Song Review: Dustin Lynch, “I’d Be Jealous Too”

WANTED: Mediocre country singer seeks likable personality for new single. Must be OK with drum machines, minor chords, and vocal effects. Interested parties should contact Dustin Lynch as soon as possible.

I absolutely hated Lynch’s last single “Small Town Boy” (it was my least liked song of the first half of 2016), so naturally the track rocketed up the charts, spent a month at No. 1, and became the biggest hit of Lynch’s career. For his encore, Lynch decided to switch to an unabashed Metropolitan sound for “I’d Be Jealous Too,” a braggadocios “look how great my girl is” track that accomplishes the amazing feat of making Lynch even less likable than before.

The production here is so blatantly synthetic that it makes you wonder if the producer included any real instruments at all. Yes, some real drums crop up on the chorus, and a muted electric guitar does it darnedest to carry the melody, but the drum machine is the featured instrument here, littering the verses with fake snaps and claps in an (mostly failed) attempt to inject some sort of energy into the song. As with most of Lynch’s work, the song is plagued by minor chords that set an overly-serious tone and drain the song of whatever fun it was supposed to have, and the switch from the slow-jam-esque verses to the faster, more-conventionally-structured chorus keeps the song from establishing any sort of groove (or any consistency at all, really). In short, it’s just a mess.

I have little regard for Lynch as a vocalist, and “I’d Be Jealous Too” does nothing to change my opinion. While the writing admittedly doesn’t give Lynch a whole lot to work with (more on that later), Lynch’s complete lack of charisma keeps him from elevating the song to a respectable level, and he comes off as a unsympathetic sleazeball who takes pleasure in watching other people leer at his girlfriend. His range is fine and his flow is decent, but his voice doesn’t have a lot of tone to it, and his super-serious delivery just makes him seem even creepier than usual. To be honest, I don’t really understand this guy’s appeal at all.

The writing here features a narrator gloating to an unnamed barroom creeper about his girl, and saying that if their positions were reversed, “I’d be jealous too.” It’s not exactly a novel topic in country music, but the topic is usually approached in a much more endearing way, with the narrator marveling at the woman’s appeal (think Blake Shelton’s “A Guy With A Girl,” or Thomas Rhett’s “Star Of The Show”). Here, on the the other hand, the narrator just feels like he’s lording his girlfriend’s awesomeness over his audience, and getting a kick out of their jealous reactions. Instead of feeling jealous or amazed, the listener just feels sorry for the woman for getting stuck with this jerk. The lyrics themselves aren’t terribly witty or clever, and feature some truly bizarre comparisons (“She comes on stronger than a bourbon street hand grenade?” Really?), and while they don’t venture into explicitly misogynistic territory, they’re still fairly shallow in their descriptions (for example, she has an “hourglass body like a guitar”). Combine poor writing like this with an annoying delivery like Lynch’s, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Overall, “I’d Be Jealous Too” is yet another terrible track from Dustin Lynch, featuring the 1-2 punch of poor writing and a poor delivery. If forced to choose between “Small Town Boy” and this tire fire, I’d ask if I could have my ears cut off instead. After Michael Ray’s last single ended up being kind of tolerable, Lynch may have just stolen his title as my new least favorite artist in the genre.

Rating: 3/10. Don’t touch this one with a ten-foot pole.

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Nintendo’s Paid Online Service: Will It Be Worth Buying?

Nintendo caused a bit of a stir a while back when it announced that it would start charging players for access to online multiplayer services starting this fall (this was later pushed back to 2018). However, the decision seems to have gotten lost amidst all the Switch hype, to the point where even Nintendo seems to have forgotten about it (it wasn’t mentioned at all in their Direct presentation last month). Despite supposedly being less than three months away from the big rollout, we still know next to nothing about this service, with even the official site for the service featuring very few details.

With 2018 looming on the horizon, it’s time to take a hard look at whether or not Nintendo’s proposed service will be worth opening your wallet for. The company’s track record on this subject has been mixed (Splatoon connection errors are basically a meme at this point), so it’s going to take a lot of convincing to bring skeptical gamers like myself on board. Let’s begin!

  • What services will Nintendo be providing? At a basic level, any online gameplay offered by a Switch game will require a subscription to Nintendo’s paid service (thankfully, the 3DS appears to be exempt). Use of Nintendo’s smartphone app will also be gated by this paywall.

In addition, Nintendo will also give subscribers access to a “classic game selection” that they can play as much as they want for as long as their accounts are active, and there will be some special subscriber-only eShop deals as well.

  • How much will it cost? $3.99 USD for a one-month subscription, $7.99 for a three-month subscription, and $19.99 for an entire year. (For comparison, both Microsoft and Sony charge $59.99/year.)
  • Do we know anything else? Nope. Nintendo has chosen to focus on its game lineup rather than its online services, leaving us to wonder if the above perks are all we’re getting. The online
  • Will online connectivity be any more reliable than it is now? This is the million-dollar question right now. Nintendo’s track record with online gaming has been spotty over the years (Splatoon connection errors are basically a meme now), and they’ve said and/or done nothing this year to inspire any confidence that things will be different this time. If Nintendo is going to charge people to play online, the people aren’t going to stand for the status quo, because only paying $20/year isn’t terribly comforting when you can’t stay in a Turf War for more than thirty seconds.

With all that said, let’s get to the big question: Will this service be worth paying for? The answer depends on two other question:

  • What games do you play? The Switch has no shortage of non-online games for you to enjoy, from the big (Zelda: Breath Of The WildSuper Mario Odyssey) to the small (SnipperclipsStardew Valley) to whatever Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle qualifies as. If you can get by on those games alone, paying for online isn’t worth it.

But let’s say you’re hooked on games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2. What do you do then? Well…

  • Do you have a Wii U handy? Most of the Switch games that rely on online connectivity are either Wii U ports (MK8D, Pokkén Tournament) or Wii U expansions (Splatoon 2). Aside from ARMS (which still feels like a failed launch to me), you can already play these sorts of games on a different console, and do so without paying for online services. If you can do that, paying for online isn’t worth it.

If you don’t have a Wii U and you want to play these games, however, you’re probably going to have to pony up for the online service. (In particular, Splatoon 2 is basically a $60 paperweight without a network connection.) It’s a bit of a gamble given Nintendo’s history, but hey, at least things can’t get much worse.

To be honest, however, I’m not sure we’ll have to make this decision anytime soon (and perhaps not at all). With so little information about the paid service coming out, I have a distinct feeling that it’s not ready for primetime yet, and that Nintendo will further delay its implementation and extend its free trial into 2018. The Switch’s online app has no purpose outside of the Splatoon 2 app (and even that isn’t all that interesting) and its voice chat functionality is beyond convoluted (why would you choose this junk over Skype?). Classic games are nice, sure, but I’ve already played most of the old games I’m interested in, so tossing them into an online subscription isn’t much of an enticement. It just seems like Nintendo decided to charge for its online services just because they could, and haven’t done a great job at justifying it beyond that.

I imagine that eventually Nintendo will do just enough to make paying for online gaming worthwhile, but they’re first going to have to convince me that they can manage online gaming in the first place. Until then, I’ll be happily capturing dinosaurs and Pokémon without a subscription.

Song Review: Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, “The Rest Of Our Life”

Having Tim McGraw and Faith Hill sing a song written by Ed Sheeran? Not a bad idea. Having Tim McGraw try to do an Ed Sheeran impression on said song? Very bad idea.

Despite being two of country music’s most-reliable hitmakers in the 1990s and 2000s, these days McGraw and Hill are fighting an uphill battle against age and gender bias to remain relevant on country radio. “Speak To A Girl,” the pair’s first song from their upcoming duets album The Rest Of Our Life, hit country radio like a lightning bolt earlier this year, making an impressive Top 20 debut…and then crashed back to earth nearly as fast, winding up with a mediocre #19 airplay peak (although it did reach the Top Ten on the Hot Country Charts). Now, the duo are preparing another chart charge with the album’s title track “The Rest Of Our Lives,” a bland, generic wedding song that pushes both singers (especially McGraw) into uncomfortable territory and falls completely flat as a result.

The production here is primarily piano-driven, with a restrained drum set keeping time and a few other instruments (an acoustic guitar, a steel guitar, an organ, and even a quiet string section) providing some background atmosphere. It’s a brightly-toned, spacious-sounding mix, and although it uses a ton of minor chords, they actually fit the song well by adding some gravitas to the lyrics and hammering home the point that the couples’ feelings are real and their motives are serious. It’s the sort of sound tailor-made for a newlywed couple’s first dance, whereas something like Blake Shelton’s “I’ll Name The Dogs” would be a better fit for the post-ceremony reception. Honestly, I’d call the production the best part of the track.

The vocals, on the other hand, have to be the worst part of the track. The track has a nasty habit of pushing McGraw right to the limit of his upper range (and occasionally into a falsetto), and he sounds really uncomfortable up there, as his voice loses all its tone and power and becomes painfully thin. (I felt like McGraw was trying—and failing—to mimic Sheeran’s delivery style, and that was even before I discovered that Sheeran was a co-writer!) While this only happens on the choruses and bridge, it completely kills his usual vocal chemistry with Hill, and the producers randomly decided to top it all off with some annoying vocal effects. In Hill’s case, while she sounds better than her husband in general, her flow on the verses is a little choppy, and the quiet nature of the song robs her of her usual vocal power. Basically, this song is a terrible fit for the pair, and despite their best efforts, it’s that lack of comfort that comes across to the listener rather than any romantic sentiments.

Speaking of romantic sentiments…the writing is just about what you’d expect from a lovey-dovey wedding song. Outside of suggesting a few baby names, there’s nothing here that you haven’t heard before: We’ll love each other forever, our feelings will remain strong regardless of how old and ugly we get, etc.) These kinds of songs get by on the emotion they inspire rather than the wittiness of the lyrics, and unfortunately the painful awkwardness of the vocals overwhelms the subdued production and keeps the song from setting the proper tone. “I’ll Name The Dogs” may lack the polish and the serious sentiment of “The Rest Of Our Life,” but it’s an easier listen and does a better job connecting with its listeners.

Overall, “The Rest Of Our Life” is probably a good song, but not for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Whatever emotions are created by the lyrics and production and completely squashed by the couple’s mediocre vocal performance. McGraw & Hill would have been better off giving this track back to Ed Sheeran and finding a love song that truly suits their style.

Rating: 5/10. If you’re not getting married in the next few months, it’s not worth your time. If you are, there are better songs to put on your playlist (I recommend Clint & Lisa Hartman Black’s “When I Said I Do”).

Song Review: Ashley McBryde, “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega”

Hold on…is this an ode to the downtrodden, hard-working masses that doesn’t feel like pandering garbage? Madam, you have my attention.

Ashley McBryde is an Arkansas native who’s been kicking around Nashville for over a decade, but is only now starting to gain some momentum: She released her first major-label EP last year, and received a high-profile endorsement from Eric Church last April. Now, her team is preparing to release a new non-EP single “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega,” and while it’s nothing terribly groundbreaking, it’s got a rawness and believability to it that most of the shallow “Here’s to the beer-drinkin’ real country folks!” tracks lack.

The production here has an organic and stripped-back feel, featuring very few instruments and restraining the ones that do appear. The heavy lifting is done mostly by an acoustic guitar, with a spacious electric guitar tossed in to fill time between the lyrics and an organ providing some atmosphere in the background. The drums are real, sure, but what’s surprisingly is how little they’re actually used: They don’t show up at all until the end of the first chorus, and unlike most modern country songs, they’re not a particularly prominent part of the mix. (The volume balance is tipped a bit too far towards the vocals, which are much more prominent than the sound, but it’s not a major issue.) The tempo is slow but methodical, and mixes with the bright tones of the instruments to create a warm, hopeful vibe that fits the subject matter perfectly. Take note, Miranda Lambert: This is how you create a non-studio feel on a studio track.

Vocally, I would describe McBryde’s voice as very similar to Brandy Clark, but with a dash of Wynonna-esque twang added to it. Her range isn’t tested much, and her flow feels a bit off at points during the song (in fairness, I’d struggle with my flow without a drum keeping time too), but there’s a raw power and earnestness to her voice that makes her believable in the narrator’s role and helps sell the song to her listeners. (It’s even more impressive when you look deeper into the lukewarm writing, which we’ll touch on a bit later.) It’s the sort of charismatic performance that makes you wonder what the heck took so long for someone to put her on the radio.

The song itself is a simple call for people going through times to keep their heads up and make some lemonade out the lemons life is throwing at them. It’s not really a new topic in country music, but at least the writers found some different ways to phrase things: The typical forty-hour hard-working person is “the worker bee that ain’t gettin’ no honey,” while the person escaping a bad relationship is “the bag packed, first love leaver.” Similarly, the song doesn’t explicitly endorse the shallow escapism of, say, Chris Janson’s “Fix A Drink,” but still encourages the listener to have a “making the best of the worst day kind of night.” It’s really a clichéd, platitude-filled song when you dig into it…and yet, the combination of McBryde’s empathetic delivery and the understated production elevates the writing to a point where it connects with listeners in a way I haven’t seen a song do since Alabama’s “Forty Hour Week.”

Overall, “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” is a so-so song that became a decent one through well-executed production and the sheer force of Ashley McBryde’s talent. I’m getting the same good vibes from McBryde that I got from Carly Pearce earlier this year, and I’m very interested in hearing more from this artist.

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a few listens and see what you think.

What Games Should Nintendo Remake Next?

Mario Maker’s coming back someday, but should it be SMM DX or SMM 2?

Despite all the excitement over Nintendo’s future with its Switch console and its highly-aniticipated titles (Zelda: Breath Of The WildSuper Mario Odyssey), Nintendo’s been trading surprisingly heavy on its past in 2017. I mentioned a few of these titles in my recent Mario & Luigi post (Pokkén Tournament DX, Metroid: Samus Returns, the SNES Classic, and Superstar Saga itself), but the remake/rerelease trend becomes more pronounced as you expand the timeline: We got YoshiFire Emblem, and Mario Kart remakes/expansions earlier this year (not to mention the Arcade Archive series, and the upcoming Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon), on top of the NES Classic and Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS from late 2016. As much flak as the Big N takes for trading on its past, there’s no denying that there’s a robust market for it.

So what franchises should Nintendo mine next for a quick buck? The picking are a bit slim given the company’s current release schedule (new Yoshi, Metroid, and Kirby titles are coming, and it’s probably too soon for another Zelda or Mario game), but here are some potential candidates:

Mario Maker

  • Last Release: Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS (3DS, 2016)
  • Should A Game Be Re-Released? Yes
  • Which Game? Super Mario Maker (Wii U, 2015)

This game has already been ported once, but I think it’s a prime candidate for a second port for several reasons:

  • It’s a Wii U game, so a lot of players didn’t experience it.
  • It tapped into the thriving kaizo/ROM-hack community and has a huge fanbase.
  • I don’t see an obvious way to change the game enough to warrant a true sequel. While there are certainly important features to add (Slopes? Vertical levels? A Mario Bros. 2 tileset?), there isn’t a feature on the level of Splatoon 2‘s Salmon Run that would make this a truly new game.

Animal Crossing

  • Last Release: Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival (Wii U, 2015)
  • Should A Game Be Re-Released? No

Games in the main Animal Crossing series are similar enough that once you play a newer version, you really don’t have a reason to revisit an older one. (In contrast, recent spin-off titles make you wonder if they should have released at all…) Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the gold standard right now, and given that it’s a 3DS title, Nintendo is probably better off developing an entirely new game that takes advantage of the Switch’s power.

F-Zero

  • Last Release: F-Zero Climax (GBA, 2004)
  • Should A Game Be Re-Released? Yes
  • Which Game? F-Zero GX (GameCube, 2003)

F-Zero has been gone for so long that outside of Captain Falcon and a few Mario Kart tracks, nobody remembers anything about it. If there’s a game out there that deserves the treatment Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga got, it’s this one: Slap a new coat of paint on a game that already looked pretty decent on the GameCube, include a comprehensive list of characters and vehicles, and unleash it on the gaming public. Who says the Switch needs a dedicated Mario Kart game?

Super Smash Bros.

  • Last Release: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U, 2014)
  • Should A Game Be Re-Released? No

This game almost falls into the same category as Super Mario Maker (how exactly could you make this better?), but that’s never stopped Nintendo from releasing new versions of this game before. Sure, a Super Smash Bros. Melee re-release would certainly sell well enough, but I have a feeling this fandom won’t put up with a simple re-release. I think Nintendo needs to go the Splatoon 2 route with this franchise: Pair Smash Bros. Wii U‘s multiplayer action with Smash Bros. Brawl‘s single-player mode, inject some fresh new characters (Inklings? ARMS fighters? Yooka & Laylee?) and stages, maybe come up with an interesting new online mode, and call it a day.

Paper Mario

  • Last Release: Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U, 2016)
  • Should A Game Be Re-Released? Yes
  • Which Game? Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GameCube, 2004)

This one feels like a no-brainer, especially in the wake of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions. The recent Paper Mario games have gotten mixed reviews (for what it’s worth, I really enjoyed Color Splash), mostly because they’ve strayed from the formula that made Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door so successful.  PM: TTYD is the one that people keep pointing to as the pinnacle of the series, so why not capitalize on this and merge TTYD‘s story with Color Splash‘s stunning visuals? I still don’t see the upside of the Superstar Saga remake, but I could totally see it here.

Speaking of no-brainers…

Pokémon

  • Last Release: Pokémon Sun/Moon (3DS, 2016)
  • Should A Game Be Re-Released? Yes
  • Which Game? Pokémon Diamond/Pearl (DS, 2007)

…Do I really need to say anything more? Pokémon prints money like few other series, and speculation about Diamond and Pearl remakes started the moment Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire hit store shelves. Toss in some expanded post-game story content, and this thing would be a perfect 2018 title for the 3DS (and help tide people over until the eventual Switch title).

Star Fox

  • Last Release: Star Fox 2 (SNES Classic, 2017)
  • Should A Game Be Re-Released? No

Let’s be real: Star Fox Zero pretty much destroyed any chance of a future reboot. If any series needs a new game on the level of Breath of the Wild or Mario Odyssey, it’s this one. (Say what you want about Metroid, but at least it can get by with a game like Samus Returns.)

In short, Nintendo’s storied past can really help shore up its future, but only if it’s meted out judiciously. As long as fresh blockbuster titles are leading the way, re-releases are a good way to fill in the release schedule and squeeze a bit more revenue out of gamers’ nostalgia.

Song Review: William Michael Morgan, “Vinyl”

William Michael Morgan is a talented artist and Vinyl was a great album, but I can’t help but wonder: Has his window of opportunity for country music stardom already closed?

Morgan became a hero to staunch country traditionalists when his debut single “I Met A Girl” reached #2 on Billboard’s airplay chart last year, and with the release of his follow-up single “Missing” (which was my favorite single of 2016), he seemed poised to become an A-list superstar and bring a classic country revolution to the mainstream. Instead, “Missing” limped to a disappointing #29 airplay peak, and Morgan was replaced by Midland as the face of the traditional country movement. Now, Morgan hopes to rebound with “Vinyl,” the title track and third single from his debut album, and while it’s still a good song and an enjoyable listen, it’s a safer and less interesting song than “Missing,” and in an era where other artists are beginning to see success with a throwback sound (Midland, Jon Pardi, Carly Pearce, Luke Combs, etc.), Morgan doesn’t stand out quite like he used to.

The production here is a restrained neotraditional mix, with an acoustic guitar doing the lion’s share of melody work and a real drum set providing the foundation. There’s also a steel guitar that gets just enough space to remind you that it’s here (mostly on the choruses), and an electric guitar that provides a nice solo and little else. It doesn’t provide the energy that “Missing” did, but it establishes a smooth, relaxed atmosphere that suits the subject matter well. (In fact, the song might be a little too smooth, as it doesn’t grab the listener’s attention the way “Missing” did, and just doesn’t feel as impactful or memorable as it should.) In short, it’s a nice, 90s-reminiscent mix that’s easy on the ears.

From a technical perspective, this might be the least-demanding song I’ve heard in a while: Both the singer’s range and volume are tightly constrained, and the flow is as relaxed as the production. As a love song, however, the song demands charisma and believability from those who dare sing it, and Morgan effortlessly clears these hurdles with his easy, earnest delivery. While I wouldn’t call his performance “sexy,” Morgan does a nice job conveying the narrator’s love for their partner to the listener, and his words come across as genuine rather than hollow. I’ve always been a fan of Morgan’s voice, and “Vinyl” does nothing to change this opinion.

The writing is as light and fluffy as you would expect from a love song, and despite its many record references, it doesn’t come across as particularly clever or witty. The “hang your cover on the wall” line was kind of cute, but most of the other hooks came across as a bit bland and uninteresting, and the angle wore thin surprisingly quickly. Also, while the word “girl” pops up a lot, it’s not the frequency of the word that bothers me as much as its location: Twice during the verses, the word is used to end groups of lines in a lazy attempt to make things rhyme properly. Overall, though, the lyrics are tolerable and inoffensive, and don’t get in the way of Morgan or the production.

A year ago, I would have held “Vinyl” up as a prime example of how great country music could sound. While I would still call it a good song today, its flaws are a bit more apparent now that its production no longer stands out among its peers. The song still has a chance to do well and reestablish Morgan as an up-and-coming star, but his chances of becoming the Randy Travis of his era are virtually nil, and that’s a shame.

Rating: 7/10. It’s worth checking out, but “Missing” was so much better.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions: Is It Worth Buying?

Before we get to the question of whether this game is worth buying, we need to tackle a more fundamental question: Why does this game even exist?

Nintendo’s releases have been heavy on retreads lately, but most of these re-releases serve a greater purpose: Pokkén Tournament DX expands the game’s audience beyond the paltry Wii U install base, Metroid: Samus Returns throws a bone to fans of a long-forgotten franchise, and the SNES Classic lets players relive the glory days of the 16-bit era. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, however, fits none of these explanations:

  • The 3DS has a substantial user base, and every other Mario & Luigi game can be played on it (including the DS games).
  • Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam was released just last year, so the franchise isn’t suffering a release drought.
  • While the franchise is fairly old, its history still pales in comparison to Metroid and the Super Nintendo.

In short, a grand total of nobody was clamoring for this game to come back…yet here we are.

To be fair, I loved Superstar Saga back when it came out, and if you never got to play the Game Boy Advance version, it’s worth checking out the 3DS remake. However, if you’ve already played this game, you’re free to give this version a wide berth. The game’s story is exactly the same as before, and Nintendo doesn’t provide a compelling reason to revisit it.

Sure, the Bowser’s Minions portion technically counts as an expansion to the storyline, but it feels like an aftermarket add-on than an added layer to the story. Basically, you build up an army of various baddies from Bowser’s army, and then watch them butt heads against a bunch of other enemies while you play the role of benevolent overseer (your options are basically limited to “captain commands” and occasionally tapping minions for charged-up attacks). While this sort of gameplay can be entertaining (it worked really well in Miitopia), it requires the characters to have a lot of charm and personality, and that’s not something the generic Goombas and Koopa Troopas of Bowser’s Minions provide. It’s just not enough to justify re-buying the entire game.

Superstar Saga, like every other entry in the series, is the kind of game you’ll play through once, say “Hey, that was fun!” and then never touch it again. If you’ve never played the original version, then it’s worth picking up now, because it’s a solid, fun RPG on its own merits. If you have played it before, however, you’re better off waiting and saving up for Super Mario Odyssey instead.