.
Devil in My Veins
The botching of Till It’s Gone’s potential impactfulness didn’t cause my attention to be lost for the rest of the album, it turns out, because “Devil in My Veins” sucked me right back in. Yelawolf handled the production of this track entirely by himself, and….. shit, he should've handled more of the production by himself, because this one of the best produced songs on the album, along with "Heartbreak" and "Empty Bottles."
While it can be enjoyed by even the non-religious if looked at as a metaphor, the song is religious in a literal sense. Continuing with the metaphors that helped make the last two tracks, Yelawolf talks about how the devil pressured him into doing negative things, and how he desperately wants forgiveness from his god for doing these things. You have the best build up and climax on the album here, the best chorus, and the best overall sound. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s the best song on the album. Fuck it. 12/10. It’s my review. I can do that shit if I want to.
Best Friend continues the religious subject matters of this part of the album. In case you didn’t get it, Yelawolf's god is his best friend. This song for the most part doesn’t even use metaphors or focus on one thing relating to religion like “Devil in My Veins.” It’s basically Yelawolf’s fuck-religion-praise-god brand of gospel. And even though I’m an atheist myself, I have to concede that it’s amazing, and really just epic as hell once Eminem’s verse is thrown in. And Eminem rips the track to shreds talking about God. Who would’ve guessed that would ever happen?
Anyway, I don’t have much to say, not sharing their religious beliefs, other than the pristine production has to be praised, and so do Yelawolf’s singing ability and Eminem’s rapping ability. It’s, like “American You” and “Devil in My Veins”: Flawless. So it gets 10/10 from me.
Empty Bottles addresses the effects of Yelawolf’s drinking, and it’s one of the best songs on the album. His drinking is painted in a negative light, and he just tells about what it’s like to be drunk, and hungover afterwards. But he does it with such god-like talent that gets the message across, it’s unbelievable. The chorus is one of the best on the album, I’d say second only to “Devil in My Veins,” in fact. The first verse details him first starting to drink (or going in for another round after already being buzzed, perhaps), and it’s done with almost whispered lines like “I bloom in the night fog like mushrooms”, and it really paints an ominous picture of a night of drinking beginning, successfully creating a sense of foreboding with it’s gloomy delivery.
The second verse then paints the picture of Yela being really gone, with him saying the “whole world feels soft,” and noticing that he has a lit cigarette in his mouth, without remembering how it was lit, and not caring about attention he receives from fans or the media, maybe even forgetting he’s famous. Again, the delivery of the verse here creates an intense sense of foreboding.
Then, in the third verse, Yelawolf is reminiscing to himself about the past that lead him to begin drinking to the point of drunkenness, then notices the bartender is looking at him funny, and lashes out, apparently accusing the bartender of judging him, and putting him in his place. Again, this story is told with a dark, ominous flow that is difficult for me to convey to you with words, and is just so good and so smooth. The bridge that follows talks about how when he’s hung-over, he just wants to drink more Jack Daniels to relieve the pain, showing a serious drinking problem.
It’s one of the darkest songs on the album, and is one of the best. I just wish it gave some sort of spoken message about what he thinks of drinking, though. In an outro, maybe? That would’ve just completed the song. Because, while binge drinking is still certainly painted in a negative light, no real opinion is straight-up given about it. Maybe the song it just meant to convey his experience and that’s it, and maybe it’s meant to be relatable to the “average American” he appealed to in songs like “American You,” but whatever the purpose, the fact that I don’t know it by the end makes the song feel incomplete. But, for it’s great musical quality and wonderfully dark vibes, I’ll be generous and give it an 8.8/10.
Another highlight on the album, “Heartbreak” tells the story of Yelawolf’s relationship that he was in from his days struggling to put food on the table to first becoming a millionaire, where the girl was obviously only in the relationship for financial support. And, once this song is over, that’s probably the point where the listener is going “Holy shit, this album is amazing!”
For the sixth tack in a row, Yelawolf takes a simple concept and turns it into art, further solidifying many people’s labeling of this album as the best album of the year. (Whether it actually is, I'll address later.) Yelawolf’s bars warrant consecutive fire emojis in the comment section of any website this song and/or its lyrics are on. It’s full of ridiculous metaphors and amazing burns that serve as one big “Fuck you!” to his gold-diggin ex. And again, with the wonderful choruses! Heartbreak’s is amazing, and I’d say the fourth best on the album behind the one on “Devil in My Veins,” “Empty Bottles,” and “Till It’s Gone.” And as I hinted at earlier, Eminem’s handling of the production is what makes this song. Only Marshall Mathers can make a diss track so damn musical. Another great track, and it’s almost up there with “Devil in My Veins,” so I’ll give it an 11/10.
Tennessee Love is a love song, Yelawolf style. It first appeared on his 2013 mixtape “Trunk Muzik Returns,” but it absolutely deserves a place on this album. (Especially one called “Love Story.”) It’s dedicated to his fiance, Fefe Dobson. And it’s beautiful. 9.8/10.
Box Chevy V
Another track that is among my favorites on the album, Box Chevy V is the fifth in the “Box Chevy” series, a series of songs about Chevrolets. It’s considered by many to be the best in the series, myself included. Sporting the fifth best chorus on the album in my opinion, and having a laid back feel, it’s a song you can put on repeat and kick back and relax to… especially if you love Chevys. It’s another great on the album, and deserves a 9.5/10.
Love Story should’ve been called “Life Story,” because that’s exactly what it’s about. In it, Yelawolf talks about where he came from, where he is now, and where he plans to go in the future. But hey…. “Love Story” does sound a lot better.
Anyway, as with almost every other track on this album, Yelawolf performs. In between his life story, he mixes in epically braggadocious punchlines like “If God is my angel, the fucking devil’s the pistol/better put your face behind safety glass when I load up this missile,” and manages to tell his life story in a more enjoyable way than I’ve ever heard done before on a piece of music. It’s further evidence for many people’s claims this is a classic, as these are the type of insane bars you'd expect to hear from the best point of a classic. (Whether the album actually is or not, again, I'll address later.)
It’s dragged out a little long, though. I feel like it would’ve been a lot more successful if all the fluff was cut off, but I’ll give it a 9.5/10.
Johnny Cash is about Yelawolf’s feelings when performing on stage. I guess he’s comparing his stage experience or performance to Johnny Cash, but I’m not one hundred percent sure why that’s the name repeated over and over again during the hook. Anyway, like a few other songs on the album, he sings the first two verses and raps the third, detailing his feelings before and during a performance. At first he calmly, without showing off his abilities much, sings about how he’s about to begin performing. Then, in the second verse, he describes how things are beginning to go downhill, and how he’s struggling to really make a connection to the crowd, this time beginning to let you have a peek at his lyrical ability, with lines like “I’m wearing my soul on my sleeve/but they look at me through a pinhole.”
For the third verse, Yelawolf sheds light on how the going downhill of the stage performance makes him feel insecure of his abilities as a musician, while using complex metaphors that show he’s clearly one of the most talented artists out, and then ultimately comes to a conclusion he comes to multiple times earlier on the album: “I don’t care how they feel.”
While Johnny Cash is overall successful, it begins the going downhill of the album’s quality in the final few tracks. The album is dragged out too long, and I agree with the suggestions of many critics: Love Story could’ve ended at 13 songs with the title track. The quality is notably worse than the first 13 tracks, the chorus is simple and lazy, and his flow is uncreative. It’s an “eh” song on an otherwise great album. Sorry, but a 5.8/10 makes the most sense for me.
Have a Great Flight
“Have a Great Flight” is about Yelawolf’s passed away great-grandmother. It’s an overall sad song, and Yela, knowing she wouldn’t want him to sit around and mope and mourn, wishes her a “great flight outta here, I suppose.” And while the title, and the hook where he sings the title are clever, and I sympathize with Yelawolf on the passing of his grandmother, it’s another pretty bad song.
