Ever since their eponymous 2000 debut there has been more pop than country in Rascal Flatts' contemporary country-pop, but with each subsequent record the trio has been drifting slowly, steadily toward outright adult pop, which is where they arrive on their fourth album, 2006's Me and My Gang. Discounting the steel guitar that's used occasionally as tonal coloring, the most country song here is the jokey "Backwards," which blatantly (and proudly) recycles the old joke of "what happens when you play a country record backwards?" (the punch line is "Ya get your house back/Ya get your dog back," etc. -- although it is a little strange that in this version ya get your best friend Jack back before your wife). This isn't a complaint, just a matter of fact: while some country-pop does place equal emphasis on country, Rascal Flatts makes pop music for mature audiences under the guise of country, partially because pop music doesn't have much room for adults anymore. Not that Rascal Flatts are always serious -- there's the aforementioned "Backwards," but also the silly title track where the boys try to domesticate Big & Rich's outsized swagger by simplifying it, singing "la la la" on the bridge and throwing in a talk box guitar stolen from Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" -- but they do not make any concessions to sounding young, which does make them kind of unique among mainstream groups of any kind in 2006. Furthermore, Rascal Flatts are good at this kind of thing: they choose their material well, pick the right musicians and producers, and turn out appealing slick music that sounds good even when the songs themselves are kind of forgettable. And there are some forgettable tunes here, too -- there are also those that are memorable in their mawkishness, like "Ellsworth," which attempts to create a portrait a grandma losing her mind but is undone by its clunky heavy-handedness ("Grandma burned the biscuits/Nearly took the house down with it/Now she's in assisted livin'/We all knew that day would come") -- but as a whole, Me and My Gang holds together well, since the slower moments glide by on the same smooth, glistening surface as the tunes that catch hold, like the single "What Hurts Most." There are no great surprises here -- well, apart from the vague reggae rhythm that fuels "Yes I Do" -- but there are no disappointments, either. Rascal Flatts continue to deliver exactly what their fans have come to love and expect, and that's a virtue, since it is hard for pop groups of any stripe to be both consistent and reliable, which is exactly what the trio proves they are with this solid-as-a-rock fourth album.
Me and My Gang Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine