Song Review: Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It”

This song would be pretty sexy…if it wasn’t so irritating.

Florida Georgia Line embodied everything people loved and hated about the Bro-Country era, but when the duo released “Simple” as the leadoff single for their upcoming fourth album, it signaled a stark change from the bombastic guitar-and-drum-machine sound they had been known for. In country music, however, zebras don’t change their metaphorical stripes overnight, and the pair’s follow-up single “Talk You Out Of It” is a bit of a compromise between the Mumford & Sons vibe of “Simple” and FGL’s earlier work. To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about this one: While I really like the romantic sound and sexy feel of this song, I’m put off by the narrator’s pushy attitude and the double-standard embodied by the writing.

Let’s start with the positives first: I’m really impressed by the sensual vibe of the production here, especially in the wake of the many failed attempts at sexiness I’ve heard within the genre over the last few months. While the track ditches the raw acoustic vibe of “Simple” in favor of a more-manufactured sound closer to FGL’s past work, it doesn’t have the in-your-face, manufactured feel of FGL’s prior work either. Instead, the track seeks a happy medium between the two: The opening dobro is affected and the drum machine feels more conventional/artificial, but overall the instruments are restrained and relaxed, and they don’t have the excessive volume or complex riffs that might draw the listener’s attention away from the lyrics. I was also surprised at how warm the instruments tones felt (especially the steel guitar), and how they all came together to give the mix a decent groove and an understated sexiness that works hard to prop up the writing (even if the effort is ultimately futile). I’ve never been a fan of Joey Moi’s production (and I can’t actually find confirmation that this mix is his), but if this is his handiwork, he deserves some mad props for putting it together.

Now for the bad: It’s too bad the production tries to highlight the song’s writing, because I cannot stand this narrator’s attitude. On the surface, the track is an inverted version of John Conlee’s “Friday Night Blues” (which, for the record, is ten times the song “Talk You Out Of It” is): This time the woman is the one who is worn out from work, and the narrator is the one that wants the pair to go out on the town. The narrator successfully gets their way, and the woman dresses up for the date…only for the guy to say “Nah, you look too pretty, let’s get naked and have sex right now.” First of all, make up your damn mind, dude! Second, even if your partner eventually caves in to your demands, don’t yank their chain like that and expect them to cater to your every whim. (Every woman I know would have responded to that “talk you out of it” about-face by saying “I spent an hour getting dressed for that?!” and punching the guy in the face.) When contrasted with Conlee’s track, the scene becomes even more disturbing: The women bends over backwards to accommodate the dinner date here, but when she wants to go out in “Friday Night Blues,” she’s rebuffed and is left “dancing ’round with her broom.” This sort of patronizing attitude, coupled with the fact that the tired woman’s feelings are barely given the time of day, makes the narrator here feel unreasonable and unsympathetic, and ends up killing the mood the production worked so hard to establish. (For what it’s wroth, however, the writers at least tried to use a Luther Vandross reference, clumsy as it was, instead of a cliché Marvin Gaye one.)

With annoying lyrics like this, the song’s only chance for salvation is having a super-charismatic singer swoop in and elevate the track by softening the narrator’s edge and alleviating the listener’s unease with their sincerity and earnestness. Alas, Tyler Hubbard is not that singer, although a big part of that is his long history as a Bro-Country standard bearer. (In the hands of, say, Brett Young, this song might have turned out a lot differently.) Hubbard’s range and flow might be fine, and he certainly tries his best to sound lovestruck and sincere, but frankly, a guy who built his career on shallow, objectifying tracks like “Cruise,” “Sun Daze,” and “Smooth” just isn’t going to have the polish or debonair to pull off a song like this one. (Consider his attempts at complimenting the women, which are limited to “lookin’ like a grown man’s dream” in a “fine little dress” because physical beauty is apparently the only thing Hubbard notices.) As it is, Hubbard comes across as just another Bro trying to get into a woman’s pants (or dress, in this case), and it’s going to take a few more years of maturity and a lot more distance from the Bro-Country era before he can handle this kind of track. (As usual, Brian Kelley is so invisible here that you don’t even realize he’s here. Seriously, you might as well replace him with Brian Rolston.)

Despite it’s sensual sound, “Talk You Out Of It” just doesn’t talk me into believing it’s a good song. I’m getting really tired of hearing unconvincing male narrators trying to talk women into doing their bidding, and even after “Simple,” I’m getting tired of waiting for Florida Georgia Line to become an act I actually want to hear. With Dan + Shay emerging as a serious challenger for the ‘best male duo’ label (ugh, is that really the best this genre can do?), FGL needs to step up its game if it plans on sticking around Nashville much longer.

Rating: 4/10.  Do yourself a favor and check out John Conlee’s discography instead.

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The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: November 11, 2018

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 official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Chris Young, “Hangin’ On” 0 (5/10)
2. Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” +2 (7/10)
3. Jimmie Allen, “Best Shot” +2 (7/10)
4. Kane Brown, “Lose It” +1 (6/10)
5. Maren Morris, “Rich” -1 (4/10)
6. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” 0 (5/10)
7. Dan + Shay, “Speechless” 0 (5/10)
8. Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” +3 (8/10)
9. Blake Shelton, “Turnin’ Me On” -1 (4/10)
10. Kip Moore, “Last Shot” -2 (3/10)
11. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
12. Eric Church, “Desperate Man” +1 (6/10)
13. Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” +2 (7/10)
14. Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” 0 (5/10)
15. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
16. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
17. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
18. Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” 0 (5/10)
19. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
20. Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” +5 (10/10)
21. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
22. Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (5/10)
23. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
24. Tim McGraw, “Neon Church” 0 (5/10)
25. Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country” (5/10)
26. Kenny Chesney ft. Mindy Smith, “Better Boat” +2 (7/10)
27. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
28. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
29. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
30. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
31. Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins” +3 (8/10)
32. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
33. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
34. Brett Young, “Here Tonight” +1 (6/10)
35. Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” 0 (5/10)
36. Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (5/10)
37. Granger Smith, “You’re In It” 0 (5/10)
38. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
39. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
40. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
41. Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” (5/10)
42. Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” -1 (4/10)
43. LoCash, “Feels Like A Party” -2 (3/10)
44. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
45. Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” +4 (9/10)
46. Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” -2 (3/10)
47. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
48. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
49. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
50. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +19
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -6
Overall Pulse +13
Change From Last Week +1 🙂

Best Song (tie): “Drunk Girl” and “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (18 songs)

Gone:

  • Cole Swindell, “Break Up In The End” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Chris Young, “Hangin’ On” (posted a ‘thank you radio!’ ad in Country Aircheck)
  • Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” (down from #5 to #20)
  • Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” (down from #14 to #18)

Death Watch:

  • Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” (holds at #35 and somehow regains its bullet, but has now lost points for two straight weeks and sits outside the top 20 after 22 weeks, with Old Dominion now primed to pass it)
  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (holds at #38 with yet another weak-gain week, and really needs to just go away)
  • Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” (down from #45 to #46, managed to regain its bullet by gaining a whole four spins and fifty points this week)

Really Needs To Take A Hint:

  • Tyler Rich, “The Difference” (seriously, this song is like lapped traffic at a NASCAR race: It’s gained four spots in the last two months and has been passed by eight songs during this span)
  • Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” (holds at #47, but gained only 32 points this week and just isn’t moving)
  • Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” (holds at #49 and regains its bullet, but gains less than 150 points this week)

In Real Trouble:

  • Eric Church, “Desperate Man” (treads water for another week at #12, and with Rhett and Lynch coming up fast, its future looks bleak)
  • Granger Smith, “You’re In It” (holds at #37 with a barely-passable week, but is it too little too late?)

