Album Review: The Last One To Know

The Last One To Know, by Reba McEntire

Having listened now to a few Reba McEntire albums (this is the fourth album of hers in the 1980s I have listened to at this point), there are at least a few things that seem pretty consistent about her career. For one, her songs have always had a somewhat narrow and limited emotional and topical range, and one that seems to reflect the way she lives her life. As someone who does not appear to indulge in problem drinking or drug use, she is not going to write about whiskey glasses or taking pills like some other country artists do, reflecting their own more troublesome lives. McEntire’s songs are almost always about love and relationships. Sometimes those relationships are going well and she sings happily about them. Sometimes she sings about wanting to be in a relationship but having one sort of difficulty or another in having them, and sometimes she sings about relationships that are in trouble for one reason or another. Different albums may have different proportions of these sorts of songs, or they may be expressed in one way or another, but by and large the material is pretty consistent through all of them. Whether or not this is something that one enjoys depends on what one is seeking from one’s music. How does this album fare when viewed against McEntire’s body of work as a whole? Let’s find out.

Like a great deal of the artist’s output in the 1980’s, this album, released in 1987, is ten songs and takes up about half an hour or so of material. The album begins with its title track, a well-produced but melancholy take on a relationship that burned out when the narrator was the last one to know that the fire had died and that the relationship had lost its spark and passion, leaving her to mourn the loss of a relationship. “The Girl Who Has Everything” gives a mid-tempo song that is nonetheless melancholy about what a woman gives the girl who took her man and is about to marry him, drawing the point that the singer considers love and relationships to be everything. “Just Across The Rio Grande” contains a touching story about a man with a wife and child and unborn child in Northern Mexico that longs for and dreams of a better life on the other side of the river in the United States, wondering about the improvement his life and his family’s lives would have if they immigrated. “I Don’t Want To Mention Any Names” is a humorous and somewhat lighthearted look at a woman who is rather tired of the games and efforts of a woman who is trying to insert herself between the narrator and her partner and stirring up romantic melodrama. “Someone Else” gives the defense of a woman whose man is suspicious but for no good reason, because she tells him that there is no one else in her life, with some dark music and a rather pointed hook that deals with the negative effects of jealousy on a relationship. “What You Gonna Do About Me” provides a sad tale of a broken family and what they are going to do about their little child who is concerned about the effects of the breakup on her life. If the song is relatable, it’s not particularly pleasant, and points to the negative effects of breakups on children and on why adults are so short-sighted in their behavior. “I Don’t Want To Be Alone” reflects on the embarrassment that can threaten friendships and family relationships when one makes mistakes when it comes to love, with the honest admission that the narrator doesn’t want to be alone. Again, like so much on this album, this is relatable but not necessarily pleasant. “The Stairs” provides an unpleasant and melodramatic tale of a battered woman with an alcoholic husband who has to lie and cover for the abuse that she suffers at his hands because of her inability to leave the relationship. “Love Will Find Its Way To You” provides encouragement and hope to someone who longs for love but hasn’t found it, the sort of cheerful and upbeat song that is something that a lot of people would respond to, which makes it unsurprising that this is among the most popular songs on this album for people to stream even to this day. “I’ve Still Got The Love We Made” is a downbeat closing song to the album where the narrator notes that she has lost or given up a great deal of the things that reminded her of him but she maintains the memory of the love that they shared together, even if they no longer are.

With the striking exception of “Love Will Find Its Way To You,” this album is a strikingly downcast album about longing. One of the things that this album does well, though, is to broaden the range of that longing and make the songs a bit deeper than was the case on previous albums. This does not make the songs necessarily more enjoyable than they were before, but the added depth of songs like “The Stairs,” which reflects on spousal abuse, as well as “What You Gonna Do About Me?” with its reflection of the sadness of a child caught between two divorcing parents–a sadness I know all too well personally, I might add, as well as the longing of the possible future immigrant for a better life in “Just Across The Rio Grande” as well as the forthright response to a partner’s jealousy and insecurity in “Someone Else” provide this album with enough depth to demonstrate that McEntire’s focus on longing is enough to deal with material beyond merely romantic longing, but also other kinds of longing that are often not met by people in this cruel world. If this album is not a happy one, it is one that strikes at the heart of the lives that so many of us live, and what makes country music enduring in its appeal.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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