If you had a friend who was a tightrope walker, and you were walking down a sidewalk, and he fell, that would be completely unacceptable. – Mitch Hedberg
Emotional Traffic is a collection of poor choices.
First and foremost, the material is shockingly weak. Yes, McGraw has been slowly slipping over the last couple of albums, but the bottom has completely fallen out here.
Take a song like “Right Back Atcha Babe”, for example. It’s a hodgepodge of little details in the same vein as “Something Like That,” but none of them are believable. And why are they having the conversation anyway? It’s not like they’ve suddenly run into each other after a really long time. Why is he recapping the events like he’s got to get her caught up before this week’s episode?
“One Part, Two Part” and “I Will Not Fall Down” are Nashville songwriting at its laziest. They’re not even songs so much as they’re song titles. It’s all packaging and no product.
The album is polluted with that bizarre inversion of modern country music: The less a song has to say, the longer it takes to say it. Songs go on forever on this album. The bloated opener, “Halo”, doesn’t contain a single intelligible moment, despite five minutes of trying. “Touchdown Jesus” is a ridiculous concept to begin with, and could’ve made its point in two minutes instead of four, had McGraw had the good taste to cover Bobby Bare’s “Dropkick Me, Jesus” instead.
Look, you know you’re in trouble when nine tracks in, it’s a relief to hear “Felt Good On My Lips.” Sure, the melody’s so blatantly derivative of “Video Killed the Radio Star” that it makes Lady Gaga sound fresh and original. But at least it has a pulse, even if I’m still bewildered by the Incredible Machinery of it all.
And to be fair, there are some decent moments scattered throughout, like “Better Than I Used to Be” and “Die By My Own Hand”, but it’s all ground that McGraw’s covered before, and better, too. They’re just not worth sitting through Emotional Traffic for.
Had I not committed to writing this review, I don’t know that I would’ve listened to this album at all, certainly not for a second and third time. This level of work from this level of talent is nothing short of completely unacceptable.