In Some Trouble:

  • Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” (down from #39 to #41, gained only twenty points this week, and now sits outside the Top 40 after 11 weeks)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” (up from #53 to #45)
  • Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (up from #42 to #36)
  • Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” (up from #21 to #17)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts:

I expect a lot of movement below [Chris Young and Jimmie Allen], so stay tuned!  —Me last week

Okay, so maybe this movement is going to take longer than I thought. It feels like there are a lot of songs on the chart right now that are just taking up space and not going anywhere, from Church in the low teens to Smith and Atkins in the high thirties. (How Denning managed to bounce back from a 300-plus point loss I’ll never know.)

However, change is still coming, especially with Sugarland & Swift joining Janson in an early bow-out. A lot of the singers who have recently left the charts are getting back into the game quickly: Rhett and Bryan are the extreme examples, but Aldean, Brett Young, Old Dominon, and even Kelsea Ballerini are back as well, and Florida Georgia Line and Cole Swindell are currently booking their return trips. (Spoiler alert: The Swindell single is okay, the FGL one…not so much.) With any luck, this will finally knock out Anderson, Lay, and a few others in the high forties, and maybe convince a few of the higher chart cloggers (that means you, Tyler Rich) to either get moving or get out of the way.

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

Exactly Who Is The Target Audience For Pokémon: Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee?

It’s often said that when you try to please everyone, you wind up pleasing no one. When it comes to Pokémon, however, the normal rules don’t always apply.

Up to this point, the Pokémon Let’s Go! series has been billed as a way to bring casual players and lapsed fans of the series deeper into the fold. Capture mechanics were simplified, the anime was referenced in both the style and the story, and the scope was limited to the original Kanto region and monsters. “Hardcore” Pokémon players were aghast: How could the franchise’s first* full adventure on a home console be this dumbed-down?

*Apparently the world forgot about Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD

Fast forward to now, however, and we’re starting to see signs that the hardcore demographic wasn’t completely neglected:

  • Nintendo’s recent Treehouse presentation of the game revealed Madam Celadon, an NPC that can force the wild Pokémon that you encounter to have a specific nature (Bold, Lonely, etc.) for a short period of time. From my experience, natures don’t have much of an effect on normal Pokémon playthroughs. (I, for example, have a habit of catching monsters with natures that contradict the Pokémon’s best stat…) However, their 10% stat boost/reduction combinations are a major part of the Pokémon competitive scene, as they are a major consideration when putting together the optimum “build” for a particular monster. Including this option makes no sense for a game geared towards casual players, but is really handy for players looking to dive into competitive Pokémon battling.
  • Similarly, Serebii is reporting that the Effort Value (EV) mechanic has been overhauled for the Let’s Go! series. In prior titles, EVs were earned by battling other monsters, and earning enough EVs would eventually correspond to improved statistics (4 Speed EVs, for example, would eventually grant a Pokémon 1 extra point to their Speed stat). For Let’s Go!, however, EVs are granted by the use of special candies, and the stat boosts are granted immediately, which means that a monster “can now breach previous ceilings of stats.” Again, the impact of this change on most playthroughs will be zero (maxing out your Pokémon’s level and stats aren’t necessary to complete the game), but this could really shake up the Pokémon competitive scene, as monsters that exceed their previous stat caps could change the entire calculus of battle and throw the standard tier lists into chaos (when a PU Pokémon pops out, the opponent now has to wonder “is it a standard wimpy monster, or is the darn thing on steroids?”). Unbinding Pokémon from their normal stat pools, even by a tiny bit, would be a game-changer to hardcore Pokémon fanatics, while casual players will barely notice any change at all.

These changes force us to ask the question: Who exactly is the intended audience for the Let’s Go! series? Why would Nintendo include features geared towards hardcore players in a game that aims to be a friendly introduction to the series for new/former players?

