The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: May 19, 2019

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
2. Kane Brown, “Good As You” +1 (6/10)
3. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
4. Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” +4 (9/10)
5. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
6. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
7. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
8. Thomas Rhett, “Look What God Gave Her” +1 (6/10)
9. Blake Shelton, “God’s Country” -2 (3/10)
10. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
11. Maren Morris, “GIRL” +1 (6/10)
12. Eric Church, “Some Of It” +2 (7/10)
13. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
14. Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It” -1 (4/10)
15. Chris Young, “Raised On Country” +0 (5/10)
16. Dan + Shay, “All To Myself” -1 (4/10)
17. George Strait, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” +3 (8/10)
18. Luke Combs, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” +1 (6/10)
19. Jason Aldean, “Rearview Town” +2 (7/10)
20. Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town” +1 (6/10)
21. Luke Bryan, “Knockin’ Boots” (5/10)
22. Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” +2 (7/10)
23. Justin Moore, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” +1 (6/10)
24. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
25. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
26. Carly Pearce, “Closer To You” 0 (5/10)
27. Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” +2 (7/10)
28. Tim McGraw, “Thought About You” 0 (5/10)
29. Tenille Townes, “Somebody’s Daughter” 0 (5/10)
30. Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” +2 (7/10)
31. Keith Urban, “We Were” 0 (5/10)
32. Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” -1 (4/10)
33. Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” -2 (3/10)
34. Lady Antebellum, “What If I Never Get Over You” +1 (6/10)
35. Dierks Bentley, “Living” +2 (7/10)
36. Brothers Osborne, “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” 0 (5/10)
37. Chris Janson, “Good Vibes” -1 (4/10)
38. HARDY, “REDNECKER” -3 (2/10)
39. Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” -1 (4/10)
40. Midland, “Mr. Lonely” +3 (8/10)
41. Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow” +3 (8/10)
42. Carrie Underwood, “Southbound” 0 (5/10)
43. Matt Stell, “Prayed For You” 0 (5/10)
44. Jimmie Allen, “Make Me Want To” -1 (4/10)
45. Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town” -1 (4/10)
46. Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” +3 (8/10)
47. Zac Brown Band, “Someone I Used To Know” +1 (6/10)
48. Brad Paisley, “My Miracle” +1 (6/10)
49. Dustin Lynch, “Ridin’ Roads” -2 (3/10)
50. Travis Denning, “After A Few” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +12
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +6
Overall Pulse +18
Change From Last Week +1 🙂

Best Song: “Miss Me More,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Caught Up In The Country,” 2/10
Mode Scores: 0 (14 songs)

Gone:

  • Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (recurrent)
  • Ryan Hurd, “To A T” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” (max-spin week is over)
  • Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” (down from #1 to #5)
  • Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” (down from #4 to #13)
  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (finally down from #21 to #24)
  • Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow” (down from #34 to #41)

In Real Trouble:

  • Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” (holds at #23, but gained only sixteen spins and lost 100+ points)
  • Tenille Townes, “Somebody’s Daughter” (holds at #29, but lost spins and gained only thirty-two points)
  • Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” (holds at #32, but gained only six spins and lost points
  • Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town” (down from #44 to #45, lost its bullet)
  • Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” (down from #45 to #46, gained only three spins and lost points)
  • Brad Paisley, “My Miracle” (down from #46 to #48, lost spins and gained only thirty-seven points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It” (up from #15 to #14, but gained only forty-six spins and fifty-three points and just has not looked strong)
  • George Strait, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” (holds at #17 and gained only thirty-seven spins, but did manage a 200+ point gain for a change)
  • Luke Bryan, “Knockin’ Boots” (up from #22 to #21, but gained only forty-three spins and lost points)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” (holds at #30, but gained only five spins and thirty points)
  • HARDY, “REDNECKER” (down from #36 to #38, gained only thirteen spins and thirty-two points)
  • Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” (down from #37 to #39, gained only sixty-one spins and sixty points)
  • Jimmie Allen, “Make Me Want To” (down from #41 to #44, gained only forty-one spins and seventy-four points)
  • Travis Denning, “After A Few” (down from #49 to #50, lost its bullet)

In No Trouble At All:

  • No gains of note, except…

Is Luke Combs:

  • Luke Combs, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” (laughs off its market correction and went up from #24 to #18)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: It’s not a good time to be a struggling no-name artist in country music.

On top of the aftershocks from Combs’s massive debut last week, huge splashes from Urban and Lady Antebellum shook things up even further, making even some established A-list stars look a little shaky (Luke Bryan lost points this week?!). It appears that the artists below #35 suffered the most from the two new additions, and given that some of these songs have been stuck down here fr a while (Alaina, Allen, Scott, McBryde, Paisley, etc.), I expect some major turnover at both ends of the chart in the next month or so. (Even if it doesn’t happen next week, the expected regression of this week’s debuts will send A&R teams scrambling again next week to try to reclaim lost ground.)

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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Song Review: Seaforth, “Love That”

Yeah…there’s not a lot to love here.

The only industry that tries to copy successful formulas more than the NFL is country music, so the mere existence of Seaforth serves as validation for mediocre, lightweight, pop-country approach of Dan + Shay. Named after the Australian neighborhood that Tom Jordan and Mitch Thompson grew up in, the duo split time between the two countries before signing a deal with Sony Nashville late last year and releasing their debut EP Love That last month. The title track from the EP is now being shipped to radio as their official debut single, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Dan + Shay knockoff: A slick, forgettable Metropolitan retread that just doesn’t elicit any emotion from its audience.

The production here is an awkward blend of acoustic and synthetic elements that fall a bit short of the sensual atmosphere the song is shooting for. The electronic elements are the most prominent here, with a synth riff and drum machine holding down the fort until after the first chorus (a snap track even jumps in!) when some slick guitars, real drums, and even some bluegrass instruments (mandolin, banjo) jump it to crank up the volume. The mix reverses the usual volume swell, dialing the sound back for the choruses instead of rising to a crescendo here like most tracks (the final chorus is an exception, however), and seems to bounce between an attempted sex jam (which never works in country music) and an uptempo, more-conventional guitar-and-drum sound. In truth, I’m really not sure what mood this arrangement is shooting for, but with its darker instrument tones and occasional minor chords, it doesn’t seem to capture the unofficial-yet-spicy flavor of the romance (the narrator says they “love that,” but I’m not hearing a lot of enjoyment in the sound). The whole thing feels a bit scattershot to me, and doesn’t entice the listener to pay attention or go out of their way to hear more.

Unlike most duos, there isn’t a designated lead singer here, as Jordan and Thompson split the lead on the verses (the choruses seem to always stick Jordan on the harmony part), but both of them have similar voices are come across as breathier, lower-pitched versions of Shay Mooney. The song pushes Thompson to the edge of his lower range, but in generally both singers have enough range and decent-enough flow to handle the demands of the song, and there’s at least some vocal chemistry between the pair. Believability, however, is another matter: Despite how hard the writing tries to sell the sensual angle of the song, neither vocalist sounds terribly sexy here, and very little emotion or romance is actually passed along to the audience. Looking back, I’ve had some of the same complaints for Dan + Shay’s latest songs (tolerable technically, unconvincing emotionally), so I’d say Seaforth is doing too good a job of imitating their predecessors.

The writing tries to take the song in an interesting direction by declaring that hot-and-cold relationship between the narrator and their partner is actually part of what makes things exciting (“the pleasure with the plain, there’s somethin’ ’bout that”). Setting aside the fact that this doesn’t sound like a terribly healthy relationship for anyone, the details here focus so much on the “hot” part of the relationship (“under covers, late night lovers,” Heavy breathing, touching, teasing,” etc.) that it makes the narrator sound disingenuous when claim that the “cold” parts are what make the whole thing worthwhile. (While there’s a sliver of self-awareness in the “try to fight back, but I relapse” line, it’s overwhelmed by the abundance of sensual imagery and quickly forgotten.) There’s also a fair amount of laundry-list writing here (see the examples above), and the scenes fly by so fast that the the listener doesn’t get enough time to really process them. It’s the kind of song that needs a lot of help from the sound and singer to set the mood and help deliver the message, and with both Seaforth and their producer sending mixed signals, it ends up leaving the audience feeling underwhelmed.

“Love That” falls into the typical debut-single trap of feeling like just another song by just another country act, and brazenly stepping on the toes of an established (albeit mediocre) act like Dan + Shay further anonymizes their attempt at breaking onto the scene. The production is unfocused, the writing is unconvincing, and Seaforth as a duo doesn’t do enough to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowded field of country music pairings. I know that finding your place in the genre can take some time and albums to establish, but that first song needs to put a stake in the ground and announce to the world that you are here to kick butts and take names, and this one falls short on every count.

Rating: 5/10. Nothing to hear here, folks.

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #1: The Argument Against Recycling

 

Conventional wisdom dictates that “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” However, it offers no guidance as to what you should when you do succeed.

Last summer, I embarked on a Nuzlocke run in Pokémon FireRed that ended with Ophilia, The Sacred Flame, and Luna “The Hammer” Hypno triumphing over the Elite 4 of Kanto and our insufferable rival Cyrus. The run served as redemption for my failed Ultra Sun Nuzlocke, and put to rest whatever minor demons a simple 3DS game could summon. Despite the satisfying result, I was left with one lingering question: Now what?

With Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee being less than impressive, Pokémon Sword and Shield being at least several months away, and the blog being taken over by country music, I decided that the time was right to revisit the world of Pokémon and make another run at Nuzlocke glory. Although I was sick of the Kanto region after eight separate trips through it, there were plenty of other cool regions to explore, so why not take one last detour through Pokémon’s past before booking my ticket to Galar?

(For those who are unfamiliar with Pokémon Nuzlocke challenges, Adventure Rules provides a nice summary of the challenge and its numerous variations here.)

My opponent this time will be Pokémon X, an introduction to the sixth generation of Pokémon and the series’s first (and thus far only) visit to the Kalos region. Challenging this game made sense for two reasons:

  • While I’ve pretty much memorized Kanto after so many trips through it, my past experience with Kalos is limited to a single trip through Pokémon Y five years ago, and frankly, I don’t remember a whole lot about the place or its inhabitants. Playing through X should offer a lot more surprises compared to FireRed, along with the opportunity to mess around with lots of different Pokémon (especially the G5 and G6 monster I barely encountered and/or mostly forgot).
  • One of the major lessons I’ve learned with Nuzlocke challenges is that if you don’t have your type matchups down pat, you’re asking for trouble. In FireRed, this was not a problem: I sunk over a thousand hours into Pokémon Pearl alone, so the original G1 types and the G2 additions of Dark and Steel are not a problem. G6, however, introduced the Fairy type to the game, and retrofit a number of older monsters with this type (wait, what do you mean Jigglypuff isn’t just a Normal-type anymore?). My knowledge of Fairy-type Pokémon is considerably weaker than other types, and that came back to bite me several times in my Ultra Sun playthrough. Of course, upping the challenge level of Pokémon is kind of the point of a Nuzlocke run, so this will add an extra degree of difficulty and force me to become more familiar with Fairy Pokémon.

The rules for this game will be the same as before:

  • Permadeath: If a Pokémon faints, it must either be released or permanently boxed, and can no longer be used in battles.
  • One-and-done, Part I: The only Pokémon you can catch in any specific area is the first one you meet.
  • One-and-done, Part II: Item use is capped at a single item per battle.
  • Double Jeopardy: Pokémon used as part of a winning team in any previously-played Pokémon game are ineligible for capture and use. With both my FireRed and Let’s Go! Eevee teams added to my already-extensive block list, this means I am restricted from capturing/using a whopping 225 monsters spanning 103 evolutionary strains. Still, those numbers are heavily concentrated in the earlier generations, so that shouldn’t be that much of a problem in G6…right? (Spoiler alert: It was.)

But that’s enough pregame pageantry for one post. Fold up the flag and get the cheerleaders off of the field—it’s game time!

Pokémon X: Octo Expansion

The first big decision, of course, is naming (and kinda-sorta designing) your avatar for the journey. I based my FireRed protagonist off of a character from a game I had been playing a lot at the time (Octopath Traveler), but I’ve been playing Splatoon 2 almost exclusively for the last few months, so that trick won’t work again…or will it? This is Pokémon X after all, and I just earned my first X rank in Splatoon 2, so…perhaps my canon Octoling character is looking for a new challenge?

…Okay, we really need more character customization options in Pokémon.

I’ve never actually given “OctoKyle” a proper name, but my personal headcanon is that Octoling society is fairly conservative and that Octo families prefer names that start with ‘O’. After a quick scan of several baby name websites (which means I’ll be seeing ads for formula and strollers in Firefox for the next twelve months), I christened my character “Oliver” and made my way to Vaniville Town.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Pokémon X came out less than a year after the Wii U, and we were all still holding out hope that the console would succeed.

Nothing To Do Town

Apparently Vaniville Town was the inspiration for Dylan Scott’s latest single,  because without even a major research facility to explore, this place is more dead than Pallet Town! The game opens by leading you by the nose through the opening steps: Get dressed, talk to mom, go outside…but wait, where’s the cool starter Pokémon I was promised?

While Oliver was important enough to entrust with the job of completing a Pokédex, he apparently wasn’t important enough for Professor Sycamore to deliver the news and equipment himself. (Then again, if he was stuck with the same teaching load that I had this spring, I don’t blame him—those assignments aren’t going to grade themselves!) Instead, we are greeted by Serena and Shauna, our “rivals” and the first members of our eventual posse. The pair directed Ollie to a real town (Aquacorde) via a not-real route (Route 1 has no monsters at all? Seriously?), where he would be further briefed on his mission and allowed to choose a starter Pokémon. With few other options, Oliver eventually made his way north to “Aqua-Vegas” to see what the fuss was all about.

Ocean’s Oliver’s Five

This is our crew? How are we supposed to knock over a casino with these jokers?

Once in Aquacorde Town, we were formally introduced to the two other members of Ollie’s entourage:

  • Tierno, an impulsive ball of energy more who’s more interested in dancing than battling.
  • Trevor, a reticent, diminutive scientist-wannabe who keeps his statements brief and to the point.

I didn’t pay them much attention, as a) I don’t recall them having a huge role in the story in Y, and b) I’m more focused on the big decision here: Which starter Pokémon should I choose?

Unlike in FireRed, I actually have a choice this time around: Only Fennekin is blocked by my Y playthrough, so both Froakie and Chespin are possible options. However, my choice was actually made in Saffron City last year:

This hurt. A lot.

Suzy was a pillar of my FireRed team until her untimely demise at Silph Co., and I would have killed for a second chance with a Bulbasaur…and if there’s one thing I remember about Pokémon Y, it’s that I got a chance to select a Kanto starter for my team sometime in the first half of the journey. I was getting another Bulbasaur (Squirtle and Charmander were still off-limits anyway), and it was getting a slot on my top line, making a Grass-type like Chespin redundant. In other words…

I don’t care if Oliver is water-soluable. Gimme the goldarned frog.

Next came the question of the Pokémon’s sex: Every starter I’d gotten before Pokémon Moon had been male, but every starter I’d gotten since had been female, with Eva the Eevee extending my streak to four in a row. Would Froakie make it five?

The streak lives on!

As for the name, I decided to stick with the same convention as FireRed and name Froakie after one of my favorite female country singers. (My apologies to Patty Loveless.)

With no other business, the meeting adjourned and Oliver headed back home to bid his mother farewell…until Shauna stopped him and demanded the customary “I just got a Pokémon, I need to have someone bash its brains in” opening battle.

I’ve beaten 20 different mainline Pokémon games. You’re basically challenging Steph Curry to a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Unfortunately for Shauna, she was cast in the Dawn/Bianca/Hau “inferior” rival role, putting her Fennekin at a type disadvantage against my Froakie…and unlike Suzy, Patty knew an elemental move (Bubble) from the start. You can probably guess the rest.

I suggest equipping some Main Power Up gear for the next time around.

R U SRS?!

After a quick trip back home to talk to Mom and a quicker trip to the store for some Poké Balls, I stepped onto Route 2 ready for some action. There were some cool G6 Pokémon just waiting to be caught, and Ollie was just the Octoling to catch them!

However, there was a flip side to playing a G6 game: Sure, there were G6 monsters to catch, but there were also five generations worth of monsters that could be recycled and repurposed (hence the title of this post), and my enthusiasm was quickly tempered the long parade of Pidgeys and Zigzagoons that kept crossing my path. (I saw a lot of Scatterbugs too, but those were blocked by my Vivillon from Y.) Thankfully, I had already used these monsters in past games (heck, Pidgeot has made my top six on three separate occasions), so eventually I had to see a cool G6 monster, right?

Ugh, a Weedle? …Wait, this is from my last Nuzlocke run, let me upload the right picture.
It’s still here. WHY IS IT STILL HERE.

Really?! Seven-hundred-plus monsters to choose from, and the RNG gods stick me with this POS?

Those who remember my last Nuzlocke might also remember Reed the Beedrill (I obviously didn’t, because I thought I called it “Reese” and decided the name was gender-neutral enough to reuse) and how much I griped about it how weak it was, how long it took to make it gain a level, etc. I shed few tears when Reed met his end in Cerulean City, but some bigwig in the universe decided the whole thing was funny enough to order a sequel, and Ophilia’s curse was now Oliver’s as well. Just luckin’ fovely.

(Oh, and when a Fletchling appeared in the very next battle…let’s just say it’s a good thing that neither Splatoon 2 nor Pokémon X has voice chat.)

You can STILL go jump in a lake.

Unfortunately, “one-and-done” means “one-and-done,” and just like in FireRed, I really didn’t have any option but to keep the stupid thing on the top line, and…ugh. Beedrills may have gotten a slight buff since G3 (+10 base attack, access to Poison Jab and some decent TMs) and Poison as a type got an indirect buff by being strong against Fairy-types, but Weedle and Kakuna were as weak and slow to level up as ever, and I grumbled about Reese all the way to Santalune Forest.

Easy Mode Activated

A common complain about later Pokémon generations is that they do a lot more hand-holding than early games and reduce the challenge even further, and nowhere is that more apparent that the player’s first trip through Santalune Forest. Shauna meets you at the entrance and ends up traveling with you throughout the area, offering to heal your Pokémon on demand and pretty much eliminating any chance of your monsters actually dying here. Patty didn’t really need the help, but it was a godsend for Reese, who could only go one or two battles without needing to be restored. It also saved me a lot of time running back to the Aquacorde Pokémon Center, so what the heck, I’m in favor of increased efficiency.

While there were a ton of off-limits recycled monsters here as well (Pikachus, Caterpies, Weedles, Pansears, and Panpours), the universe decided to do me a solid after getting a laugh out of my Weedle reaction, and tossed me the Fletchling I missed before.

I guess delayed gratification is better than none at all.

Unlike Reese, “Birdo” (yeah, I know, very original) came out firing from the start, wailing on Bug- and Grass-type monsters even before it learned a Flying-type move and gaining levels much faster than Reese could ever dream of. With a pocket Mercy Shauna keeping everyone their feet, Ollie quickly bumped up his entire trio to Lv. 10 (giving him both Peck and a Beedrill in case Serena and Chespin decided to step to his team) and sped through the forest with great haste.

Hey, I got a copy of Robert’s blog!

Route 3…well, it was pretty much the same story: Lots of recycled monsters  I couldn’t catch (Pidgeys, Fletchlings, and now Bidoofs), and few threats to the well-being of my team. I did, however, find another useful addition to Ollie’s growing squad:

That’s not a Buneary…

I was hoping to find a Ground-type that would counter the Pikachus that made Patty and Birdo nervous, but while “Thumper” ended up being a Normal-type, he was still a solid upgrade over Reese, even if it took a while for him to gain enough strength to actually thump the competition. (He also struggled on defense quite a bit, despite it being one of his higher stats.) After a little grinding and a lot of complaining about Burmy and its Protect-only moveset, I soon had four that were Lv. 10 or higher and ready to take on the game’s first big challenge.

From N-Zap to Bug-Zap

By the time Ollie reached Santalune City, I was getting a little restless over the seemingly-slow pace of the game. The town didn’t really offer much more than its predecessors: I healed my team, picked up a new hat and a set of roller skates, and…that’s about it. After a quick scouting of Route 22 (I decided to save the next Pokémon reveal for episode #2 and avoided the tall grass entirely) and a harrowing moment or two (that Lv. 9 Riolu scared me for a moment, but Patty avoided it Counters by bubbling it to death), I stepped into the Santalune Gym and demanded an audience with Viola, the gym’s leader.

While Nuzlocke runs are meant to inject added suspense and excitement into a generally-relaxed game, most of the time it just incentivizes people to play Pokémon like they’re Mitch McConnell (i.e., as conservatively as possible). I took no chances in Viola’s gym: While I let Thumper handle most of her underlings, I switched in Birdo the moment things even remotely looked dicey (that Lv. 10 Spewpa was a real pain), and even burned a few Potions when I couldn’t find a way to exit the Gym and heal before facing Viola (a wise move in hindsight). With the team at full strength, I stepped up and called out Viola for my first Badge.

Despite Viola having near-parity with the level of Ollie’s monsters, the outcome of the battle was never really in doubt. Reese quickly ground Surskit into dust, and Birdo shook off several Infestations to knock Vivillon out of the air. Ollie went through the entire Gym without even cracking Patty’s Poké Ball open, and earned a shiny Bug Badge to distract attention away from his terrible Clam Blitz rank.

Conclusions

Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot to see her: I caught a few monsters, whined about all the reused Pokémon, and never faced a significant challenge, even in the first Gym. While I’m still salty about Reese and don’t foresee them holding a spot in my top six long-term, I’ve been pretty happy with everyone else’s performance (Patty and Birdo are definitely keepers, and Thumper held his own after a while). Although I hope my future captures swing towards the newer Pokémon generations as the game goes along (I know a Zubat is coming, but at least Bram was useful in FireRed, and they won’t be restricted from becoming a Crobat this time), the law of averages says that I should end up with at least some interesting new monsters to mess around with, and at this point, that’s all I can ask for.

Tune in next week for…well, I actually have no idea what’s coming next week! Professor Sycamore will likely appear and Serena will probably want to battle, but I’m going to try to avoid spoilers beyond what I can remember from Pokémon Y, and enjoy the surprises along with the challenges.

(…but seriously, no more Weedles, okay?)

Song Review: Lady Antebellum, “What If I Never Get Over You”

What if people stopped overreacting to breakups for a change?

Crying over a lost love may be the oldest trope in the country music playbook, but I’m noticing a mini-trend of narrators whining and flailing about in the wake of a lost love (Maddie & Tae, Brandon Ratcliff, Tucker Beathard, Michael Ray, etc.), and aside from the M&T track, I could do without all of them. Now Lady Antebellum is ending their mini-hiatus following the disappointing #15 peak of “Heart Break” back in 2017 by jumping on the trend and releasing “What If I Never Get Over You” as the presumed leadoff single to an upcoming album. Unfortunately, this song does exactly what you might expect: The talent of the trio make this a more palatable track than those offered by mediocre meatheads like Ratcliff and Ray, but the topic is no more compelling or memorable, and I’m just not interested in entertaining the narrator’s romantic paranoia.

The production here is a standard pop-country arrangement that isn’t anything to write home about: Clean electric guitars, real but restrained drum set, and some background synth swells for added atmosphere. (However, I’ll give props to the bass guitar, which adds a little flavor during the song’s quieter moments.) It’s not as slick a sound as, say, Dan + Shay’s latest material (hey, there’s no snap track here!), but there isn’t a lot of texture here and it feels like it keeps its distance from the listener rather than letting them share in the song’s emotion. There’s a mismatch between the tone and the subject matter as well, as the mix feels surprisingly bright and only the occasional minor chords really reflect the narrator’s underlying fears. In the end, the sound comes across as a bit sterile and generic, and it’s overly reliant on the vocals to bring any real emotion to the table.

Thankfully, at least the vocalists are talented enough to help cover for the production’s deficiencies. Charles Kelley and and Hillary Scott are both capable, polish performers with strong technical skills, and their distinct harmonies and impressive vocal chemistry try to impress the true feelings and concerns of the narrator onto the listener. (Dave Haywood is invisible as usual, but at least he does a lot of instrumental and behind-the-scenes work to justify his existence, unlike Brian Kelley and other second/third wheels.) However, this song is not a great fit for the trio’s leads: Kelley is pushed below his comfortable range during the first chorus, and the narrator feels like a single character awkwardly split across two vocalists rather than two distinct characters such as on a track like “Need You Now.” As such, despite Scott and Charles seeming believable in the role, the result is like watching a rainstorm from a window: You can certainly see that there’s emotion and anguish present, but you really don’t feel it (unless your roof is leaky). It’s a decent performance overall, but the group is starting from such a disadvantage that it limits the song’s ceiling.

And then we get to the lyrics, and okay, I get it already: Breaking up sucks and it hurts like hell. While the narrator acknowledges early on that time heals all wounds, they spend the rest of the song needlessly obsessing over the possibility that it might not. While Maddie & Tae sold their sob story as youthful inexperience, the members of Lady A feel like they should know better:

  • Things generally do get better over time.
  • Even if they don’t, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot you can do about it, so you might as well move forward.
  • Life is way too unpredictable to bother projecting your pain years into the future like the narrator does here.

Seriously, this one-track narrator makes me want to grab them by the shoulders and shout “You. Will. Be. FINE!” in their faces.  Their attitude is more annoying than endearing (if confidence is sexy, this is the least sexy character in the universe), and it detracts from what is otherwise a fairly well-written song: The narrator is at least self-aware, and the future projection helps the listener visualize the scene (even though it’s a bit light on detail).

I’d like to like “What If I Never Get Over You,” but there’s just not enough here to hold my attention. The production is too safe and middle-of-the-road, the writing is so over-the-top it’s irritating, and Lady Antebellum has trouble making up the difference and closing the sale. I’ll take this over anything Ratcliff, Beathard, and Ray have to offer, but it’s not something I’ll likely revisit of my own volition, and I doubt this will be the magic bullet Lady A needs to return to the mountaintop of the genre. Recycling an old topic like this one is fine, but you need better source material to really make it worth doing.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a try, but don’t set your expectations too high.

My Reaction To The Super Mario Maker 2 Direct

This game looks objectively incredible…so why do I feel so disappointed?

I’ve been playing Splatoon 2 almost exclusively since I finished Octopath Traveler almost a year ago, but if there’s one game that could tear me away from Inkopolis, it’s Super Mario Maker, which I spent hundreds of hours messing around with on the Wii U. We got a brief taste of Super Mario Maker 2 in Nintendo’s last direct back in February, but the company had been strangely quiet about the game since then until the surprise announcement of yesterday’s dedicated Mario Maker Direct.

