Luke Bryan "Most People Are Good"
(Capitol Records Nashville)
If you haven't been listening to commercial country radio in recent years, you needn't look at me to blame you. The mid-'10's bro' movement fueled by vapid machismo and decontextualized hip hop and hard rock elements only gave way to the more recent, more electronic trend of based bad r&b-marketed-as-country. For about a half-decade, the format hasn't been very hospitable to thoughtful songwriting or instruments made of wood and wire, or at least the latter not amplified and distorted so as to put one in mid of the direst of '80's glam metal. Forget subjecting your ears to a daily diet of the stuff; keeping up with the weekend chart countdown shows, as I try to do, can be enough to bring on a bout of aural nausea.
But, things have begun to change. Newcomers including William Michael Morgan and John Pardi are having #1 hits with musically rich, earnest songs that nearly erase one's memory of the dreck wrought by Florida Georgia Line and Walker Hayes. Ladies including Ashley McBryde and Carly Pearce are providing substantive balance to offset the superficiality of Kelsea Ballerini and Lauren Alaina, too.
Acts who have benefited from the bro' boom are getting complicit in the turnaround as well. Jason Aldean's latest radio single offers a change of pace from his usual faux metal bluster by appropriating honky tonk slow dance classicism. The nigh terminally wussy Cole Swindell sounds to be exhibiting some long-needed aesthetic backbone, too. And then there's the man for whom Swindell sold concert T-shirts and who's arguably mainstream country's current top dog, Luke Bryan.
As of this writing, Bryan's "Most People Are Good" just concluded a three-week reign atop MediaBase's country radio airplay chart. Sorry for not covering this sooner, but that kind of success for a song so resonant fairly well guarantees that this is a song that will have a long afterlife as, to put it in radio jargon, a recurrent. But what makes it so resonant?
To start, the title summarizes a sentiment our human nature would like to believe. Bryan himself, by worldly standards, is a good guy himself, as numerous stories have testified to his taking in helping out family members who've encountered bad fortune of various types.
But Scripture puts the lie to the very notion of Bryan's and everyone else's innate goodness. The coy confrontation of Christ's words in Mark 10:18 about innate goodness belonging only to God alone should seal the argument, but Paul's numerous declarations of everyone but Jesus having fallen prey to sin's ravages in his epistles only iterate that yes, people are still bad enough to need salvation.
It's easy to not be such a stickler when he sings that most mothers ought to qualify for sainthood, as it's poetic hyperbole that has grounds in the sacrifices moms make for their kids. Cool.
However, saying "I believe you love who you love/Ain't nothing you should ever be ashamed of" is possibly the most effective normalizing of homosexuality, transgenderism, etc. in country's annals. Bryan certainly has more sway to affirm non-heterosexual affection and behavior than one-time country hit makers who have "un-closeted" themselves after their hit streaks, such as Chely Wright* and Ty Herndon. Again, it's a sentiment that many want to believe, even if shame might not be the only feeling someone experiencing same sex attraction would feel. The leftism overtaking certain sectors of evangelical Christianity increases the pressure for younger believers to accept the ways human fallenness can warp such an intimate and central aspect of life.
Still, were physiological incompatibility not enough of a rebuttal to Bryan's lyrics, He declares otherwise in His Word. No nation is any longer under the Levitical dictate to stone to death those who call themselves gay, but there's plenty in the New Testament to verify that sexual transgression is sinful. Yet, 1 Corinthian 6:11's "such were some of you" should sufficiently contradicts the Metropolitan Community Church's (and Lady GaGa's?) "born this way" mantra and offers hope to those whom so-called progressive evangelicals would too kindly and obliquely call s.s.a.(same sex attracted's). Bubbling up from country's underground in recent years is the genre's first drag queen singer, Trixie Mattel**; but wouldn't it be outlaw as anything Waylon Jennings or David Allan Coe ever recorded for a talented ex-gay singer be allowed to emerge in the mainstream, especially in this age when states and cities are increasingly banning the biblically-based reparative therapy that can add to the number of sexually whole and sanctified folks? It may not be commercial for Bryan to record such a sentiment, but it might be far braver and immeasurably truer.
The idea that people can change their sexual preference may not have occurred to Bryan, though, as he gets the Gospel so very wrong. Among the other things he believes in is that "the streets of gold are worth the work/even if they're paved with dirt." If he can make it to my town any Wednesday night soon, I'd be glad to have ol' Luke at the study I'm conducting through Galatians at my church. Here's hoping that, and the Holy Spirit's prompting, could convince him that there's no work on our part needed to obtain salvation. Heaven having dirt thoroughfares? That only reminds me of Rob Bell asking if people would follow Jesus if he were named Bob and didn't have a virgin mom; creepy!
To Bryan's credit, he gives "People" a warm performance, on par with his down tempo hit of several years ago, "Drink a Beer." And he makes some good points about youth and wisdom, forgiving friends and pride in one's honest work. The arrangement and instrumentation possess a big-hearted, organic feel reminding me of the best of artists including Mickey Newbury, Henson Cargill, Kris Kristofferson and Mac Davis. That our star looks earnest to the point of angsty menace in the song's distressingly bland video belies the vibe some, alas.
All that warmth masks some serious misreading of divine perspective, though. With that in mind, I give "Most People Are Good" for its artistry but for its seriously wanting theology.
-Jamie Lee Rake