2004 saw the release of Tim’s eighth studio album, Live Like You Were Dying. It proved to be something of a return to form after the disappointing Dancehall Doctors album, thanks to much better material, although Tim kept that production team of himself, band leader Darran Smith and Byron Gallimore, with the Dancehall Doctors again providing backing. The album’s making was overshadowed by the death of Tim’s father Tug at the beginning of the year, and it can be no coincidence that much of the material here is about contemplating loss and death and the sum of one’s life. Although Tim did not contribute to any of the songwriting, the overall feel is of a very personal selection of material.
The title track served as the lead single, and it was exceptionally successful, hitting #1 and selling a million copies. Written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, it tells the story of a 40something man who is spurred by a potentially terminal diagnosis to experience various things on his “bucket list” before it is too late. The underlying Hallmark card message about living life to the full was obviously inspiring to many listeners, and touchingly it’s about being a good friend and husband as well as just having fun and engaging in dangerous sports (not something most people would actually be able to do if suffering a fatal illness). The nostalgic but even more cliche’d ‘Back When’ was, surprisingly, the album’s second straight chart topper, although it is the album’s least imaginative song, and one that makes Tim sound like an old man grumbling about changing times and new uses of words. It’s also rather disconcerting to hear the far-from-traditional McGraw complaining about “pop in my country”.
The much better ‘Drugs Or Jesus’ then faltered just inside the top 15. It’s an interesting song about being trapped in a small town, where religion and illegal highs offer the only escape:
In my hometown
You’re either lost or found
It was probably too bleak and challenging an approach to be embraced by country radio, too often inclined to the comfortably self congratulatory when examining rural or small-town life. The protagonist in this case has been fleeing from God, but seems to accept Him at the end.
The sour post-divorce tale of ‘Do You Want Fries With That?’ took him back to the top 5. It’s an entertaining if slightly cartoonish tale (written by Casey Beathard and Kerry Kurt Philips) of a man financially ruined by the breakup of his marriage and reduced to a second job serving fast food, who encounters and rails against the man who has taken his place in the family home:
Your ketchup’s in the bag
And her check is in the mail
I hope your chicken’s raw inside
And I hope your bun is stale
I’m supposed to tell you
“Please come back!”
But how ‘bout this instead?
I hope you both choke on a pickle
Man, that would tickle me to death
The final single, the reflective ‘My Old Friend’, about an old friend who has died, is quite good, but would have been more appealing given a stripped down production. It peaked at #6.
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