Depending on who you ask, Sam Hunt either represents the promising future of country music, or he represents it’s demise. Hunt’s sophomore album has polarised critics; Pitchfork described ‘Southside’ as “a marker of what modern commercial country can do at it heights”, while TheNeedleDrop indelicately compared listening to this album to being “slowly” “boiled alive”.
For an album whose experimentation and bold genre fusions are both it’s biggest selling point and greatest bone of contention, it’s something of a surprise when this album opens with the stripped back, slower, ballad-like track ‘2016’. This track sees Hunt pining for the days of 2016; making him perhaps the only person alive who would actively like to relive that year. While somewhat lifeless, the song is pretty emotive and is a respectable track. Unfortunately, the album is mostly downhill from this point.
Second track ‘Hard To Forget’ is fine; it features an undeniably catchy chorus and some seemingly heartfelt lyrical content (“Told me to leave all your things / out on the porch /….It’s just some jeans and a shirt / But it’s a whole lot of hurt”). However, the song is majorly let down by it’s introduction; which features a painful vocal performance from Hunt and an especially awkward genre fusion.
Third and forth tracks ‘Kinfolks’ and ‘Young Once’ cement Hunt’s biggest selling point – his ability to create upbeat, infectiously catchy choruses that allow listeners to overlook unspectacular lyrical content.
However, after the first third of this album, the quality of ‘Southside’ takes a sudden nose dive, from which it never fully recovers from. Billboard Top 10 hit ‘Body Like a Back Road’ sounds like little more than radio fodder, and features cringey metaphors like “me and her go way back like Cadillac seats” and painfully cliched lyrics like “Doin’ fifteen in a thirty, I ain’t in no hurry”.
‘That Ain’t Beautiful’ – the next track on this album – can only be described as the epitome of toxic masculinity. The track – which features a painful attempt at spoken word – sees Hunt list various things he finds unattractive in a woman (“cake on all that makeup”, “call your mama crying on the bathroom floor”), before telling her “That ain’t beautiful”. For all the lengths that this song goes to to make it’s point, Hunt may as well have told us he wants a girlfriend who’s “not like other girls” (🙄) and then have been done with it.
Meanwhile, ‘Let It Down’ features less toxic lyrics (which is a relief), but jumps between lyrics that are at times generic and at other times; incoherent (“Come on baby, let it down, let it down / Let it down on down the line”). Admittedly, the chorus to this song is somewhat catchy, yet it still stands firmly in the shadow of tracks like ‘Kinfolks’ and ‘Young Once’.
This album continues in a similar vein with the next three tracks (‘Downtown’s Dead’, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ and ‘Sinning With You’). Each of the tracks are instantly forgettable and contain all the depth of an above ground swimming pool. Penultimate track ‘Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90’s’ is more pleasant listen than the three tracks before it (though the spoken word/rap verses were definitely a mistake).
Final track ‘Drinkin’ Too Much’ – which was released three years prior to the album’s release – isn’t really about drinking as much as it is about trying to make up with an ex-girlfriend. Despite Hunt’s attempts at appearing remorseful, he still comes across as toxic, stalker-ish and manipulative; ignoring the wishes of his ex (“The last thing you need is more unwanted attention / But you changed your number and moved / And this is the only way I could reach you / So wherever you are, turn it up and listen / Hannah Lee, I’m on my way to you”). Ending this album with a track called ‘Drinkin’ Too Much’ (which expresses no remorse for excessive drinking) feels like a mistake, considering Hunt was arrested for a DUI months before ‘Southside’s’ release, yet what is a more fitting way to end an album like this, other than with a big mistake?