Song Review: Jimmie Allen, “Best Shot”

Most artists don’t take their “Best Shot” when introducing themselves to mainstream radio. Jimmie Allen does so both figuratively and literally.

Allen is a Delaware native who has been kicking around Nashville for over a decade, but he finally broke through in 2017, signing a record deal last summer and releasing his debut EP back in October. After scoring a Top Ten on Spotify’s “United States Viral 50” chart with “Blue Jean Baby,” Allen has now released “Best Shot” as his official debut single on country radio. While the song may not be the most novel song you’ll ever hear, it’s a sharply-executed track that does a good job showcasing  Allen’s talents as both a singer and songwriter.

Production-wise, “Best Shot” does a nice job walking the tightrope between traditional and contemporary country, blending modern elements into its acoustic foundation to create an understated, R&B-flavored mix with some solid groove to it. The track opens with an acoustic guitar driving the melody and what sounds like a single maraca keeping time, but slowly expands to include an electric, a piano, and a simple drum machine, all of which are toned way down to create a relaxed, almost-sexy atmosphere that doesn’t get in the way of the writing. It’s very reminiscent of Thomas Rhett’s “Unforgettable,” but it trades some of Rhett’s tempo and energy for a bit more groove and sensuality, and makes good use of minor chords to underline the depth and seriousness of the narrator’s feelings. It’s a effective strategy that makes for an easy listen while also leaving a favorable impression on the listener.

Vocally, Allen reminds be a bit of Devin Dawson, but with a bit more presence and a much smoother delivery. While the song is actually a bit too low for Allen’s voice (his delivery gets a bit raspy at points during the verses, and he sounds much more comfortable and powerful on the higher-ranged chorus) and the slower tempo doesn’t really test his flow, he brings a ton of emotion and earnestness to the table, allowing him to own the narrator’s role and make the song feel incredibly personal. I’ve harped on a few singers recently about not being able to elevate blasé material, but Allen does a nice job taking a clichéd topic and making it feel fresh and interesting.

Of course, the material here is much better than blasé—in fact, it’s my favorite part of the song. On the surface, it’s basically a carbon copy of Russell Dickerson’s “Yours”: The singer reflects on how rough his life is, but declares that he is a better person since his partner came into his life, and that he will give their relationship his “best shot.” However, while Dickerson distinguished his song through its vivid imagery, Allen stands out by playing up his vulnerability. Lot of country singers express disbelief that they wind up with such incredible partners, but Allen goes a step further by laying out his flaws and insecurities for the world to see, and how his self-image has improved since the start of the relationship (when he says “you saw a spark…that no one else could find,” “no one else” likely includes himself). The hook implies that even though his doubt lingers and that he thinks his partner deserves more respect and affeciton that he can give, he’s been inspired to try and give them all that he can. It’s a sympathetic, relatable viewpoint, and when coupled with the sincerity of Allen’s delivery, it’s a recipe for a track that hits the listener square in the feels.

Overall, “Best Shot” does exactly what it needs to do: It introduces Jimmie Allen to the audience, demonstrates his ability as a vocalist and lyricist, and makes a credible case for why he belongs on the radio. For all the complaining I’ve done about artists that I want booted out of the genre, Allen is an artist that I’d like to stick around a while.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.


Song Review: Eric Paslay, “Young Forever”

Wait, didn’t I just review this song?

Eric Paslay got his fifteen minutes of fame back in 2012, riding the Bro-Country wave to a #2 airplay peak with “Friday Night.” Since then, his song quality has ranged from great (“She Don’t Love You”) to campy (“High Class”), but his chart performance just kept getting worse, to the point where his last single “Angels In This Town” didn’t make the airplay chart at all. Now, with Paslay’s career hanging in the balance and nostalgia officially becoming a hot trend in the genre (“I Lived It,” “I Was Jack (You Were Diane),” “Break Up In The End,” etc.), he and his team have hopped aboard the trend with “Young Forever,” which is bascially “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” with more interesting production and without all the John Mellencamp references. The differences aren’t enough to make the song more interesting, but they at least keep it from veering into the gutter.

If I had to sum up the production in a word, I would christen it “Brograss.” The mix has that distinct Bro cadence and vibe, but the instrumentation is more acoustic and diverse: The drums are (mostly) real and not as prominent, there’s a token banjo and a token mandolin carrying the melody (the electric guitars are relegated to the choruses), and a dobro is even tossed in to provide a decent solo. The song actually does a nice job walking the line between nostalgia and regret, mixing exceptionally bright tones with a fair helping of minor chords to create a positive atmosphere with a bittersweet tinge that complements the writing well. It’s a welcome departure from the usual Bro-Country formula, and it’s a shame that the rest of the song doesn’t take the same sort of risk with its presentation.