The knee-jerk answer is, as Diddy might say, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” Nintendo is a business, after all, and if nature-choosing and stat-cap-busting are enough to convince someone to drop $60 on the game (and perhaps an extra who-knows-what on accessories), then the move is a success. Playing this kind of game with your audience, however, is not without risk:

  • You’re going to have to sit through a lot of boring catch-only encounters to access these advanced features, and a hardcore player may end up getting bored/annoyed in the process.
  • If you do more to cater to this audience, however, your casual fans may get confused or intimidated by all the extra depth and complexity, and they may shy away from the game as a result.

Either scenario means your player base takes a hit, which would negatively impact both present and future sales for the Let’s Go! franchise.

However, there’s also a non-knee-jerk answer to our question, which gets to the heart of the magic of the Pokémon series: “Because they always do something like this.”

Pokémon has always offered one of the more in-depth battle systems that you’ll encounter in modern RPGs (the current Effort/Individual Value system has been in place since G3), but this system is completely invisible to players who don’t actively seek it out. In this way, mainline Pokémon games have always served both casual and hardcore players, letting people go as deep into the battling system as they desired. Now, with a sizable audience playing Pokémon Go, the series is adapting by incorporating some of Go’s familiar mechanics while also leaving enough crumbs for classic console players to enjoy the game as well.

The real question we should be asking is “How many constituents can Pokémon truly serve in a single game?” Nintendo and The Pokémon Company have balanced casual and hardcore console players for decades, but with its Niantic partnership booming and mobile-only players now making up a fair chunk of its fanbase, will Let’s Go! be able to offer a satisfactory playing experience to all three factions? By showing off the game’s advanced features, Nintendo is signaling its confidence that the game is up to the task.

The target audience, like it is for every Pokémon adventure, is “everybody.” We’ll have to wait until Friday to see whether or not the game hits this mark.

Song Review: Justin Moore, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home”

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…this song just isn’t cheesy enough.

After a decade on the radio, Justin Moore is being forced to confront the mortality of his mainstream career. His last two singles have labored through long, 40+ week chart stays, and while “Somebody Else Will” eventually reached #1, last year’s “Kinda Don’t Care” ended up stalling at a disappointing #17. In response, Moore’s team has closed the book on the Kinda Don’t Care era, and are now pushing “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” as the leadoff single for his presumed fifth album. The song is your typical “praise the fallen soldiers” song, but while I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, the track doesn’t actually make me feel any sentiment. It’s a tepid tune that never decides if it’s supposed to be happy or sad, and it just doesn’t draw out enough emotion to truly get its point across.

The production here is the same standard guitar-and-drum mix you’ve heard a hundred times before. The electric axes lack the texture and bite they had on “Kinda Don’t Care,” the steel guitar is relegated to the background, and the drum set is unremarkable at best. The biggest surprise is the producer’s decision to take the song in a positive direction: There are a few minor chords tossed in to highlight the sadness of the event, but the instrument tones are bright and the atmosphere feels almost celebratory, as if the mix is trying to invoke memories of the good times before the fallen character’s passing. It’s an understandable approach, but it doesn’t mesh very well with the lyrics, which focus on the present and how the community reacts after the death. As a result, the listener is left feeling not much at all when the song is over, as neither the sadness nor the nostalgia are strong enough to make an impression.

Likewise, Moore’s performance feels a bit lukewarm for the subject matter, especially when compared to previous singles like “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away.” Neither his range nor his flow are really tested here, so the song is completely reliant on Moore’s charisma to sell the story and make the audience pay attention. Unfortunately, he’s only half-successful: He’s believable in the narrator’s role, but he comes across as stoic and distant, and it’s this lack of emotional investment that comes through the most in his delivery. By not choosing a side between the brighter sound and darker writing, Moore adds more confusion than clarity to the song, and the listener is left wondering if they should care about the story at all.

