If this song proves anything, it proves that it’s not what you say, but how you say it.
When you stop and consider the degree of difficulty involved in establishing oneself as an older black singer in an industry dominated by young white males, Darius Rucker’s transition from the frontman of Hootie and the Blowfish to a successful solo country artist has been nothing short of remarkable. He’s been going through an “every other single” pattern lately, however, with his last five singles earning airplay peaks of #4, #48, #2, #33, and #1 respectively. This trend suggests that his latest single “For The First Time” will struggle, and while the Bro-lite nature of the song lends this idea weight, Rucker is able to elevate the song to something respectable in a way that few of his contemporaries can pull off.
The production opens with a stomp-clap beat that sounds slightly synthetic, but soon adds an electric guitar and fiddle (!) to the mix to signal that the sound here will be more traditional than modern. The guitar does most of the heavy lifting on the melody, while the fiddle jumps in mostly to fill space between the verses and chorus. (While the producers get props for just having the fiddle at all, I would have like to see it used a bit more prominently.) An amplified acoustic guitar is tossed in for a pre-bridge solo, and it acquits itself fairly well. The song’s heavy reliance on minor chords makes it feel a bit more serious than it should, but the brighter instrument tones mitigate this issue somewhat. Overall, the mix is unique enough to catch people’s attention and stand out on the radio.
The writing is probably the weakest part of the song, as it pulls heavily from the Bro-Country playbook and makes the listener question the narrator’s true motivations. The imagery used is generic and passé (night driving, laying on a car under the stars, drinking cheap wine, etc.), and there’s nothing particularly unique outside of running “barefoot through the mud.” What’s worse is that although the singer seems to be asking the woman he’s with to take a chance and experience the thrills of a relationship with him, the reliance on stock Bro-Country themes and some questionable word choices (you’re “daring” someone to take a chance on you? Really?) make the narrator feel a bit more nefarious than they should, as if they’re just looking for a one-night stand with a hot girl instead of looking to build a long-term relationship. (The admission that “you don’t know me well” adds credence to the idea that this might be a short-term proposition.)
In the hands of a lot of country singers, the narrator would feel inauthentic and the song would come off as irredeemably sleazy. There’s a reason Rucker’s career has lasted as long as it has, however, and it’s emotion and earnestness he can exhibit through his voice. Rucker is one of the better singers in country music today, and he shows off a smooth delivery, decent range, and more than enough charisma to take a song like this and make it feel heartfelt and sincere. While it’s not always enough to save a song (no one could have redeemed “Homegrown Honey”), “For The First Time” is vague and lightweight enough that Rucker, buoyed by some decent production, can keep it out of the gutter and steer it a more respectable direction.
Overall, “For The First Time” is a weak song carried by a strong performance that does just enough to make the whole thing an interesting listen. While I’d prefer to see Rucker take on some weightier material (his prior single “If I Told You” was a step in the right direction), I’ll take this track for now.
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two to see what you think.