Credit: Eric Adkins
by Jonathan Keefe Music Rooted & Restless

Gary Allan | Ruthless

July 15, 2021

Gary Allan needs to stop trying to be cool and remember where he came from.

Throughout the aughts, Gary Allan was one of the few consistent bright spots on country radio. Armed with a truly remarkable voice of real range and grit, Allan brought a rough-hewn perspective that filtered a Bakersfield country aesthetic through contemporary trends. In terms of scoring actual airplay, Allan positioned himself as the heir to Dwight Yoakam’s legacy, and it was an artistically rich and unique spot. That country radio actually embraced Allan to the extent that it did — he has a total of fifteen top 20 hits to his credit— is something of an anomaly, in that his aesthetic never jived with either the slick pop-country of Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood or the hip-hop inflections of Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt. What makes Allan’s latest album, Ruthless, such a disaster, then, is that Allan seems unwilling to accept that his time as a radio act has run its course, and he spends almost the entirety of the album chasing trends that are utterly beneath him.

Perhaps most troubling is the extent to which Allan and the litany of hired-gun songwriters who contributed to the album have embraced both the casual and the overt misogyny that is one of the reasons the last decade of mainstream country music has been so brutal. There’s a genuinely nasty contempt for the woman described in “Waste of a Whiskey Drink,” while “SEX”— yes, really— treats women as literal objects in exactly the same way that Chase Rice routinely does. That an artist like Allan, who had once belonged in the company of Miranda Lambert and Eric Church as examples of mainstream country at its best, is making such po-faced attempts at replicating the likes of Rice and Florida Georgia Line is, frankly, appalling. None of the women described in these songs even approximate an actual human: They’re all reduced to openly sexist clichés, whether being described as “hotter than an Alabama July” (on “Till it Felt Like You”) or being chastised for having any agency of their own (on “Ruthless”). It’s noteworthy that, likely because of his age and the fact that it’s been a full eight years since his last album, radio hasn’t given Allan any real support for the singles from this album. Hopefully, that leads to an eventual epiphany that Allan should return to recording the kind of provocative, thoughtful material that he can actually bring a sense of gravitas to, rather than this brand of desperate and deeply unsexy sex-jams.

Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2021 | Part 3.