While the writing is fairly solid here, it lacks the emotional fire to cut through the mixed messages sent by the rest of the track. Stories about fallen soldiers are nothing new in the genre (Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck” and Trace Adkins’s “Arlington” spring to mind), but they usually try to make their mark by tugging at the listener’s heartstrings, often crossing the line into sappiness in the process. This song, in contrast, drifts a bit too far in the opposite direction: While it’s imagery is primarily sad (and, outside of the “green bean casserole” reference, incredibly generic), there’s also a strange matter-of-factness to the writing, as if this was originally intended as a newspaper obituary. Personally, I would have doubled down on the cheesiness and really aimed for the listener’s feels—grieving family members, more scenes from the soldier’s life, etc. (Come on, at least include a sad piano or a military snare drum in the mix!) Even if they had gone over the top, they would have at least made the listener feel something. As it is, it’s a sob story with no sobs, one that feels too clinical and sanitary to be heartbreaking.

“The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” isn’t a bad song, and I concede that someone who has actually lost a loved one to war might get more mileage out of this song than I did. To make an impact and prop up Justin Moore’s sagging career, however, the song needs to touch the hearts of “swing listeners” like yours truly, and the conflicting approaches of the sound, singer, and songwriting make it impossible for the track to do its job and hook its intended audience. When “not cheesy enough” is a legitimate critique of your song, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two, but don’t expect any miracles here.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: November 4, 2018

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 official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” +2 (7/10)
2. Chris Young, “Hangin’ On” 0 (5/10)
3. Jimmie Allen, “Best Shot” +2 (7/10)
4. Maren Morris, “Rich” -1 (4/10)
5. Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” +5 (10/10)
6. Kane Brown, “Lose It” +1 (6/10)
7. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” 0 (5/10)
8. Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” +3 (8/10)
9. Dan + Shay, “Speechless” 0 (5/10)
10. Blake Shelton, “Turnin’ Me On” -1 (4/10)
11. Kip Moore, “Last Shot” -2 (3/10)
12. Eric Church, “Desperate Man” +1 (6/10)
13. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
14. Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” 0 (5/10)
15. Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” 0 (5/10)
16. Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” +2 (7/10)
17. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
18. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
19. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
20. Cole Swindell, “Break Up In The End” +3 (8/10)
21. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
22. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
23. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
24. Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (5/10)
25. Tim McGraw, “Neon Church” 0 (5/10)
26. Kenny Chesney ft. Mindy Smith, “Better Boat” +2 (7/10)
27. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
28. Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country” (5/10)
29. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
30. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
31. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
32. Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins” +3 (8/10)
33. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
34. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
35. Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” 0 (5/10)
36. Brett Young, “Here Tonight” +1 (6/10)
37. Granger Smith, “You’re In It” 0 (5/10)
38. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
39. Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” (5/10)
40. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
41. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
42. Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (5/10)
43. Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” -1 (4/10)
44. LoCash, “Feels Like A Party” -2 (3/10)
45. Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” -2 (3/10)
46. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
47. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
48. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
49. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
50. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +21
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -9
Overall Pulse +12
Change From Last Week -3 😦

Best Song (tie): “Drunk Girl” and “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (18 songs)

Gone:

  • Florida Georgia Line, “Simple” (recurrent)
  • Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” (posted a “thank you radio!” in Country Aircheck this week)
  • Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” (ditto Combs)
  • Cole Swindell, “Break Up In The End” (down from #8 to #20)
  • Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” (down from #34 to #35, and the losses are big enough to suggest it’s lost label support)

Death Watch:

  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (semi-decent gains constitute progress, but at only #38 after 26 weeks does it really have a future?)

Really Needs To Take A Hint:

  • Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” (up from #46 to #45, but lost its bullet again and is starting to age)
  • Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” (up from #48 to #47, but gained only 22 points this week and just isn’t going anywhere)
  • Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” (magically re-appears at #49 due to some glitch in the chart reporting, but without a bullet)

In Real Trouble:

  • Eric Church, “Desperate Man” (up from #13 to #12, but posts another weak week and with Bentley, Lynch and Rhett behind it, how long can in continue to tread water?)
  • Granger Smith, “You’re In It” (down from #36 to #37, passed by Bryan and Brett Young after another sub-100 point gain)

In Some Trouble:

  • Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” (holds at #14, but reverts to its weak-gain ways and now has Lynch and Rhett backed up behind it)
  • Tyler Rich, “The Difference” (holds at #27, passed by Chesney, and now has Bryan, Ray, Pardi, and Urban ready to pounce)
  • Basically, if you’re #39 or lower and aren’t Old Dominion, you had a rough go this week.

In No Trouble At All:

  • Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country” (up from #37 to #28 and has jumped thirty-seven spots in the last two weeks)
  • Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” (up from #19 to #15)
  • Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” (up from #20 to #16)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

WTF, or “There Has To Be A Station Going Rogue Somewhere”:

  • Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug, “Havana” (reappears at #92?)

Overall Thoughts: Washington may have gotten a big shakeup this week, but after Luke Combs decided “You know what, I want a multi-week #1 after all,” the complete flushing of the Mediabase chart will have to wait another week.

At the very end of September, I called out fourteen songs would absolutely be gone by November, and labeled another six as potentially gone. Fast forward to today: Nine of the fourteen are history, one (Denning) is on its way out, and the other four (Sugarland & Swift, Smith, Atkins, and Anderson) are zombies that really need to be plunged from the drain of the genre. (From the ‘potentially gone’ group, Pearce has disappeared and Janson and Swindell are both heading for the exits.) In their wake, a crop of established stars are racing in to fill the void, each one looking stronger than the last (first Shelton, then Dan + Shay, then McGraw, then Rhett, and now Luke Bryan).

I really wish I could say that this coming transition is for the better (and I can say that it’s not as bad as it could have been), but I’m just hearing a lot of bland filler on the radio lately. There’s still a chance for things to improve (Runaway June and Ballerini are knocking on the door of the Top 50, and Wammack is lurking in the high 50s), but given country music’s allergy to female artists, it seems more likely that we’ll be stuck with middling tunes from Brothers Osborne, Billy Currington, and Morgan Evans instead. (That David Lee Murphy tune sitting at #52 also greatly concerns me…)

One last question: Who takes the #1 slot next week? Jimmie Allen’s Country Aircheck ad this week only called for “powering up,” but given his gains over the past few weeks, he might get around Chris Young and steal the crown on momentum alone. However, I expect a lot of movement below these pair, so stay tuned!

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

Song Review: Lee Brice, “Rumor”

…You know what, I’m going to let Grumpy Cat handle this one:

While Lee Brice has been around longer than you might think (his debut single came out over a decade ago), he’s never really progressedprogressed beyond the ‘hit-or-miss single’ stage. For every song he releases that makes you think “Yeah, I could get behind this” (“I Drive Your Truck,” “I Don’t Dance”), he releases another that makes your stomach turn (“Parking Lot Party,” “That Don’t  Sound Like You”). Now, four years removed from his last hit single, Brice is back to test our ears with “Rumor,” the second single from his recent self-titled album. It’s the sonic equivalent of a missed chip-shot field goal: The sound and writing put Brice is a solid position to succeed, but he manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and we’re ultimately left with this off-putting snorefest as a result.

The production has more of a bluesy feel than you’ll usually find on country radio. The song opens with a blend of Wurlitzer piano, electric guitar, and steel guitar that blends together way better than it has any right to, with a booming drum set giving the track a strong foundation. There are a few other instruments floating around in the background (an acoustic guitar and even an organ), they’re really just there to fill in the gaps in what turns out to be a spacious, reflective mix with a fairly chill vibe. However, while the track’s lack of energy is intentional, its utter lack of groove probably wasn’t, and as a result the track feels more run-of-the-mill than standout. It seems to flow a bit too easily in one ear and out the other, and doesn’t leave much of an impression on the listener after it’s done. It’s a decent sound that complements the writing well; I just wish it had done a bit more to grab my attention.

I don’t like pinning the failings of a track directly on the artist, but the truth is that Brice is the main reason this song just doesn’t work for me. Technically, his performance is fine: His vocal have a “Stapleton-lite” feel to them, his range suits the track well, and he does an impressive job handling the parts of the lyrics that try to cram too many syllables into a line. The problem is that a song like this one, which tries to entice/push someone into a romantic relationship with the narrator, requires a strong vocalist with enough charisma to keep the whole thing from feeling slimy, and Brice fails surprisingly hard on this count. Even when the lyrics give him the opportunity to say otherwise, Brice’s delivery gives us the clear impression that he’d really like this relationship to go forward, and thus when he says he’s willing to dispel this romantic rumor, he comes across as neither earnest nor believable. A better artist (say, Darius Rucker) would have been able to elevate this track and make it feel a bit more on the level, but Brice sounds like just another bro trying to pick up a date, and it’s not a great look for him.

The main reason I’m so hard on Brice here is that the writing gives him several explicit opportunities to take a step back and consider the feelings of the other person. The song’s premise is that there is a “Rumor” going around implying that the narrator and the person he addresses/dances with are in a romantic relationship, and the pair is pondering how to respond to this accusation. While I’m not overly impressed by the narrator’s calls to make this rumor a reality (“tell me why we’re even trying to deny this feeling/I feel, don’t you feel it too?” feels a little too pushy for my tastes), the writers seem to recognize the optics of the situation and built in some course corrections on the verses and bridge:

Well I can shut ’em down, tell them all they’re crazy
I can do whatever you want me to do, baby

Oh be honest girl now
Do you want to do this or not?
Should we keep them talking, girl
Or should we just make them stop?

There are some other unrelated issues with the writing (as mentioned earlier, they try cramming too many many words into a line on several occasions), but they at least went out of their way to try and make the song more conscious of the other person’s feelings. This make Brice’s failure to transmit these concerns via his performance a lot more glaring.

I believe there’s a good song somewhere inside “Rumor,” but it’s a track best suited for a more-charismatic artist. I noted during my review of “Boy” that I just wasn’t moved to feel the emotion that Lee Brice was shooting for, and while I wondered if the issue was his or mine at the time, he subsequent failure to elevate this track (despite the production and writing’s best efforts) makes me conclude that he’s just not a strong enough singer to handle this sort of material. Shoulda-woulda-coulda aside, we can only judge the track we’re given, and what we’ve been given is nothing but radio filler.

Rating: 5/10. Yet another mediocre track that’s not worth going out of your way to hear.

My Reaction To The Final Smash Bros. Ultimate Direct

Forget Super Smash Bros. Ultimate—this is turning into Nintendo Ultimate, or perhaps The Entire History of Video Games Ultimate.

With roughly a month before the game’s release, Masahiro Sakurai put all of his cards on the table and revealed (almost) everything SSBU has to offer, right down to the help menus. It was a veritable fire hose of information, but it filled the important gaps and did it best to appease darn near every video game fan in existence with a shout-out of some sort. Despite giving us a lot of mundane details, the presentation kept the hype and energy levels maxed out through character reveals, customizations, and even a small taste taste of the story mode.

Let’s sift through the wreckage of what once was the Internet and break this thing down, shall we?

The Characters: I’m 100% satisfied with the final character reveals. Having Ryu without Ken always felt like a glaring omission to me, so I’m happy to see him included, and as a card-carrying member of #TeamLitten, seeing Incineroar join the fray was super exciting. (I never thought a generic Piranha Plant would make for an interesting avatar, but against all odds the SSBU team made it happen!) By also leaving the door open for future DLC, Sakurai and co. gave themselves an opportunity to monitor fan interest post-release and add more fighters based on that interest down the road. Well played, good sir!