His singing leaves much to be desired, not only being really nasally, but also clearly having been altered during production, and almost sounding like it’s been put through auto tune at some points, he also at no point actually explains what he’s even talking about, (I had to go on Rap Genius to find out it’s about death, specifically that of his grandmother.) and lastly, the song contains so little actual content, it could’ve been a two and half minute interlude… but it’s dragged out to over five minutes. I’m sorry, but it’s another pretty unenjoyable song. 3.8/10.
Sky’s the Limit
Yelawolf finally makes a comeback on “Sky’s the Limit.” On this song, he raps about things inhibiting one’s pursuing of the “American “Dream” in modern day America. The first verse addresses the stupidly strict drug laws, that are especially an inhibition to those who are growing up poor and often have no other option but to pursue drug dealing as a career. The second verse then addresses police corruption, but then in the third, Yelawolf talks about his grandfather, who fought in a war, and ultimately ends up pointing out that because of how people like his grandfather fought in wars, we have the right to freedom of speech, and we should be grateful for that.
Yelawolf’s flow, which had been going downhill for the past two tracks, makes a comeback here, and the chorus is the best one since “Box Chevy V.” It’s yet another flawless song, which is remarkable, as most albums don’t have a single flawless song on the entire album, and Yelawolf has many on Love Story. 10/10, definitely.
Oh my god, “Disappear” is horrible song. I have no idea how it made it on to the album, but dude. Again, it’s about a sensitive issue (abuse during childhood and how he had no one to save him), but it’s the epitome of a dreadfully awful track. The Hook and Outro are emotional enough to rip your heart out of your chest, but the verses are just…. ugh. Again, I understand Yelawolf is really reaching inside himself and talking about something that’s hard to talk about, but the flow during the verses is abrasive, and makes the song hard to get through. I understand it’s from the perspective of a child praying to god to disappear because of his troubles, and a child’s rhymes and flow would be simplistic, but it’s too much. I’m sorry, but that’s not a valid excuse for such eye-roll warrantingly simple rhymes and a flow that doesn’t try at all. As much as I want to call it “beautiful,” because this obviously must’ve been hard for Yelawolf to do, it just not. It’s pretty god-awful. 2.5/10.
Fiddle Me This
“Fiddle Me This” is a pretty decent ending to the album. In it, he talks about his thoughts while putting the project together, thanks you for listening, and asks that you buy the album. (Which you should, because even if it did start to go downhill through the ending, it’s overall a masterpiece.) It has kind of a “Devil Went Down to Georgia” feel, with an insane fiddle solo, and country vibes. It’s a good song that provides some light-hearted relief from the dark subject matters on the rest of the album, and gets a 9/10 from me.
Overall, as I said earlier, this is Yelawolf’s strongest project yet. Yelawolf tells his life story, and crystal clearly conveys his emotions with amazing hooks, smooth production and incredible lyricism.
It’s not perfect, however. It has a weak opening track and, and Complex was right in saying it’s momentum really fizzles out by the end. The track “Sky’s the Limit” should’ve been moved up to directly follow “Till It’s Gone,” and otherwise tracks 14-17 should’ve been taken out. That would’ve left us with 15 tracks of brilliance.
At the album’s best, musicality and sound quality wise, it’s better than the best points of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” that’s true. But at it’s worst, namely the dragging out of the song “Have a Great Flight,” the lackluster quality of “Johnny Cash,” the all around horrible cheesiness of the opening track and “Disappear,” and occasional moments of cheesiness scattered throughout the album, it can also be worse than the worst points of Young Thug’s “Barter 6."
Even with all of that said, it’s definitely the one of the best albums of 2015 so far…. but don’t expect an album of the year nomination at the next Grammy's... and it's definitely not an "instant classic."
Great Tracks: Change, American You, Whiskey In a Bottle, Ball and Chain, Till It’s Gone, Devil in My Veins, Best Friend, Empty Bottles, Heartbreak, Tennessee Love, Box Chevy V, Love Story, Sky’s the Limit.
Average/Good but Forgettable/”Eh” Tracks: Outer Space, Johnny Cash, Fiddle Me This
Bad Tracks: Have a Great Flight, Disappear.
Score: 85/100 (B)