Modern country music stars love reliving high school and college glory days (see any Kenny Chesney song), but Luke Bryan really loves it. So much so that every year since 2009, the Nashville superstar has released a special “Spring Break” EP, complemented by free concerts in Panama City, Fla., for all the beach-bound youths.
He belts out tunes that wistfully reminisce about the hallmarks of spring break for a bro: Ice cold beer, sand, surf, bars, scoping out bikinis. Or as he succinctly sums it up on “Suntan City” (from “Spring Break 4” released in 2012): “Spending my days catching these rays, watching coconut-covered girls.”
It should be noted here that Bryan is 38, two decades older than your average college freshmen that crowd the beach. So that may have something to do with why Bryan announced that this week’s new “Spring Break. . . Checkin’ Out” collection will be the seventh and final spring break album.
Is this a sign that Bryan is maturing? Let us use this opportunity to offer a plea: We really, really hope so. Luke Bryan, it’s time to grow up.
As one of Nashville’s most successful artists, Bryan wields an enormous amount of influence in the genre — a genre that could really use a shake-up and soul-searching after the wealth of “bro country” party anthems that have taken over in recent years. And people listen to Bryan: His albums go platinum. Thousands pack into his sold-out arenas; this summer, he’ll play stadiums. His radio singles effortlessly go No. 1. The current “Spring Break” EP is anchored to the top of the iTunes charts. Last fall, he won the coveted Entertainer of the Year trophy at the Country Music Association Awards.
Yet Bryan, for all his sales numbers and popularity, has always been definitively, maddeningly bland. As The Post’s Chris Richards expertly described, being a blank slate is currently ideal in country music these days. Still, most of the top male performers have some identity. Blake Shelton and Keith Urban are the citified crossover guys with the power wives. Jason Aldean is the scowling cowboy with the cheating scandal. Eric Church is the Springsteen-inspired rebel. Kenny Chesney is really into islands. Dierks Bentley has his bluegrass project. Toby Keith loves America and is ready to kick your butt.
Bryan, though — what do we even know about him? He’s from Georgia and likes hunting? After that, we’re tapped. Mostly, he has the beige ‘nice guy’ persona. Sometimes he gets a little naughty in his songs, talking about taking too many shots or hitting on the ladies or indulging in some carefree break-up sex. But that’s all an act. In real life, Bryan has been happily married for eight years and has two young sons.
The only thing that set him apart was his weirdly deep love of spring break. Now that it’s gone, we’re hoping this is a signal that Bryan will finally evolve into something beyond young demo-targeted bro country. The hugely dominant sub-genre has hit its critical mass, and it appears listeners are finally growing tired of the beer-truck-girl lyrics that populate so many songs these days. For years, Bryan has led the charge with those types of singles: Songs like “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” “That’s My Kind of Night” and “Drunk On You” are some of his biggest hits.
With the end of the “Spring Break” era and Bryan on the edge of a new decade, this is the perfect opportunity to go deeper. While Bryan’s latest album had a couple bro-country anthems, a few songs revealed more depth than usual: “Drink a Beer” about mourning the death of a loved one, or “Roller Coaster” about a long-lost flame. Interestingly, Bryan had the least number of co-writers on this album (out of 13 tracks he only helped out on “I See You,” his current single), so maybe he was looking to grow.
If Bryan starts offering songs with more emotional heft, he’s powerful enough that others could follow. Even if bro-country makes money, Bryan has enough dough at this point that he could take some risks with different material — or hey, even go back to a more traditional country sound to make critics happy. (Okay, that’s not going to happen, but we can dream.) Realistically, he won’t be a sonic game-changer like Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt, both of whom have sparked the hip-hop and rap trend in country songs. But he has the fame and influence enough to make some real changes.
We’re counting on you, Luke Bryan. Use your powers for good! You don’t need to stop your dorky dad dancing to “Country Girl (Shake It to Me)” or alienate your many fans who rely on you for party music. Just try something new.
Naive? Maybe so, for now, we’ll appreciate the little things about his evolution: Unlike Bryan’s first “Spring Break” effort back in 2009, he’s no longer singing songs called “Take My Drunk Ass Home” or tunes that have lyrics such as “My, my, my little AOPi.” Now, he has “Spring Breakdown,” paying tribute to the thousands that came out to see him in Panama City over the years and reluctantly realizing it’s time to move on:
Just thinking about all our good times together
Yeah, how we rocked this town
And I wish it could last forever and ever
Oh, but the sand runs out
And the road back home
Just thinking about how this is our last song
I’m about to spring breakdown
The sand was always going to run out eventually. And honestly? It’s a relief, because Bryan is talented and has enough resources to have music that’s much more fulfilling. Spring breakdown or not, we happily bid farewell to his spring break era, and hope it signals the start of a new one.