2001’s Chrome helped Trace Adkins out of a commercial slump, somewhat at the expense of his artistic integrity. His fifth release, 2003’s Comin’ On Strong, follows in a similar vein, moving him further away from his traditional roots and towards more lightweight, less serious fare. Although the strategy had the desired effect of getting Trace back on the radio, it eventually did considerable harm to his credibility as an artist. That’s not to say that there’s nothing to like here; much like its predecessor, Comin’ On Strong is very much a mixed bag.
The first single release was “Hot Mama”, which like “Chrome”, is a beat-driven, lyrically shallow number that does little to challenge the listener. To be fair, “Hot Mama” is a much better song than “Chrome”, but it’s far from Trace’s best and it’s easy to see that he had already started down that slippery slope that reached its nadir with the excerable “Honkytonk Badonkadonk” two years later. “Hot Mama” did quite well at radio, returning Trace to the Top 5 for the first time since 1997’s “The Rest of Mine”. The second single was the good ol’ boy attitude song “Rough and Ready”, which is somewhat catchy, particularly coming at the tail end of an album comprised mostly of mid-tempo ballads. However, it loses its appeal after repeated listenings. It failed to crack the Top 10, petering out at #13. Despite its failure to reach the Top 10, “Rough and Ready” sold enough downloads to become Trace’s first gold-certified single.
After “Rough and Ready” finished it run on the charts, no further singles were released, despite the presence of some worthy candidates. “I’d Sure Hate To Break Down Here” was surely a missed opportunity; a few months later newcomer Julie Roberts released it as her debut single and took it to #18. Although arguably the song is more effective when sung from the female point of view, I prefer Trace’s version and believe that as a more established artist, he could have taken this one into the Top 10. It’s by far the best song on the album. The title track is also one of the better songs on the album. Though not very deep lyrically, it’s one of the more country sounding tracks in the collection, which was a bit surprising because the title implies a more rock-oriented tune. Instead, the rock is provided by the overproduced “One of Those Nights”, which along with the equally overproduced “Missin’ You”, is among the weakest songs on the album.
The rest of the album is mostly forgettable, middle-of-the-road filler that is sometimes marred by the heavy-handed production of Trey Bruce and Scott Hendricks. I’ll give points to “One Nightstand” for trying to be a little creative. In this tune, written by Patrick Jason Matthews and Trey Bruce, Adkins is a husband who has strayed and got caught. At the song’s climax, he is on the bed with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other — “One of them was gonna save me,” he sings, “the only question was which one.” On the surface, it has all the makings of the perfect country song, but the melody is not very interesting, and the use of the “One Nightstand”, which refers to both his illicit affair, and a table in his seedy rented room, seems very forced and just does not work. Ultimately deciding against taking his own life, he sings, “Funny how a man’s life can all come down to one nightstand.” It seems odd to give credit for the decision to the piece of furniture and not its contents — his wedding ring and a photograph of his family.
Despite having produced only one Top 10 hit, Comin’ On Strong was certified platinum, exceeding the sales of its gold-certified predecessor. With the exception of “I’d Sure Hate To Break Down Here”, there’s nothing here that’s really essential listening, but cheap new and used copies are readily available from third party sellers at Amazon. At a reduced price, it’s worth adding to your collection.