Welcome to the Block Party is a buoyant, confident riff on the ’90s country-pop aesthetic.
There’s nothing subtle about the title of Welcome to the Block Party — yes, a jokey reference to its creator’s surname, but also an announcement that this is jocular, extroverted country-pop, better suited for soundtracking a barbecue than a late night of soul-searching. That Priscilla Block proves to be such amiable company, such a natural-born crowd-pleaser, may not come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed her story thus far; where Miranda Lambert rose to country stardom via a reality TV competition, Block has leveraged TikTok popularity just a generation later, demonstrating a knack for showmanship and an affinity for hooks. And yet, listening to her debut album — a boisterous, party-friendly 12 tracks in only 35 minutes — there’s little that scans as trend-chasing, nor indeed much of anything that ties the album to its early 2022 vintage. It’s actually something of a throwback to the glory days of Shania Twain, back when country-pop borrowed more from arena rock dynamics than from pulsing hip-hop beats. (It’s only when you get to track 10, “Wish You Were the Whisky,” that you hear a modern, electric pulse, and even that song builds into a power-ballad belter.) In a weird sense, she comes across as something of a traditionalist — but where purists trace their lineage back to Hank (or at the very least to Willie), Block looks to the platinum era of the 1990s as her point of origin.
That’s not to say that Welcome to the Block Party ever plays as rote recitation or as Clinton-era cosplay. The bright, cheerful sound of the album is immediate and lively, and she has a way with melody that makes her suburbs-friendly honky-tonk sound thoroughly contemporary. (One of the great achievements of the album is in how every song can be a sing-along, something that’s equally true of the anthems and the ballads.) The album’s true point of distinction is its point of view; as a lyricist, Block has a canny way of taking familiar tropes but addressing them in a way that suggests specific experience: Take “Heels in Hand,” the latest in a long line of great country songs about things (see also: Miranda’s “Pink Sunglasses”), but really a very sensitive and earnest song about self-possession. At the more boisterous end of the spectrum there’s “Ever Since You Left,” a hell-raising anthem that reclaims bro-country’s obnoxious swagger. (When she learns that her ex wants to get back together, she rattles off a casual “I don’t give a f–,” muffling her profanity but making her point abundantly clear.) Self-confidence is the album’s thematic throughline, reaching its celebratory apex in the body-positive “Thick Thighs,” where Block’s optimism runs through country’s grand tradition of cornpone humor. (Sample lyric: “If you can’t handle these love handles, you can find me at McDonald’s.”) The closing, all-acoustic number initially seems like it will represent the opposite end of the self-confidence spectrum, with Block assembling all the mean girls who bullied her in high school. But then she hits you with the deliciously catty chorus: “By senior year, you were way too damn cool/ Well, look who peaked in high school.”
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2022 | Part 1.