As a fan of coming-of-age stories, “Growin’ Up” by Luke Combs is exactly the type of work I look for from an artist.
The album begins with “Doin’ This” – a song that tells of how Combs would still be playing music and living the same life no matter how meager or famous. He genuinely loves playing music for however many people wherever he is. It is his dream and a way of life at the same time. The track starts quiet with only softly sung words and an acoustic guitar, but when the chorus kicks in, all of Combs’ passion and power is released into a boisterous vocal performance backed by an all-in band. The mental imagery shifts from recalling a simple interview question about how he grew up to an emotional response that reveals just how much he lives for and bleeds on the stage. This song seems to take place in the present as a precursor to the remaining tracks. Given how “Doin’ This” begins, the rest of the album could be looked at as answering the posed interview question about what it was like for him to grow up.
“Any Given Friday Night” is a simple party song describing a typical Friday night routine of – presumably – teens and 20-somethings in a small town. Most likely, this was how Combs would’ve celebrated after football games, met up with friends, and the like. It’s a tale told many times in many ways, but it never fails to define much of smalltown youth and give them a country anthem for their generation.
“The Kind of Love We Make” may have spent less time on the Billboard Hot 100 chart than “Doin’ This”, but it performed significantly better on it for good reason. The entire track carries deep, dark tones with an obviously intended “sexy” bassline. Once the mood is established, it talks about a very relatable issue that has become evermore present in today’s culture: not being able to spend much time with the person you love due to the demands of daily life. Whether finding that right person at a bar or having a night alone with your special someone, this slow jam is a solid addition to the list of songs to set a romantic mood. Just remember: the next track, “On the Other Line”, in comedic irony, delivers the exact opposite message in an upbeat fashion that he’s too busy fishing to take his lady out or do housework. Perhaps in further comedic irony, “On the Other Line” is followed by a post-breakup, duet song called “Outrunnin’ Your Memory” featuring Miranda Lambert.
Given the previous two songs on the album, “Growin’ Up” seemed to take a break from the proposed overall theme of the collective work: reflection on life up to this point. “Used To Wish I Was” takes us back to this theme in a proud acceptance of Combs’ current self by way of humbly testifying that he wanted to be anyone other than himself for a long time. This is a common theme in society as many of us struggle to find our place in the world, and he is no different. Coming to terms with who you are and realizing that you are fine just as you are is a key part of contentment in life; this message comes through as bright as the chords sound.
“Better Back When” is an interesting entry on the album. On the surface, the track seems like the typical remembrance and yearning for wild, younger days. However, it’s the last few lines that show the true maturity of this song: “I can't say that the moon in the sky was shinin' any brighter than it is tonight / But it looked on fire back then / It probably wasn't, but it seemed a little better back when”. The song is a love letter to cherished days-gone-by and a different perspective in the present. It’s typical for people to say that “the good old days” were better because nostalgia romanticizes our pasts. However, recognizing that what made everything seem bigger and brighter in the past was the immense uncertainty and lack of responsibility is a real sign of personal growth and thematically right-on for the album. Realizing one’s “own little world” in youth isn’t the “real world” in life is a harsh lesson, but it is one well-communicated in this track.
While “Tomorrow Me” can be easily seen as cutting off a toxic relationship or a casual “no-strings-attached” friend with benefits, really, any bad habit or behavior can be substituted into the role of the other person. This is a tried-and-true metaphor to use a lover in place of a greater concept to descale it and create analogies that make every struggle relatable through the common language of love and lust. Again, the album furthers the story of a young man learning hard lessons and “Growin’ Up”.
“Ain’t Far From It” may not have the “deepest” meaning on the album, but it serves a purpose nonetheless. From the initial drum hits, it’s a high-energy, honkytonk cut that re-ups the listener’s state of mind after taking in a handful of more emotional tracks while still maintaining the imagery of Combs’ youth.
“Call Me” is a bit of an enigma. It feels much like how “On the Other Line” and “Outrunnin’ Your Memory” broke from the theme “reflecting on life up to this point”. Despite this, it could be seen as a directly-related inverse to “Tomorrow Me” with Combs taking the place of the bad habit that will “be okay” after the encounter – albeit more brazen and self-assured. It’s one of those time-honored, confidence-restoration songs that will have the listener feel like a better choice than all the bad decisions the person they want is making.
Where “Any Given Friday Night” is the small town youth anthem of the album, “Middle of Somewhere” is a small town pride song for everyone living that lifestyle. It’s a classic type of country song that gives thanks to and for a simple life that so many overlook. This returns us to the theme of the album once more and gives us more of a look into the sentiment toward where and how Combs grew up.
Finally, the last song on “Growin’ Up” leaves the album ending on a soft and bittersweet note. Admittedly, “Going, Going, Gone” sounds like – and will most-likely be used as – a breakup song, but it could be looked at in a couple of other ways. The most obvious of alternative takes is to enjoy something beautiful while it lasts because it wasn’t meant to be forever. In a roundabout light, though, if you put Combs in the position of the girl, it could be taken as him wrapping up the interview mentioned in “Doin’ This”. Over the course of this album, he has lovingly reminisced on the good and bad times that brought him to this point in life, but Combs ends up feeling he was meant for bigger things than those that shaped him. A small town boy leaves the safety of all he has known to be who he feels he is called to be. He's grown up. I look forward to hearing more life lessons from Mr. Combs as he continues the journey of life.
Written by Will Nolan