Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, "Angry All the Time"

2001 | #1

I will append a “-” onto the grade as a means of acknowledging the fact that the Bruce Robison original is overall superior.  That said, Tim McGraw’s hit recording of “Angry All the

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Time” is an excellent record in its own right.

I’m sure there are relatively few artists who would have listened to Robison’s non-charting, self-written 1998 single and thought, ‘Hey, that sounds like a hit!’  But “Angry All the Time” was a classic instance of McGraw finding a hit in the most unlikely of places, and giving mass exposure to an achingly beautiful, yet underrated composition.

Though not quite a raw as Robison’s original recording, McGraw’s version is surprisingly light on bells and whistles.  Beginning with the sound of hushed acoustic strumming, the arrangement picks up force as the song progresses, but the focus of attention remains the story of a marriage gradually unraveling.  Varying emotions are conveyed, including frustration, desperation, and disillusionment, particularly in stinging lines such as “What I can’t live with is memories of the way you used to be.”

It all comes through in McGraw’s evocative performance, showcasing the layers of subtlety his voice had picked up in the years since his “Indian Outlaw” days, while wife Faith Hill’s plaintive background vocals add a further layer of pathos.  The couple injects an angst into the lines “God, it hurts me to think of you, for the light in your eyes was gone/ Sometimes I don’t know why this old world can’t leave well enough alone” that is heartrending.  It’s a top-notch performance by a pair of contemporary country music’s most vibrant talents.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, Tim McGraw was known as one of country music’s finest selectors of song material, as well as one of its finest interpreters of lyrics.  Great records like this are the reason for it.

Written by Bruce Robison

Grade:  A-

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  1. Tim McGraw at his finest. I don’t think it’s fair to dock the song because he doesn’t do the best version. That would be like docking Whitney Houston for “I Will Always Love You” if you preferred the original.

    For me, Tim gets a LOT of credit for a choosing song labeled as Alt-Country at the time and creating a mainstream masterpiece without yanking the heart of the song out. Even choosing this song as a single was in itself a risk, although if I remember correctly radio asked for this track. What happened to this Tim McGraw?

  2. That would be like docking Whitney Houston for “I Will Always Love You” if you preferred the original.

    Done that too. Sorry :)

    I acknowledged that McGraw doesn’t do the best version, but I wouldn’t say I docked him for it. Getting an A- for doing the second-best version ain’t bad in my book.

    LOL, Trailer!

  3. Hahaha, Trailer!!!:)

    Great song and it’s awesome that Tim McGraw recorded and released it. I miss this Tim McGraw. I do agree that Bruce Robison’s version is superior to Tim’s very good version. I especially like Kelly Willis’ inclusion on the Robison recording as well.

  4. This is just a hauntingly beautiful song, in both writing and delivery. This song alone could serve as a master class on songwriting and production. The lyrics are fully crafted and tell a detailed, rich story about a marriage, even after it is over. (I love the line, “Twenty years have come and gone since I walked out of your door. I never quite made it back to the man I was before.”)

    Like others have said, I miss this Tim McGraw who knew how to pick a song. And while he and Faith have some great examples of their voices together, this is one of the best and shows the impact a great harmony vocal can have on a performance.

  5. I agree with A- or maybe B+, not just because Bruce’s Wrapped version is better (though I like the one from his self-titled 1996 album even better than that) but because the overall aesthetic of this version is too polished and kind of skates over the pain of the song for me. I agree it was a badass choice on Tim’s part, though.

  6. I was disappointed that it wasn’t a full-fledged duet with Faith Hill, having her sing the second chorus that starts with “The boys are strong now, the spitting image of you when you were young. I hope one day they can see past what you have become.” That would’ve been amazing.

  7. I could never help noticing that whenever Tim and Faith sing a love song together (“It’s Your Love,” “Let’s Make Love,” “I Need You”), it’s treated as a “duet,” but when it’s a song about love gone wrong (this song and “Like We Never Loved At All”), then it’s called “background vocals.” Maybe they want to make sure we don’t look for any parallels in real life :)

    I agree with Kevin though. This would have been really cool as a full-fledged duet.

  8. Ben’s got an interesting point there; perhaps a love gone bad song wouldn’t be consistent with their image if it was marketed as a duet.

  9. This one came out a little after my second major bout with suicidal depression. I was in my early 20s. I had reached a breaking point, noting that I had grown angry all the time, often lashing out for no obvious reason at nearly everything. Even I had no idea what prompted my hostility. I was never violent, but I was surly about everything.

    I feel like this song personifies what it must have been like for those around me at that time in my life. It gave me a glimpse into their perspective about me. Part of me always wants to intervene, to explain that her problem is very likely depression; that’s not about him, them, or even any actual issue that could be understood or addressed. That it’s something about her wiring being off, that she doesn’t know herself why she’s this way, and that she doesn’t want to be like that any more than anyone wants to be around her. It makes me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge during his three tours with the spirits; observing, but incapable of interjecting and being helpful in any way.

    The Set This Circus Down album was part of a terrific trio by McGraw, followed by Tim McGraw + The Dancehall Doctors and Live Like You Were Dying, and this recording of “Angry All the Time” was a big part of what set this era apart from his previous work. It displayed a sensibility and an interest in song material outside not just what McGraw had previously explored, but really what was outside the standard scope of mainstream country radio at the time.

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