Ya gotta disbelieve, to paraphrase Tim McGraw's late father, the spirited baseball star Tug McGraw. Tim McGraw has sold more than 25 million albums, won a slew of awards (including the 2001 Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year honor) and is married to Faith Hill. That is hardly the stuff of which the blues is made. But this dismal follow-up to 2002's Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors is so doggedly downbeat that it should come with a prescription for Prozac. Tiresome tunes such as "Everybody Hates Me" and "Drugs or Jesus," which implies that addiction or religious zealotry are life's only choices, wallow in misery. More stimulating, albeit morbidly titled, is "Kill Myself," which may be the disc's most interesting track. The cloying title song seems to allude to Tug McGraw's death from a brain tumor last February: "I asked him when it sank in/That this might really be the real end/How's it hit you when you get that kinda news/Man what'd you do." It goes on to urge listeners to skydive and climb mountains to get the most out of life while they can. If Tim himself had written that song, it might at least have conveyed some filial affection, however somberly, but Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman composed the tune.
McGraw and his coproducers Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith let the disc's musical tone descend to its dim themes. The arrangements, in fact, sound more like dirges than the blues. The rock-spiced fast-food ditty "Do You Want Fries with That" shows the only real musical energy on Live Like You Were Dying. Think, by comparison, of Ray Charles, who had some real things to complain about, yet never settled into this kind of self-pity. Or the great jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden, who sang his signature song "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" with a touch of irony, so he never seemed to be complaining as bitterly as McGraw is here. Tim might consider counting his blessings before starting to work on his next album.