While I can’t complain about the current roster, there was one omission that really shocked me. Given the push last year to make ARMS the next great Nintendo franchise, I would have put money on one of its characters joining the playable roster. Seeing Spring Man relegated to assist trophy status (and Ribbon Girl stuck as a Mii outfit!) really drives home the fact that ARMS is Nintendo’s biggest flop of the Switch era. (As I’ve stated before, the Big N has only itself to blame for this, as their packed early release schedule meant ARMS was almost immediately consumed by the Splatoon 2 hype cycle after its release.) While this could be rectified with the upcoming DLC, at this point I’d advise Nintendo against beating a dead horse and to focus on more-popular franchises.

The Spirits: Nintendo seems to be taking a cue from its other franchises  with this one, because Spirits combine the collectability and training of Pokémon with the kit customizations of Splatoon 2. Each fighter can be assigned one primary spirit, which can in turn be augmented with several support spirits, and each spirit brings its own battle boosts to the table. Much like catching a Pikachu, you must engage in Spirit Battles (perhaps with their custom rulesets) and emerge victorious to add to your collection. Heck, even the rock/paper/scissors setup of primary spirit strengths harkens back to the fire/water/grass triumvirate of Pokémon, and the treasure-gathering feature is ripped straight from Poké Pelago! (Going even farther, using Spirit cores to summon more Spirits brings to mind the Blade reveals of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.) It’s an interesting way to introduce more customization to SSBU while also throwing a bone to fans of less-popular franchises. While I think saying you can simulate battles between even more characters oversells the feature (a lot), it’s pretty cool nonetheless.

The Online Options: I see a lot of influence from both Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon 2 here: Random ruleset selection, numeric power rankings, proximity priority, Elite battles, canned messages, playing other games while waiting, etc. (Battle Arenas from ARMS return as well.) Nintendo seems to be learning from its previous online games to produce the best possible experience here, because this is the one game they can’t afford to screw up. (Once thing I’m confused about, however, is the separation of Smash World from the normal Switch online app. Why isn’t it included in the original ?)

The DLC: No surprise here: Adding new characters like Cloud and Bayonetta was a big hit in the previous Smash Bros., so the option is offered here as well. While I appreciate Sakurai’s honesty on what has and hasn’t been developed yet, I didn’t like the idea of incentivizing paying for unknown DLC when Nintendo did it for Breath of the Wild, and I don’t really like it here either. I’m sure you save some money by buying the full 5-pack, but if you have absolutely no indication of what you’re paying for, you’re just asking for a lot of annoyed customers.

The Ending: I wasn’t sure how Sakurai was going to conclude the presentation without one last big reveal, but using a dystopian cinematic and showing off some of the single-player story mode was pure genius. For a player with unreliable network access (like yours truly), they’re going to need assurances that the single-player content is epic enough to warrant buying the game. Nintendo misses the mark with Mario Tennis Aces, but I think they pulled it off here: The world looks huge, the battles look varied and interesting, and while it’s not supposed to be the grand tale that Subspace Emissary was, if the World Of Light’s claimed focus on fun is true, it shouldn’t matter too much. (If I want an long, deep storyline, I’ll play Octopath Traveler.) Giving players a brief glimpse and letting their imagination do the rest? I’d say that deserves a hat tip or two.

So am I completely sold on the game now? Well…I’ll be honest: 2018 Kyle is so freaking busy that I may end up passing on both SSBU and the Let’s Go! series, but 2008 Kyle would have been a day-one adopter and riding this hype train from the start. If you’re fan of Smash Bros. or fighting games in general, I think SSBU will be well worth its asking price. Much like Burger King, the massive number of options available means that you can “have it your way”, my way, their way, Sakurai’s way, and any old way! There will always be complainers, of course, but the majority of players should find a way to enjoy this game.

Now let’s hope your network connection is stable…