Luke Combs isn't fooling: With him, what you see is what you get. As his star has quickly risen over the last couple of years, the North Carolina native has proven himself a beer-drinking '90s country devotee, a tough-looking everyman with a sentimental streak, and his sophomore album doesn't try to mess with that formula.
Whether you're a hardcore Combs stan with the Crocs to prove it or only know him from his streak of country radio hits, you'll find plenty to like about Combs' What You See Is What You Get, out Friday (Nov. 8) -- emphasis on the "plenty." The length of the record's track list (17 songs!) rivals that of Shania Twain's Come on Over, the '90s country icon whose country albums chart record Combs recently tied with his debut record, This One's for You.
Love the wordplay in Combs' second single, "When It Rains It Pours"? There's plenty of that here. Get all swoon-y when you hear the crazy-in-love lyrics of "Beautiful Crazy"? Combs ticks that box again, too. And recent singles "Beer Never Broke My Heart" and "Even Though I'm Leavin'," as well as the three other tracks found on Combs' June EP, The Prequel, make up the first five tracks of What You See Is What You Get, which is good news for the fans who can't get enough of those songs.
"It's just, I would say, more of the same -- in a good way," Combs recently told The Boot and other media of his sophomore album. "I feel like 'more of the same' sounds bad sometimes, but I just tried to go from -- if the last record was here to here, I tried to take it, from a production standpoint, little bit wider on either side."
Like we said, what you see is what you get. Still, if you're looking to dig into What You See Is What You Get and aren't quite sure where to start (other than, obviously, at the beginning), we've got some suggestions. Find your favorite of Combs' (first) six No. 1 singles below, and you'll find the track you should listen to first.
For fans of "Hurricane"
The chorus of "Hurricane" is a bit more sweeping and grand than that of "Reasons," but there's a similar feeling to both lovelorn tracks. Light pedal steel and banjo accent Combs' new reflection on the parts of life he'll never quite understand: getting a curfew at 18 years old, a fellow bar patron's love of the New York Yankees ... and a love leaving him. "They've got their reasons / Just like you / When you walked out of my life," he reasons, just like he's got his. "So if you see me soakin' in these thoughts I'm thinkin' / Drownin' in some barroom off the deep end," Combs adds, "I got my reasons."
"1, 2 Many"
For fans of "When It Rains It Pours"
Combs brings the clever wordplay and rowdy melody of "When It Rains It Pours" to "1, 2 Many," a worthy addition to country music's cannon of "I'll just go out for one ..." drinking songs (see also: Chris Young's "Aw Naw," Luke Bryan's "All My Friends Say"). A Brooks & Dunn cameo ups the song's '90s country cred.
"New Every Day"
For fans of "One Number Away"
You can't help but feel for Combs in "New Every Day." As in "One Number Away," there's a sense of desperation in this new song, which finds its narrator "learning something new every day" following a tough breakup. As the forlorn melody suggests, though, they're not good somethings: "I thought I knew it all, but, girl, I guess you're showin' me / I'm finding out how freedom can feel anything but free / And how hurtin' hurts like hell," he sings in the second verse.
"Every Little Bit Helps"
For fans of "She Got the Best of Me"
Think of "Every Little Bit Helps" as a prequel of sorts to "She Got the Best of Me." That guy who proclaims, "I'm gettin' over her / A little more with every song," in the latter is only "one night into your goodbye, gone kind of hell" in the former, but he's doing what he can to walk that path to heartbreak recovery "step by step," one night on the futon at a time. Broken hearts heal in time -- but exorcising your ex from your apartment and heading out for a drink at a loud bar helps, too.
"Nothing Like You"
For fans of "Beautiful Crazy"
Fittingly, Combs himself links What You See Is What You Get's penultimate track, "Nothing Like You," and its final track, "Better Together," with "Beautiful Crazy." The star wrote that No. 1 song before he and his now-fiancee, Nicole Hocking, were even dating, and now it's the first in a line of songs inspired by their relationship.
"I think there will always be some sort of that somewhere in my music," Combs reflects. "I think there will always be songs about Nicole on all my records, and I hope they don’t get to be too gushy ... [T]hose would probably be the most personal for me, I think, those two."
"Angels Workin' Overtime"
For fans of "Beer Never Broke My Heart"
Yeah, we know: "Beer Never Broke My Heart" is on this album, so if you like it, just listen to it. For the purposes of this list, though, that's cheating, so let's give some love to "Angels Workin' Overtime," a cross between a '90s country radio hit and an early Eric Church album cut (much like the song that precedes it, "Does to Me," which features Church). The barroom piano and honky-tonk guitars, not to mention Combs' spoken asides throughout the four-minute jam, are perfect touches.