In hindsight, I think the data gap was a blunder on Nintendo’s part: With so little information on the game (and so many new features packed into the reveal trailer), fans like myself were allowed to let their imaginations run wild and form unrealistic expectations about what the game would actually include. When reality finally hit yesterday, while the game actually did a decent job of fulfilling these expectations, there were some glaring gaps that really jumped out at me, and those ended up being my biggest takeaways when the Direct ended.

Does this game look good? Absolutely. Will I enjoy it? Most likely, yes. But am I as hyped as I was before the Direct? Not by a longshot.

My specific thoughts on the game are as follows:

  • I had no issue with the structure of the presentation and how it started with the basics of level creation. The Wii U, and by extension Super Mario Maker, didn’t have a huge install base, so all the foundational stuff that fans of the original game take for granted still needed to be explained. It slowed the presentation down for me personally, but it helped explain the basic concepts to those who didn’t get to try out the first game.
  • One of the main issues with the Direct was that a lot of the new additions they showed off were already revealed in the introductory trailer, which stole a lot of their thunder here. I kind of wish Nintendo hadn’t packed so many things into its February Direct, and instead had been a bit more slow and deliberate about how they revealed information over time.
  • The new stuff that was here, however, was pretty neat: Night-themed courses and their crazy effects, a whole bunch of unexpected mechanics from Super Mario 3D World (warp boxes, blinking boxes, spike blocks, etc.)…there’s definitely a lot to play around with here, and I’m excited to try everything out.
  • Speaking of 3D World: While I’m super psyched it’s included here, I’m less than impressed that it’s basically siloed off as a course theme. Part of the beauty of Super Mario Maker was being able to mix and match elements from different themes, and not letting us use, say, blinking blocks in Super Mario 3 feels like it violates the spirit of the game. I’m glad this theme is here, but there’s a lot of wasted potential here as well.
  • I think the mode options are a slight improvement over the original game. Instead of random courses played through the 10-Mario challenge, there’s a full-blown Story Mode with a whole bunch of new courses and a reason to collect coins for a change (honestly, it sounds like there’s a whole new 2D Mario game buried in here). The 100-Mario challenge has also been revamped in favor of the Endless Challenge, pushing players to go far as far as their skills will take them. I’m not a huge fan of the 100-Mario change (there’s something to be said about knowing the scope of what you’re embarking on and the satisfaction of completing it), but given the massive streaming and competitive communities that sprung up around the original game, the change makes sense.
  • One thing I’m not excited about is the new ranking system for players competing against each other. It feels bolted-on and unnecessary, and while speedrunners might enjoy it, it feel like it incentivizes blasting through levels instead of taking your time and enjoying them. I don’t oppose its inclusion and I’m sure some people will have fun with it, but I just earned my first X rank in Splatoon 2 and am not really looking to climb yet another ladder in a different game.
  • The online co-op mode, on the other hand, looks more like my speed. I love the chaos that multiplayer brought to the table in New Super Mario Bros., and working together to complete a course (or even watching the last person standing trying to save the day) is more in the spirit of horde modes in other games, and I’m all for it.
  • I’m sure that collaborative course-building will be fun for others, but I’m too much of a control freak to deal with other people messing with my levels. This one’s kind of a no-op for me.
  • Despite all the information provided here, I’ve still got a few major questions, the biggest being “What the heck’s going to happen with all the existing SMM levels?” I haven’t seen a whole lot about the course-sharing mechanism either, and while I imagine it will work similar to the analogous feature in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s Course Builder, I’d like to see more specifics about how how the game might tie into social media. And hey, what about amiibo support? Will I be able to create an Octoling level based on my Splatoon figures? Will costumes still be a thing, and if so, can we unlock them through the Endless Challenge or Story Mode?

Overall, I still think Super Mario Maker 2 will be a great game, but I think my expectations were a bit too high and the game missed the mark with a few of its design decisions. Still, it’s nothing that a few hours trying to re-create Kickin’ It With Galoombas won’t fix.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: May 12, 2019

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

 

Song Score
1. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
2. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
3. Kane Brown, “Good As You” +1 (6/10)
4. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
5. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
6. Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” +4 (9/10)
7. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
8. Thomas Rhett, “Look What God Gave Her” +1 (6/10)
9. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
10. Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (5/10)
11. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
12. Blake Shelton, “God’s Country” -2 (3/10)
13. Maren Morris, “GIRL” +1 (6/10)
14. Eric Church, “Some Of It” +2 (7/10)
15. Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It” -1 (4/10)
16. Chris Young, “Raised On Country” +0 (5/10)
17. George Strait, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” +3 (8/10)
18. Dan + Shay, “All To Myself” -1 (4/10)
19. Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town” +1 (6/10)
20. Jason Aldean, “Rearview Town” +2 (7/10)
21. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
22. Luke Bryan, “Knockin’ Boots” (5/10)
23. Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” +2 (7/10)
24. Luke Combs, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” +1 (6/10)
25. Justin Moore, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” +1 (6/10)
26. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
27. Carly Pearce, “Closer To You” 0 (5/10)
28. Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” +2 (7/10)
29. Tenille Townes, “Somebody’s Daughter” 0 (5/10)
30. Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” +2 (7/10)
31. Tim McGraw, “Thought About You” 0 (5/10)
32. Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” -1 (4/10)
33. Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” -2 (3/10)
34. Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow” +3 (8/10)
35. Dierks Bentley, “Living” +2 (7/10)
36. HARDY, “REDNECKER” -3 (2/10)
37. Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” -1 (4/10)
38. Chris Janson, “Good Vibes” -1 (4/10)
39. Brothers Osborne, “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” 0 (5/10)
40. Midland, “Mr. Lonely” +3 (8/10)
41. Jimmie Allen, “Make Me Want To” -1 (4/10)
42. Matt Stell, “Prayed For You” 0 (5/10)
43. Carrie Underwood, “Southbound” 0 (5/10)
44. Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town” -1 (4/10)
45. Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” +3 (8/10)
46. Brad Paisley, “My Miracle” +1 (6/10)
47. Zac Brown Band, “Someone I Used To Know” +1 (6/10)
48. Dustin Lynch, “Ridin’ Roads” -2 (3/10)
49. Travis Denning, “After A Few” 0 (5/10)
50. Ryan Hurd, “To A T” (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +11
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +6
Overall Pulse +17
Change From Last Week -3 😦

