KOE WETZEL is a relatively new American singer songwriter. Blending country, hard rock and punk vibes together, this guy is no stranger to mixing things up and drawing a whole host of different listeners to his work. Having busted his ass to create a buzz around his first two albums, both released independently, he finally landed a record deal with Columbia records for his third album. Since then, he has only continued to go from strength to strength, racking up tens of millions of streams and even his own festival. I have been a fan of the guy for a couple of years now after a few of his songs had popped up on my Spotify. I’d never listened to a full album, though, and he finally released his much anticipated fourth one, Sell-out, last week. Let’s see how it is!
The album begins with an old school hip-hop/rap technique, a brief audio clip of two of his producers, or at least people at his record label, talking about how ‘bad the album is’ and how they should make him ‘more pop sounding’. I’ve kind of missed musicians doing this and it instantly reminded me of Eminem’s first few albums, a questionable staple of my childhood. I’ve not really heard many rock or country-orientated bands or musicians doing this sort of thing, though, so it was already a nice change of pace to what I usually listen to. A fun little intro to the album.
The album’s lead single, Kuntry & Wistern (yes, that’s how he’s spelt it), is the first proper song on it. It opens on the sound of a horse neighing and galloping, already leaning hard into its country side. The sound of a distorted but slow guitar fades in before Koe’s vocals soon come in over the top. The southern accent immediately shines through, adding to the country feel, but it also for some reason in my head keeps a slight hip-hop feel to it too, maybe because he stays around the same higher notes. It reminds me a tiny bit of some of Machine Gun Kelly’s latest stuff. The profanity-filled verse builds beautifully into a huge, rocky chorus. There are no lyrics present for the first one but the instruments alone sound massive and turns the song into a stadium sized ballad. The rest of the band continue through the second verse, adding some powerful rhythm. It builds back up again into a huge second chorus, this time including sparse but present lyrics. It’s great though; the lyrics are easy to get involved in and sing along to, as well as being easily relatable. The big chords continue after the second chorus, a nice little bridge with some easy-to-follow vocal lines and ‘oh’s. The song continues into a huge sounding double chorus for its conclusion. While I did enjoy this song, it got ever so slightly repetitive towards the end, with it staying at the same level and having the same lyrics and melodies from the start of the second chorus onwards, with very little variance in between. A stadium filling rock ballad, for sure, but one that wasn’t quite as enjoyable an album opener as his previous few were. An odd decision to have a slow song open the album, for sure, but definitely a good radio song to use as a single.
The next song, Cold and Alone, doesn’t do much in the way of picking up the pace. A basic, slow drumbeat and some simple bass accent Koe’s deep, powerful vocals perfectly. It sounds great, if a little similar in tempo and feel to the previous song. It again builds awesomely into some huge rocky guitar chords for the chorus. There are more vocals this time and they are catchy as hell, helped along by the great, subtle harmonies and guitar melodies from the rest of the band. Another big, stadium filling ballad. There isn’t too much I can say about this song, it’s incredibly similar in feel and structure to the previous song, right down to the bridge between the second and final chorus’ being the same chords with a simple vocal line from Koe repeated over the top of them. Both are good songs on their own don’t get me wrong, but so far, I am a little unimpressed by this album.
In case you couldn’t have guessed, Crying In The Bathroom is also a damn slow song. However, at least this one follows a slightly different song structure. It has a lot more of a country feel to it in the beginning, it being a clean guitar tone and just Koe singing, after some sweet whistling (it makes every song immeasurably better). It stays at the same low, calm level for quite a while, too, until it reaches the second chorus and suddenly the rest of his band kick in, playing a huge, hard rock chorus that, while still slow, packs a little more of a punch than the previous songs. The band continue to play through the next verse and chorus before dropping out again, leaving just Koe and his guitar again for the final verse. It’s a beautiful song and at least something a little different, but isn’t quite as good as the other two.
Another short hip-hop style skit track, The Fiddler, follows before, thank the gods, Lubbock finally picks up the pace and gives us some good ol’ country rock! Bursting straight into a quick beat after a sweet drumroll, Koe sings over the top of all of it and some classic rock’n’roll guitar and bass rounds out what I can only assume is the song’s chorus. The distorted guitar drops out a little during the verse but it keeps its fun, bouncy nature, even throwing some Americana style quick piano notes in for good measure. The solo coming out of the second chorus is equally Americana influenced and it sounds so great, adding so much feeling and emotion to a so far corporate feeling album. The song even has an awesome guitar solo in it, pretty basic but it’s very country and it fits the song perfectly. It then heads into a big double chorus to finish, complete some more subtle piano work, making it suitably massive. It’s the first song on the album I feel I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and it’s the only one to make the playlist so far.
Unfortunately, the fun, bouncy, quicker songs don’t last. As quickly as one showed up in Lubbock, they are gone again. SideChick slows the album back down to a crawl akin to Crying In The Bathroom, except it is less catchy and has no distortion or ‘rock’ part, just acoustic guitar, Koe’s vocals and percussion. If anything, it feels more like an interlude than a proper song, the same instrumentation running throughout the three-minute track and the same two lines of lyrics are repeated over and over. A nice little long but it would fit better as a palette cleanser after much faster stuff.
Outside of that, there is very little in the way of highlights on this album. The only other thing that stood out in a positive way to me is Drug Problems heavy chorus. Not only are the huge, distorted guitars back, but the constant cymbal crashes sound great and even made me bob my head along, a light headbang I guess. However, the rest of said song is rather forgettable amongst a similar album, much like the following song, Outcast. Heck, even the second single, Sundy or Mundy (again yep, that’s how he spells it), while slightly heavier again and a good song on its own, is so much like the first two songs on the album that I felt myself just not caring about it. That’s something you DEFINITELY don’t want for one of your singles.
By the time I got to the last few songs, Good Die Young, Drunk Driving, FGA and Post-Sellout, I had all but given up on this album. These songs did very little to change my mind about that, too. The first two are the same old, same old and while FGA starts out with the distorted guitars and the full band, it soon dissolves into a stripped back, slower verse/chorus pattern just like all the other songs. By the time I made it to the messy half-skirt half-song Post-Sellout, I didn’t want to hear any more stadium anthems. I mean at least it wasn’t that, right? Unfortunately, instead I got treated to a full-on acoustic song, just the guitar and Koe putting on a weird, even more country accent. I wouldn’t say it was either good nor bad, but it was a damn strange way to finish an album.
Overall, I was kind of disappointed with this. While the songs were definitely not bad by any stretch, each were good on their own merit, when put together as an album it felt boring and so damn long. A couple of the songs made my playlist, sure, but considering how much I have loved the six or seven songs I already knew by the guy; I cannot help but feel a little let down. This is what happens when the whole album is slow, stadium filling country-rock ballads, they stop being epic and meaningful if it is all you write. I’m worried to go back and listen to his older albums fully now, too. What if they’re the same, quiet rock ballads with the odd Lubbock thrown in the middle for good measure. And, for an album that promised punk at the start, I heard none of it here, just mass-produced corporate country only written to appease those who aren’t really fans of music. It really is unfortunate.
The review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths