Whether hamming it up as host of the American Country Music Awards or covering Lady Gaga at his own shows, Luke Bryan is consistently one of the most entertaining performers in a genre full of them. He is one of the few stars in recent memory to smile on all of his album covers. It should come as no surprise, then, that Crash My Party is a record that's far more likely to get one started. Bryan's fourth proper album (fifth if you include EP compilation Spring Break … Here to Party), Crash opens in awkward, fitting fashion, introducing -- in order of appearance -- a thick, sub-bassline, a MacBook drum loop and a Southern-drawled, hip-hop-inspired "unh unh" before quickly finding its groove. Contra the Bocephus-lovin', Cali Swag District–ignorin' boys in Blake Shelton's "Boys 'Round Here," Bryan announces his catholic tastes almost immediately, following those "unhs" with a line about a "country ride hip-hop mixtape" that features "a little Conway and a little T-Pain." These days, the latter is almost as behind the times as the former, but when Bryan rhymes "You've got the beautiful" with "I've got the cooler full" one song later, you know he wasn't kidding.
Thematically, the record follows the template Bryan set with his 2007 debut, I'll Stay Me, and repeated most successfully with Tailgates and Tanlines, which was released in 2011 and became the second-best-selling country LP of 2012. He has been influenced by Brad Paisley and is a peer to artists like Jake Owen (another smiler), Jason Aldean and Eric Church, uniting with the latter two for the rocking "The Only Way I Know." Cruising around "Middle of Nowhere U.S.A." with the boys, watching a cutie as she dances in front of the headlights of his ride, sitting under the stars and strumming your favorite tune: Luke lives for little moments like that, and he'd probably offer to check you for ticks if Brad hadn't thought of it first.
Still, where, say, Aldean followed commercial juggernaut My Kinda Party with Night Train, his best album to date, and Church continues growing both creatively and commercially, it's possible that Bryan has already reached his peak, his persona and songwriting having little room to develop. Eventually, his keg is going to start pumping out foam, but for now he remains as close as anyone to the genre's center, possibly about to score country music's highest first-week sales figure of the year and showing no signs of falling back.