Album Review: Tim McGraw, Emotional Traffic

Tim McGraw
Emotional Traffic

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.





  1. I have a feeling the poor quality of this album has to be mostly attributed to the contentious relationship with his label over the past couple years.

  2. I really liked “Felt Good on My Lips,” It was one of my favorite country songs from 2011 and I hope Tim releases more songs along those lines.

  3. Throw this album in the clearance bin quickly and give me a copy of Everywhere off of the used CD rack! A truly terrible effort by Tim and his label with this one!

  4. I’m sad to say that I agree with this review. I listened to the album on NPR and immediately had 4 songs I never cared to listen to again. I listened to some that I didn’t really like, but didn’t immediately hate on first listen some more. I really wanted to find something that made them worthwhile, but I couldn’t. I do like “The One That Got Away”, “Better Than I used To Be” and “Die By My Own Hand”.

    My biggest concern is that this is the direction he is going. I know artists have to go their own way, I just hate the thought that I won’t be going along for the ride. In the past I’ve counted on him to make music that I really like, even loved, but I’m wary of what is coming.

    In one interview from last summer he called this a “watershed” album:

    A big reason McGraw is eager to see “Emotional Traffic” hit the market is because he sees the CD as a pivotal project in his career.

    “I think we’ve always sort of pushed it a little bit further every time [I’ve made an album],” he says. “Every now and then as an artist I think you need sort of a watershed project. I think this is one of those kinds of projects for us.

    And this is a new song that he did a couple times last summer. More of the same thing you are describing here – songs that go on and on (and on) and don’t say anything.

    I’ve always appreciated the fact that he didn’t do the same song with the same sound over and over, even it meant that there were some songs I didn’t like. But to only have 3 songs that I like off of an entire album is disappointing. Worse is the fact that there are so many that I actually hate. And this is coming from a huge McGraw fan, but the line I didn’t even know existed has been crossed…

  5. I know The One That Got Away has got some corny verses scattered throughout but I think that is my only favorite off this album but it’s stuck in that limbo where I like it but I feel with some more work it could’ve been amazing!

  6. I have a feeling the poor quality of this album has to be mostly attributed to the contentious relationship with his label over the past couple years.

    But “Live Like You Were Dying” is an excellent album, while this one is among his weakest. Tim has been outspoken about his distaste for the way Curb has treated his career, so I would think that if he really didn’t like the way this album had turned out he would’ve said so. He has gone so far as to say this is his “best album,” too. Tim has not sugarcoated his issues with Curb, so I just don’t know if I could see him lying about not being happy with the album. It has also been finished since 2009, so I don’t see how the recent label issues could’ve affected the quality of the record; Tim said he gave the album to the label over two years ago.

    I loved a lot of Tim’s earlier work, but the last song I truly loved was “Southern Voice;” since then he has gotten boring, and even his voice is stripped of any personality or life.

    I listened to clips of the album, but nothing stood out enough for me to want to give the entire album a listen. I don’t care for “Felt Good On My Lips” at all (it’s probably my least-favorite Tim single aside from “Last Dollar”), but I was curious to see what he had come up with, considering he’s been gushing about the album for a few years now.

    Needless to say I too wish we could have the “old Tim” back, but there’s no trace of him on this album; it’s disappointing to see how so many artists have slipped into a rut lately, but it looks like Tim is perfectly content with being the newest addition to the list.

    I am somewhat curious to see what direction he wants to take his music sans-Curb, but if he is calling “Emotional Traffic” his “best album,” I won’t be expecting much.

  7. Look, you know you’re in trouble when nine tracks in, it’s a relief to hear “Felt Good On My Lips.”

    ^Best part

    I was so shocked and disappointed by this album. I knew McGraw had been less consistent in quality over the past few years, but this is so bad I can hardly believe it exists. This is “Incredible Machine”-bad. For me the production was a huge part of what sank it so quickly, though the song material is pretty much crap. It was just painful to sit through. I really hope Tim McGraw releases something redemptive in the future, but I am having a hard time maintaining optimism.

  8. I was excited for the album but ended up incredibly disappointed as well. Just awful stuff. The only reason it’ll ever be in my car’s CD player or on my iPod will be because my 3 year old daughter likes to sing “Felt Good On My Lips”.

  9. I have the same concerns as Libby. It’d be one thing if McGraw hadn’t built it up so much and stood behind it so solidly. Taking him at face value, he’s proud of his album (despite his conflicts with Curb Records) and thinks this is the best work that he’s done so far. Of course, most artists make simlar claims, but it seems that he’s been pretty honest over the years about what he’s displeased with regarding his career. He could’ve been like Hank Williams III after he broke free of Curb and discouraged his fans from buying his final album that Curb released on him.

  10. Sounds like “Better Than I Used to Be” doesn’t belong on this CD and will give listeners who dig it on the radio the wrong impression of the album. Nothing ticks me off more than feeling I’ve been duped into buying junk because of a misleading sales pitch…

    For years now, Tim has been very uneven with his radio material; for every “Live Like You Were Dyin” there’s a couple of boilerplate, country-cliche’-laden clunkers — or worse, a trainwreck like “Felt Good On My Lips.” It saddens me that the best song he’s cut in years is the entre’ single for an album this weak. If I’d bought the CD, I’d be p*ssed..

  11. …”we’re not doin’ a greatest hits album this time?” “nope!” “anyone still got a clue how to make a real album?” “ehm, sorry, tim,….”

    still i wouldn’t be surprised if he surpassed blake shelton’s album sales figures, even with a cluncker like that. since,…

    “miranda, could you lend me a hand – the label guys want a full album from me not another “twitter-type” sort of thing record. although they kinda liked my title suggestion: felt good on my tips”

  12. Dear Tim McGraw

    I were Curb Records you woulda had to sue me too to put out this mess of an album. It’s more of an Emotional Traffic(jam).

  13. I was afraid that my own review of this album was too harsh, until I read this one and the comments that followed. I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in my assessment of this truly terrible album.

  14. I’ve noticed that the country press has really disliked this album while outlets like many newspapers and even Rolling Stone loved the album (gave it 3.5 stars).

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