Jake Owen is probably frustrates me the most amongst major label country artists. Here’s an artist who I believe is quite talented and is capable of producing great music. It looked like he was having a breakthrough in this regard a couple of years back when he released “What We Ain’t Got” as a single, one of the best singles of 2014. Unfortunately that underperformed for his label’s expectations and Owen has been back releasing mediocrity. Nothing angers me more than an artist who willfully puts out bad music when they’re fully aware they’re capable of more. I know this is a business and if you’re on a major label, you’re essentially their property. But it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow knowing this fact. So once Owen’s previous single “American Country Love Song” ended at radio, I was curious to see what the follow-up would be. I have listened to his new album American Love and hope to review it at a later date. When listening to it there was some clear-cut songs I saw as singles and a few I really hope to see released as singles (“LAX” in particular). Well Owen chose one of the clear-cut choices as his new single, “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You.”
What immediately stands out about this single is its catchy grooves and sounds. Most specifically the slide guitar work in this song is very easy to fall for and enjoy. Combining this with the slow-jam, R&B-like sound this song encapsulates, I knew immediately that there was a good chance of this being a single for Owen. But Owen just doesn’t appeal to modern country fans with this song. No, he pulls out something he knows traditionalists will undoubtedly pay attention to and that’s Chris Stapleton. He not only helps co-write this song, but is heard quite prominently in the chorus of this song harmonizing with Owen. You just can’t miss a voice like Stapleton’s. The lyrics are quite catchy too upon your very first listens. All of this together makes for quite a good song, even if it’s not really that country, right?
Well when you start actually paying attention to the lyrics, things kind of take a turn. Once you hear them, it’s pretty clearly what this song is about: a guy hitting on and trying to pick up a girl at the bar, who happens to be in a committed relationship. She’s there alone and the guy knows damn well what her situation is, but he’s inferring since she’s there alone that something could be up and this is his chance to steal her heart. Depending on your interpretation, the song paints the guy at best as opportunistic and at worst a slimy douche. The girl’s reaction to all of this is very ambiguous and her viewpoint really isn’t delved into, which is a shame because it could have really helped establish the narrative of this song. As Mark Chesnutt showed with “Is It Still Cheating” on his new album and even Tim McGraw with “Don’t Make Me Feel at Home,” a pro cheating song can work if the situation is pretty clearly explained. This song fails to make a clear explanation, so I’m left kind of feeling confused about it all because it would feel presumptuous to immediately label this guy a creep, but also not to feel like something is wrong with this picture.
So overall “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” is just a weird song. It has the elements of a good song in spots, while in other spots it’s debatably douchetastic. I will say this is a step up from “American Country Love Song” in that this song doesn’t at least put me asleep and has some energy about it. Really I feel like Chris Stapleton is a big part of why I don’t hate this song because he carries the catchy chorus of this song with his bluesy vocals, while Owen just gets out of the way. The best I can say about Owen’s vocal performance is at least he didn’t do his terrible spoken word he seems to jam into a lot of his music. So basically I think if you gave this song to Stapleton and had Dave Cobb produce it, it would at least be above average. But regardless of who is singing or producing this song, you just can’t get past the mediocre writing that ultimately drags down “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You.”
Written by Chris Stapleton, Shane McAnally & Luke Laird