Darius Rucker has always been an interesting case in country music. The former lead singer of 90s staple Hootie & The Blowfish has certainly made an impact as a country artist and seems to be well-known amongst the casual listeners, yet it always feels like he’s under-the-radar. This is probably due to the fact he hasn’t been a trend chaser (outside of the unfortunately bad “Homegrown Honey”), but he hasn’t ever really wowed me with his music. It’s always seems to somewhere between average and decent, especially when it comes to his single selections. His big hit of course was his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” the song most synonymous with his country career. Since then he hasn’t had a single come close to its success. I reviewed his latest album Southern Style last year and much like his singles was an average affair brought down by corny, vanilla lyrics. However the production wasn’t too bad. Rucker now returns with the lead single from his upcoming fifth album and it’s titled “If I Told You.”
So does Rucker step up in the lyrics department? Well yes. It’s not a huge improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. “If I Told You” begins with Rucker doing a spoken word style. Now normally when a country artist does spoken word, I get highly annoyed because it’s done in a terrible, pseudo-rap manner and the lyrics are garbage (looking at you, Jake Owen). But Rucker pulls off spoken word well, not to mention the lyrics aren’t bad. The song itself is about a man who admits he is flawed and he has his own issues that have not only hurt him, but those around him. He admits all of these mistakes to the love of his life and hopes will she still accept and love him despite his admitted flaws. He even tells her that his “dreams are a million miles away” and he wants her to come with him, something he knows her family wouldn’t want. Yet he still pleads for her to follow him because he loves her that much. This is all set to a light production that has a country sound, but also a bit of a polished, Adult Contemporary feel too.
While “If I Told You” isn’t going to set the world on fire, it’s a decent song that shows Rucker taking a step in the right direction and hopefully is improved upon even more on the album. I think this song could have a real chance at radio if Capitol Records Nashville stays behind it and remain patient. It’s the type of love ballad that radio has been open to playing recently and this song really suits Rucker well. One good sign is it was the most added song at country radio on Mediabase last week. I think Rucker is capable of producing great music and while this isn’t it, this is music with some substance and something that would help improve the quality of mainstream country.
Writers: Ross Copperman, Jon Nite and Shane McAnally
When you see the title of a song is “Noise,” there’s one thing that immediately comes to mind: if this is bad, at least its titled properly. In fact if I saw this was a Sam Hunt song, I would think, “Finally, he’s appropriately labeled his music.” But instead it’s Kenny Chesney and you unenthusiastically hit play. You won’t find a better definition of a mediocre to middle of the road artist than Chesney. After a decade or so of ripping off Jimmy Buffett, Chesney said he was getting more serious with his last album in 2014, The Big Revival. And….it was just the same old stuff from Chesney. Of course that didn’t prevent everyone from tooting its lead single “American Kids” as some deep and thoughtful commentary on the everyday person. I lost track of how many Song of the Year award nominations it netted. I can’t believe how much credit Chesney gets from fans and awards shows and how they blow his importance out of proportion. It isn’t too tough to make breezy, radio-friendly music. I think though the main reason he gets a pass from everybody is because he never makes outright terrible music, which has always been the secret allure that makes people like his music (along with Chesney being a pretty nice guy himself). He’s safe, clean and just enough fun for the average, casual listener. None of what I said above changes with his new single “Noise.”
Upon first listen you think this song is kind of good. Then you listen to it more and you realize this is “American Kids” 2.0. Once again Chesney has crafted the absolute perfect song to get people to fall over heels about. When they finished recording “Noise” (written by Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally and Jon Nite), I can imagine the dollar signs appeared in Chesney and his label’s eyes because this has hit written all over it. The song is about how in the world today we’re surrounded by so much noise from the media, to people actually shouting at each other to social media. Yet no mention of country radio? I feel like they contribute a lot of noise… Anyway the message of the song is people are so enamored by these distractions that they can’t focus on what really matters in life. This message is nice enough, but the song really doesn’t expand upon this. It explores the topic in a shallow manner, when you could delve into this a lot more and create an interesting song. It’s perfect timing too with the presidential coverage at full steam, something Chesney admitted was the reason he wanted to release this song now. It’s a shrewd move on his part.
“Noise” isn’t a bad song at all, but I certainly wouldn’t call it good either. Like most Kenny Chesney songs, it had a chance to be good and really explore an interesting topic. Instead it settles for good enough and I’m just left wanting more from Chesney again. As I said above, a lot of people are going to love this song and I’m going to catch flack for not giving it a lot of praise. Sorry I see Kenny Chesney’s music for what it is and why it’s made. If you enjoy Chesney’s music good for you. I can enjoy it too when I’m sitting on a warm, sunny beach and I’ve had a few to drink (you can say this about most music). When I’m sober though all I hear is another just above average song that I’ll easily forget about. “Noise” makes for perfect background noise when you’re sitting in your car in traffic bored.
When you look back at the pop country of the 2000s, Keith Urban is certainly one of the biggest names to emerge from the era and experience a lot of success. The sincerity of his voice combined with the easy-going pop country stylings in his music made him a big fan favorite amongst mainstream country fans. Personally, Urban has always been just sort of there for me. It wasn’t until his last single “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” that I formed a strong opinion on one of his songs. That single to me was nothing but a giant word vomit of clichés. The song was basically about nothing. And of course it reached the top five on the country airplay charts. I was surprised it didn’t reach #1 and the only reason it didn’t was because of the strong airplay of Kenny Chesney’s “Save It For A Rainy Day.” Urban has now released the follow-up and the second single of his upcoming eighth studio album, titled “Break On Me.”
Well I can say it’s an improvement over “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” Then again Urban had nowhere to go but up after that song. “Break On Me” plays on the theme that is quite popular in mainstream country music and that is romantic slow jams with pop elements infused throughout. The song is about how a man offers his shoulder to his loved one and that she’s welcome to “break” on him. The lyrics, written by Ross Copperman and Jon Nite, aren’t half bad. They do a decent job of conveying emotion and giving the song somewhat of a feel. It’s a shame they really never get a fair chance to shine, as the production kills most of my interest in this song. I don’t even know how I would describe it. The electronic elements and heavy Reverb throughout the song is annoying and unnecessary. The only reason this is included is because that’s the current popular sound in the genre right now. It serves no purpose other than this. If the song sticks to a simple acoustic guitar and piano, it might actually be good. Instead it’s just another forgettable, bland romance song on country radio.
I can see what Keith Urban was going for with this song, but it misses the mark in too many areas to accomplish it. Urban has always been a pop country singer, but this is just too much pop for my taste. As I’ve seen many point out on Twitter, it’s very Ed Sheeran-esqué. Based on the sound of these first two singles from Urban’s newest album, I’m expecting him to go more pop than ever before with his music. It’s not as bad as Sam Hunt’s version of urban country, but it’s still forgettable and unimaginative nonetheless. “Break On Me” is a sleepy ballad that I’m sure many urban country fans will praise as deep and emotional, but to me it’s just a less offensive version of Luke Bryan’s “Strip It Down.”