Is there a bigger country star in the world right now than Luke Bryan? Consider these facts: His last studio album, 2013’s Crash My Party, spawned six (!) No. 1 singles, sold 2.5 million copies, and graduated him into the elite class of Nashville entertainers who sell out stadiums and sweep awards shows. It was big and bold, and undoubtedly, it was bro. Bryan leads the beer-soaked subgenre dubbed “bro country,” a heady mix of ’80s arena-rock riffs, ’90s hip-hop swagger, and lavish pop production that pays lyrical tribute to pickup trucks, honky-tonks, and getting that girl—you know, the pretty one sittin’ on the fence in cutoff jeans and a white tank top—to shimmy on over here.
Considering Crash‘s success, messing with the formula on Kill the Lights would be a calculated risk. And Lights is nothing if not calculating. The album opens with “Kick the Dust Up,” a rap-style boom-thwack that ignites into the fist-pumping command “Fill your cup up/That’s what’s up up!” “Home Alone Tonight” has the Georgia native wooing a hottie—huskily voiced by Little Big Town colead Karen Fairchild—with his bottomless bar tab and challenging her to go shot for shot. And on “Move,” he’s all wrapped up in a lady with a “rockin’ little body” and…well, you get the idea.
But it’s not all babes and brewskis. Occasionally, Bryan checks in as the pushing-40 husband and father of two he is. And slow-burners like “Strip It Down” and “To the Moon and Back,” which both find the sexy in long-term monogamy, are the moments that work best. Songs like these, easy and openhearted, hopefully signal a more genuine direction not just for Bryan, but for the format he currently fronts.