Cole Swindell became a hot shot artist in mainstream country music right away. All four singles from his debut album peaked in the top three of the Country Airplay Chart. However, all four singles were bro country party anthems or shallow hook up songs. Cole Swindell, thus far, has been a one trick pony. With that said, he appears to be turning the corner a bit. His newest single, presumably a lead single from a forthcoming album, has a more serious tone. It’s new territory for Cole Swindell to explore with his music. However, the attempt at seriousness comes with some speed bumps and I’m not sold on Cole Swindell as a serious artist with “You Should Be Here.”
Before all you Swindell fans jump to the comments ready to berate me for not liking the song, I’m very aware at the circumstances surrounding the song. I know Cole Swindell wrote “You Should Be Here” with his late father in mind. But being a song about a loved one who has passed doesn’t make the song automatically immune to criticism.
The main problem I have with “You Should Be Here” is that the lyrics still read like a calculated hit. It’s almost as if the song was approached with the mindset of “I want to write a solemn song about a passed loved one, but it still needs to be a hit on the charts.” Mentions of cold beer and saying cheers are hooked into the chorus. The setting is fairly generic, which allows almost anyone to plug the song into their life. It’s a calculated song, written to appeal to the masses. For a song about a father who has passed on, I would have loved to hear something personal, something raw, something real. The lack of vulnerability from the lyrics takes me out of the story. How am I supposed to take this seriously as an “I miss you” song if you can’t tell me anything about the person except for they’d be having the time of their life at whatever place? The entire song can be summed up with: “hey it’s another place that we’d have a great time at. I wish you were still around to enjoy these moments with me.” The lyrics barely scratch the surface of depth and remembrance enough to detract the average listener from the notion that it’s another Cole Swindell song about a boozey good time.
The phrase “you should be here” is the only sense we get from Cole about his feelings toward the late loved one. Compare this to “I Drive Your Truck”, another song using common mainstream country tropes to tell a song about death. But the reason why Lee Brice’s song works is because the story is built around the truck. The story tells us that Brice is in pain after the loss of his brother in the song. “You Should Be Here” doesn’t attempt to bring any sort of real, honest emotion to the lyrics. Also, this is yet another song that Cole Swindell sings with little to no vocal inflection; he doesn’t sell the emotion of the song (unlike Brice who’s vocals soar in “I Drive Your Truck”).
My theory is that there’s a lack of confidence from Swindell. As I said before, he’s a one trick pony. It’s not that I don’t think he’s capable of writing an honest, vulnerable song. But I don’t think he’s confident in himself to do so for a radio single. I think Cole Swindell believes that if he doesn’t write about drinking alcohol and saying “cheers” than he won’t succeed as a country singer. I could go on with this theory, but the point is, “You Should Be Here” seems like a lazy attempt at bringing heart and the pain of losing someone into a song. I appreciate that Cole Swindell is taking some strides in his writing and trying to include more heart and honesty, but I’d love to see some commitment to the task. I connect to an emotion as a listener of music. “You Should Be Here” doesn’t have any emotion. It doesn’t hit the mark for me of a good, heartfelt song.