The short version: For my 6th album review of 2018, I talk about how Anderson East aims high with his new album, Encore. I also discuss my frustrations with it and how I wished it had been a hell of a lot better than it is.
- Favorite tracks: “Cabinet Door”, “Sorry You’re Sick”, “All On My Mind”, “King For A Day”
- Least favorite track: “Girlfriend”
Personal rating: 5/10
The long version: I’ve long been critical (and tired) of East Nashville’s obsession with Soul and horns and all of that. The problem has never been the music itself. I very much enjoy the style when it’s done well. However, very little of it excited me sonically, and very rarely did you hear an artist like Chris Stapleton who could really sound convincing with the sound behind the microphone. Anderson East is by no means all that relevant to any Country music conversation, but hell, his music isn’t much more far-fetched to listen to and review than most others these days. Plus, his last album, Delilah proved to be somewhat of a breakout for him with its sweeping, lush arrangements and a hell of a front man behind it all. Seriously, you couldn’t deny that Anderson East wasn’t a great fit for this style with his enormous charisma and power.
The lead single for Encore seemed to suggest even somewhat of a shift in tone for Anderson East. “All On My Mind” was much more heavy and dynamic, and “Girlfriend” even hinted at somewhat of a darker edge this album might carry. Therefore, as someone who respected but couldn’t really get all that into Delilah, I charged forth hoping to be surprised.
Unfortunately the end result is not something I’m really all that wild about. In fact, “All On My Mind” could even be seen as somewhat of a bait and switch. Granted, Anderson East is better than ever vocally, but more often that not I found the arrangements to be unexciting, the solos especially unimpressive, and the lyrics to be way too buttery for my tastes. It feels like it’s halfway to being something potent, but ultimately I find Encore to be a disappointing effort.
What’s frustrating is that so many of these songs feel like they’re reaching for something at first only to go nowhere by the end. “If You Keep Leaving Me” essentially showcases a guy so desperately in love that even though he can’t take the hint that it’s over and she doesn’t want him anymore, he’s still going to love her. It’s a nice sentiment that could have gone somewhere, sure, but it never takes off beyond that or says something deeper. It just reads someone very clingy and desperate. I can see why she left him honestly.
Of course, on the note of unflattering framing, we have the album’s worst moment by far with “Girlfriend”. Don’t get me wrong, that darker instrumental packs a hell of a punch, and Anderson is dead on as he delivers that catchy hook, but lyrically it’s just one giant problem. For starters, in what universe would a conversation actually happen where one guy would admit to another guy that he’s in love with this guy’s girlfriend. Like, in what way does this end well? Moreover, why are you telling him this? Do you plan to fight him for her or something as if she’s a juicy steak and y’all are just rabid dogs or what? Honestly, I love the energy to this, and by God, it’s needed for sure, but this song is beyond terrible lyrically.
On that note though, a lack of an energy is another big flaw this album carries. Yes, the instrumentation often does sound very lush with those horns sweeping in at just the right moment along with the elegant strings. However, it’s lush without being vibrant, often making a lot of these songs drag on or sound very dry, especially when you have consecutive songs that are going for this exact same mood. “King For The Day” sets the album off on the right foot with the very punchy horns. Sonically it’s nothing all that new, but again, it’s solid as hell. He even shows off his natural vocal power on the bridge. It’s a very easy going, laid back tune with a catchy chorus that does everything well, so why couldn’t more moments like this stick the landing?
Granted, when I say “more moments like this”, I’m not just referring to the arrangements or the instrumentation and production. Even lyrically there’s a running theme of love. To be fair, Anderson does have quite a few songs that speak to something deeper like on “House Is A Building” where he states that love and the life that these two lovers create for themselves as well as any future children is worth much more than just two random people who never really invest in love. Unfortunately there’s also moments that feel way too cheesy in their execution as well like on “This Too Shall Last” where he proclaims their love will last forever….just because it will I guess. They love each other, so naturally they’re immune to literally any sort of hardship there is. Got it. It’s really no better on “Without You” too where you can see the hook coming from a mile away.
It’s a shame too that it’s those types of moments that dominate the album, because a song like “Sorry You’re Sick” makes me think that Anderson would be so much better off just aiming for up-tempo material. Yeah, it’s a cover of a Ted Hawkins song, but holy moly it’s catchy. The hand clapping beat works well with the flow of the song, and again, Anderson East just has an enormous amount of power, and it’s on these faster (and even sillier) tracks that he’s able to just let loose and really explode. Again, it does suffer from having a lackluster solo, but this is infectious as all hell. I dig it.
“Surrender” is also another chance for Anderson to display his vocal talent, and aside from his cringe-worthy voice cracking/screaming toward the middle, this is another good track as well. The tambourine in the background helps to keep that steady, infectious beat. As noted before too, “All On My Mind” is a darker, more dynamic moment for the album that shows Anderson experimenting with his sound to pretty great degrees.
It’s not until I hear that final track on the album though that I finally “get it”. All of the many (many) songs that reference needing each other and love and building a life together was all meant as a buildup for the closer, “Cabinet Door”. Other moments such as “Surrender”, “Girlfriend”, and “All On My Mind” were moments of levity I guess. Hell, even “King For A Day” cleverly laces in a reference to how their love likely won’t last for long, and by the end, it did. As for this specific song though, it’s so well-crafted and nuanced to easily make it an early favorite for me in the “song of the year” category. It’s not so much what this song says rather than what it represents. This husband and wife went through life together to the point where they actually not only succeeded in keeping that love, but also making a life for themselves and their children to pass down to their own children one day. It’s that sense of finality that comes into play once we realize that the wife in this situation has passed on, and the entire song is told from the widower’s point of view. Of course too, the song is quick to mention all of the wonderful things the couple has been blessed with in their lives. Kids, lands, dogs – they’ve got something worth holding onto, sure, but she is what made him whole. Hell, he even tries to honor her memory by cooking from her own cook book only to realize he can’t. He’s a mess at this point. He can’t even sleep in their own bed now.
Of course, her leaving isn’t the only event perpetuating this decay. He himself is also old, and he’s starting to forget things. He’s obviously got so many reasons to be happy and so many memories to cherish, but they’re fading, and without her to share them with him, it’s not so much that nothing matters anymore, it’s just that he’ll never experience joy like that in his life ever again. We’ll all be there someday unfortunately. Thankfully it doesn’t quite end on that somber note. The news of one of their children expecting their own child alludes the fact that there’s hope for the future and there’s a reason to smile. His life may very well be over, but that joy he and his wife once had will live on. It speaks to how everything in life that we love to do is worth doing even if that pain is inevitable.
At this point too, I feel bad, because listen after listen with this album just unfortunately didn’t convince me there was enough of a story told before that to help weave this thing together into something more cohesive. I mean, for as much as a lot of these songs sound the same sonically, even lyrically they’re often too buttery or non-specific enough to really make much of an impact on the listener. Hearing one song on this album means you’ve heard some others as well.
That’s unfortunate too, because I like Anderson East. He’s got a raw, fiery passion in his voice, and when he’s on, he’s on. Unfortunately while Encore does boast a healthy amount of good tracks (along with the excellent “Cabinet Door”), it also feels way too bloated to really be the cohesive concept album that it deserves to be, where it observes love from the start until its end (and even then it will stay live on in others). Still, kudos to Anderson for trying to forge a grander concept. I just wish it stuck the landing a bit more.
Personal rating: Decent to strong 5