Best Song: “Miss Me More,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Caught Up In The Country,” 2/10
Mode Scores: 0 (15 songs)

Gone:

  • Brett Young, “Here Tonight” (recurrent)
  • Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” (holds at #1 but lost its bullet)
  • Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” (max-spin week is over)
  • Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (down from #3 to #10)

Death Watch:

  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (the album is out, and the song just broke the record for the longest stay ever on the chart. Can it go away now?)

In Real or Some Trouble:

  • We’ll discuss these a bit later on…

In No Trouble At All:

  • Carrie Underwood, “Southbound” (up from #48 to #43)
  • Jason Aldean, “Rearview Town” (up from #24 to #20)

Is Luke Combs:

  • Luke Combs, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” (debuts at #24)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: I think a picture is the most appropriate summary this week:

“Hey, look what I found!”

Thanos is a powerful villain, but I doubt that he could snap his fingers and crack the Top 20 on Billboard like Luke Combs just did. What’s cool about this, however, is that Combs’s Mediabase impact at #24 sent shockwaves throughout the entire chart and provided a good stress test for every song in the Top 50. Some continued to thrive, but others just barely survived, and it’s the latter group I’d like to dive deeper into today:

  • Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” (up from #12 to #11, but gained only eighteen spins and lost points)

This track has looked pretty weak for a while now, as its spin and point gains always pale in comparison to the song around it. (The only song it could compete with was Carrie Underwood’s “Love Wins,” and that gave up the ghost two weeks ago.) Combs’s gains drove Johnson into the loss column this week, and given that this song was released way back in August, I reckon its days are numbered.

  • George Strait, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” (holds at #17, gains only thirty-four spins and sixty-one points)

Strait seems to be caught in the Twilight Zone that Tim McGraw found himself in not long ago: Ride a massive initial push to an impressive debut on the charts, and then barely move from then on. This song has pushed slightly past its mid-20s beginnings, but it seems to have hit a wall in the high teens, and keeps getting blown away by younger artists (Chris Young leapfrogged it this week, and I expect Dan + Shay to do the same next week). As great a story it was to see King George back on the charts, my gut tells me he may not be there much longer.

  • Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” (down from #22 to #23, gained only nine spins and lost points)

As great of a story as this song is, it seems that country music’s allergy to female artists is flaring up badly this spring (as we’ll see later on). The trio seems to be stuck in the same holding pattern as Strait, albeit at a slightly lower altitude. Given that this was released around the same time as “On My Way To You,” I’ve got a bad feeling that this thing is reaching the end of its run.

  • Tenille Townes, “Somebody’s Daughter” (holds at #29, but lost its bullet)

Honestly, I’ve never really understood the appeal of this song, mostly because of the dissonance between its upbeat sound and its harder, more-serious message. Nevertheless, it’s made it inside the Top 30, and while it’s been a bit inconsistent throughout its run, it hasn’t shown the sustained weaknesses that would make me think it’s running out of gas. I think this one has still got some life left in it.

  • Tim McGraw, “Thought About You” (down from #30 to #31, gained only twenty-one spins and lost points)

Speaking of McGraw, this song actually followed a more-conventional pattern to its current position, and much like Townes, it’s shown enough strength lately that I think it can weather Hurricane Combs. Of course, given McGraw’s age and the genre’s aversion to older artists, exactly how much longer it can continue to climb in anybody’s guess.

  • Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” (holds at #32, but gains only fifteen spins and twenty-nine points)

This junk, on the other hand, looks a lot shakier to me. Evans has already lost his bullet a few times on this run, and the song isn’t that great to begin with, so while I don’t think the low fuel light is on yet, he’s not getting great mileage and I don’t see him going much farther.

  • Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow” (down from #33 to #34, lost its bullet and took a 350+ point loss)

I have no idea what to think about this one. It’s a great song and has shown a ton of strength at times, but there’s just no consistency here (this isn’t the first time it has been bullet-less) and this week was an absolute disaster. Given Musgraves’s exceptionally-rough relationship with country radio, you have to wonder if this one has reached its limit.

  • Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” (down from #35 to #37, lost its bullet and took a 150+ point loss)

So Runaway June, Townes, Musgraves, and Alaina took the brunt of the Luke Combs storm surge…does anyone else notice a pattern here? It’s said that biases are more likely to emerge in times of stress, and Combs’s impact is definitely stress-testing the charts right now.

As for the song itself, it’s mostly been stuck in the lower echelon for some time, and has never looked particularly strong. I think this one will be heading for the exit shortly.

  • Jimmie Allen, “Make Me Want To” (holds at #41, but gains only thirty spins and zero points)

It’s safe to say this isn’t “Best Shot.” Allen’s follow-up single just hasn’t found any traction thus far, and while it’s too early to say it’s over, I’m not expecting a whole lot from this song going forward.

  • Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town” (down from #42 to #44, barely held onto its bullet by breaking even on spins while losing eighty-eight points)

This one is in the same position as “Make Me Want To,” and I have a lot less confidence in it. It’ll be lucky to break the Top 30 at this rate.

  • Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” (down from #44 to #45, gained only seventeen spins and fifty-six points)

This one is in the same position as “Nothing To Do Town,” and as much as I like it, I have even less confidence in it (especially considering how long it took just to get into the Top 50). I just can’t fathom why country radio doesn’t like McBryde, but until there’s a massive sea change in attitude, this one won’t crack the Top 30 either.

  • Brad Paisley, “My Miracle” (down from #45 to #46, lost spins and gained only forty-three points)

…And I have even less confidence in this track. Everything’s working against Paisley at this point: His age, his momentum, the fact that everyone else is singing songs like this right now, etc. It pains me greatly to write this, but this track won’t make the top forty, and when it falls, Paisley’s mainstream career will fall with it.

  • Dustin Lynch, “Ridin’ Roads” (down from #47 to #48, lost its bullet)

Unfortunately, while everything is fighting Paisley, the winds still favor the mass of mediocrity that is Lynch: He’s a young male artist with a decent track record and some moderate momentum coming off of “Good Girl.” He’ll be fine.

We’ll see how next week ends up shaking out, but I think Combs still has a 50/50 shot of gaining momentum instead of regressing to the mean like most artists. If he gets any bigger, not even the Avengers will be able to take him down!

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: Keith Urban, “We Were”

I’d like to think that back in the day, “We Were” a lot more interesting than this.

Country music has never been terribly kind to older artists, and now it seems that Father Time is finally coming for Keith Urban: “Coming Home” reached #3 on the airplay charts but took a lot of heat from the critical community in the process, and the #18 peak of “Never Comin’ Down” was Urban’s worst airplay showing since the last millennium. With people starting to question both his career and his legacy, Urban and his team dropped his Graffiti U album and brought out a brand new single “We Were” to stem the tide of public opinion.  Unfortunately, while the song is a  significant step up from his last few singles, the whole seems to be less than the sum of it parts, and comes across as surprisingly generic and forgettable.

The production here is a far cry from the wall of noise and bizarre beatboxing heard on “Never Comin’ Down,” opting instead for a more classic and muted feel. The song opens with a banjo driving the melody on top on a synthetic-sounding percussion line, but slowly adds the instruments we’ve all come to expect—real drums, slick electric guitars, and so on. (Once again, one of the best guitar players of his era is left mostly twiddling his thumbs on a track, as the bridge solo is only slightly more interesting than that of Randy Houser’s “No Stone Unturned.”) While there aren’t many minor chords present here, the tone is a bit darker than you might expect (even when the narrator is recounting the good times), reflecting the regret and sadness inherent in the writing. Sadly, this feels like an overcorrection from the experimentation of Urban’s last few songs, a the mix feels too run-of-the-mill to be distinct and too restrained to leave an impression on the listener. It’s a decent enough arrangement, but it’s quickly forgotten as the next song starts playing.

The writing leaves me a bit conflicted on this track, as it strikes me as the kind of song I should like, but it doesn’t hook me like I expected. Yes, the scenes and scenario are about as boilerplate as you can get (the narrator recounts their fling with an old flame, complete with the usual partying, riding around, and implied sexual acts “in Johnson’s field”), but there are some interesting/vivid details included for a change (“leather jackets hanging onto a Harley,” “water tower skyline,” etc.) that set the scene and help the listener picture things in their mind. There’s no objectification, no confusing wordplay with the hook (it’s actually pretty good), and (amazingly) no references to drinking beyond the opening “fake ID” line…so why do I find this song so darn boring? For one thing, details or no details, there isn’t that much of a story here, and the song lacks a strong thread that ties all the scenes together (they’re just snapshots that feel like they could be arranged in any order). The characters are also pretty flat here, and the narrator doesn’t give us any reason to care about their story (especially when we’ve already heard so many variations of it in the past). There’s just something (or maybe a few things) missing that put this in the ‘forgettable’ bin instead of the ‘memorable’ one, but the biggest one of all…

…is Keith Urban himself, whose performance here is surprisingly lifeless, especially coming from someone with his talent and experience. Sure, it’s tolerable on a technical level (smooth flow, easy range, solid tone throughout the track), but his delivery feels devoid of power and emotion, and he just doesn’t convince me that he’s all that regretful about this relationship ending. I react to this song the way I react to my grandfather’s stories about how the old 50s-era businesses on Main Street have all disappeared: It might be a sad story and I’m sure it hurt in the moment, but why should I care again? (Also, why is an artist that’s old enough to carry an AARP card still jonesing over what sounds like a teenage relationship, and thinking that they still might be made for each other?) Frankly, I just can’t relate to Urban’s feelings here, and he completely fails to convince his listeners to pay attention.

The best thing I can say about “We Were” is that I’m not reacting with disgust the way I was on “Coming Home” and “Never Comin’ Down,” but the worst thing I can say is that I’m not really reacting at all to this track. The production is sensible but placid, the writing feels a bit uneven, and Keith Urban just doesn’t sell this track to his audience. It’s not the kind of leadoff single you need when you’re staring at the deficit Urban has, and with many of his contemporaries facing similar problems, you have to wonder if the clock is winding down on Urban’s mainstream career.

Rating: 5/10. It’s a thing that exists, but “We Were” hoping for something better.