Yelawolf's journey and evolution has certainly been fascinating if nothing else. Going from absolute bangers like 'Daddy's Lambo' and 'Pop The Trunk', which marked the start of his Interscope affiliation back in 2010, to signing to Shady Records in 2011, this Alabama spitter sticks out from the rest of hip-hop like a sore thumb. With rock and country influences always being a part of his sound, as well as blistering rapid-fire flows and confident deliveries, the partnership with Eminem is one that makes sense, and 'Love Story' is his second album released through the label, following 2011's 'Radioactive'.
The album starts off with 'Outer Space'; an energetic, guitar driven tune which culminates in a funky, oddly trippy refrain. Yela is certainly making a statement with this opener, as it's nothing like what I was expecting, although he's very far away from the kind of impact 'Trunk Muzik 0-60' had when I first heard that project. 'Change' and 'American You' continue this unprecedented shift in direction for Yelawolf, with the 35-year-old demonstrating his vocal abilities. Yelawolf can sing, and his tone suits the electronic country vibe, as is exemplified on 'Whiskey In A Bottle', although the lyrical content occasionally comes across slightly cliché and preachy, which is a shame as Yela is often at his best when he's being heartfelt and passionate. I can't help but blame the mainstream country vibe for contributing to this.
'Til It's Gone' is the first track on 'Love Story' to bridge the aggressive nature of Yela's rapping with a convincing, catchy hook that doesn't sound out of place. He spits about the pitfalls of, and his struggles with, fame over a subtle, upbeat Will Power instrumental with intent. 'Best Friend', featuring Shady Records head honcho Eminem, is the only track with a guest appearance. Yela and Em both have a history of honest, personal lyricism combined with amped-up deliveries and quick MCing, and this is what I was hoping for with this track. Instead, it's disjointed, with no rapping from the Alabama spitter; instead we get Yelawolf's spiritual crooning for two verses, before Marshall Mathers contributes a lengthy, aggressive verse, which although does occasionally slip into a more emotional theme, for the most part feels out of place, no matter how technically good it may be.
'Heartbreak' is one of the standouts of 'Love Story'. With a tasteful, piano led instrumental courtesy of Eminem and Luis Resto, with crisp drums and catchy melodies, Yelawolf's powerful and emotive performance, as well as a memorable hook make this track successful. The problem with 'Love Story' is that these moments come few and far between. Even 'Box Chevy V', the fifth in the series, feels lacklustre; even if Yela is wearing his heart on his sleeve throughout most of the album, there's that spark missing. That raw hunger that was so endearing throughout much of his early work has been abandoned in favour of restrained production and just too much singing to give the album any real replay value. Maybe it's just not what I want from a Yelawolf album. Maybe I'm just not a country fan. I suspect, however, it's more that there are far too many tracks in the vein of 'Have A Great Flight' that, despite the sincerity, don't work whichever spectrum you look at them on; hip-hop or country. Having said that, the final track is certainly my favourite. I'm not even sure why. With Yela spitting his heart out over a swift instrumental, before an out-of-the-blue fiddle prompts some raised eyebrows. 'Fiddle Me This' (what a track name, by the way) is a strange one. It's so ridiculous it's endearing, and what a way to finish an album with such an honest theme.
'Love Story' is, on the whole, quite disappointing. It's not necessarily bad, but Yelawolf's shift from having underlying country influences to releasing an album with an abundance of actual country songs is unexpected, and too often falls flat. He can rap, there's no doubt at all about that, and when he's rapping his passion shines through, but with an 18 track album where not one track matches the energy and impact of his earlier work, I can't help but feel he's gone backwards with this one.
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