Country

Album Review: Florida Georgia Line Stay a Step Ahead of the Bros on ‘Anything Goes'

Florida Georgia Line-- Anything Goes Album Review

It's appropriate that Florida Georgia Line took its name from both sides of a boundary, because the duo (Georgia-born Tyler Hubbard, 27, and Florida native Brian Kelley, 29) used its multiformat smash "Cruise," and the party-themed album Here's to the Good Times, to redraw -- and partly erase -- the once-thin lines that separate country from the rest of popular music. The pair wasn't the first to introduce hip-hop elements to the genre -- Jason Aldean did that in "Dirt Road Anthem," and Colt Ford has built a solid touring career with a rap/country hybrid. But FGL took the approach to a new level by enlisting Nelly on a pop remix of "Cruise" and jamming a street flow into its Luke Bryan collaboration, "This Is How We Roll."

Billboard Cover: Florida Georgia Line on Being ‘Professional Partiers,’ Haters and Hip-Hop

With that résumé, Anything Goes is an apt title for a follow-up. But if anything, the duo pulls back a bit on the genre-busting. The album's opening line -- "Alabama on the boom box, baby" -- gives a shout-out to a Country Music Hall of Fame band that similarly tested the limits back in the day, and there are references to country figures Merle Haggard and Shania Twain tucked in alongside mentions of Bob Marley and Mick Jagger. "Dirt," the lead single, puts a classic-country twist on the FGL story, slathering atmospheric steel on a song that views home ownership as a symbol of life's dust-to-dust realities. It's one of those peculiarities of country: Some of its best material condenses decades of experience into three minutes, and "Dirt" does that in a subtly thoughtful way.

Florida Georgia Line: The Billboard Cover Shoot

That old-school approach is mostly a departure, though, as Anything Goes cements FGL's signature sound, essentially announcing to competitors that the duo owns its once-unique audio turf. Other acts -- including Sam Hunt, Cole Swindell and "Cruise" co-writer Chase Rice -- have followed FGL into the same sonic space in the past two years, but Hubbard's redneck lead and his intense harmonies with Kelley are an immediately identifiable calling card that keeps them at the front of the pack.

Florida Georgia Line's 'Dirt' Plows To No. 1 On Hot Country Songs

Those vocals are ably supported on Anything Goes by a warehouse of sounds from producer Joey Moi (Jake Owen, Nickelback), who manages to combine arena-rock kick drums, clanging banjo rhythms, Lynyrd Skynyrd twin guitars and rumbling, low-rider basslines in a playlist-era melange. Many of the sounds are stacked or doubled, giving an amped-up rock power to the often-linear melodies. On "Smile," there's even an echoing guitar that owes a larger debt to A Flock of Seagulls than to Brad Paisley.

Florida Georgia Line's 'Cruise' Sets All-Time Country Sales Record

There's nothing as overtly game-changing or immediate as "Cruise" on Anything Goes, and those hoping that "Dirt" meant that Florida Georgia Line was moving beyond beer-soaked bro-country cliches will be disappointed. But it's a more consistent album than its predecessor. And perhaps more importantly, it shores up the duo's country flanks, and demonstrates that FGL intends to aggressively protect its progressive place in the genre, one that the act essentially designed on its own.