On “She Don’t Love You,” Paslay showed off a lot of power and command in his upper register, something that really made him stand out from other country singers. Unfortunately, he’s never really gone back to that delivery since, and the trend continues on “Young Forever”: The song traps him down in his nondescript lower range and drowns him in harmony on the choruses, making him indistinguishable from the other faceless male artists. (His flow also feels a little rough in spots, a step backwards from his decent performance on “High Class.”) He seems to be stuck in the same spot that Russell Dickerson is: He’s got enough charisma to make the track believable, but not enough to take weak material like this and make it interesting. It’s something that would probably improve with time and experience, but after a set of underperforming singles, time is no longer on Paslay’s side.

The writing is where this song really falls apart, as it’s nothing more than a bunch of vague, generic statements about how life was better when the narrator and his partner were young and in love. While the narrator proclaims that he wishes that he was reunited with his love and “young forever,” he fails to really set the scene of his memories, instead focusing on feelings and emotions that are difficult to visualize. A lot of the usual Bro tropes are missing (no drinking, no cars, no objectification), but the things that take their place here (“lighting up the boulevard,” “kings and queens and make believe,” “believing in magic,” etc.) don’t feel as personal or relatable. The best songs in this vein find unique ways to paint a picture of the past, and this song is a preschooler’s watercolor drawing in comparison.

“Young Forever” is the equivalent of putting a new coat of paint on a dilapidated house with a shaky foundation: There’s a fair amount to like here (especially in the production), but the topic is so overdone and handled so generally that Eric Paslay never really gets a chance to show his stuff. It’s a tolerable effort, but for a man in Paslay’s tenuous situation, tolerable just isn’t good enough.

Rating: 5/10. I wouldn’t change the station if it came on, but I wouldn’t actively seek it out either.

Song Review: Russell Dickerson, “Blue Tacoma”

Let this song be a lesson to all you young singers out there: Choose your producer carefully, because they can destroy you as quickly as anything else.

I actually didn’t mind Russell Dickerson’s debut single “Yours,” and apparently radio felt the same way, as the song wound up topping Billboard’s airplay chart back in January. Lately, however, it’s been the second single that determines whether an artist has staying power or not, and if Dickerson’s follow-up track “Blue Tacoma” is any indication, he’s in for a major sophomore slump. The song is yet another drum-machine-heavy “driving around with a girl” song that feels so run-of-the-mill and generic that it just rolls off listeners’ ears like water off a duck’s back, and can’t seem to hold my attention for more than about twenty seconds.

Most of what goes wrong with this track can be credited to poor production choices. I’ve heard enough Bro-toned songs like this that I can pretty much tell what’s coming that minute I hear the opening beat: An in-your-face drum machine that’s turned up way too loud for the mix, a token banjo that’s forced to carry the melody on the verses, and select electric guitar stabs on the chorus that give way to a bright-but-nondescript guitar solo. Even amongst similar songs, this mix feels exceptionally commonplace and even boring, to the point where it doesn’t even to generate the energy and momentum you’d expect from such a celebratory, uptempo track. Maybe these sorts of party-vibe song have finally reached a critical mass for me, but “Blue Tacoma” didn’t register for me all, and I found myself ignoring it in favor of scrolling through my other web browser tabs before the first verse had finished.

To his credit, Dickerson isn’t the problem here: He’s a strong technical singer (good range, solid flow) with an easy, earnest delivery, and he has enough charisma to sell the track and convince me that he’s found heaven on Earth with his partner. Unfortunately, where a veteran performer like Darius Rucker can take an unremarkable song and make it at least a little compelling, Dickerson seems to lack that extra something to make me care about a song on such an overdone topic. Whatever emotion he brings to bear is pretty much overruled by the subpar production, which keeps him from leaving his mark on the song. It’s yet another example of a promising singer getting derailed by bad production decisions (and very reminiscent of what happened to Carly Pearce on “Hide The Wine”), and something that could very well cost Dickerson all of his “Yours” momentum.

The song’s premise is pretty simple: The narrator is driving around California in a “Blue Tacoma” with the object of his affection, declaring that “if heaven is anywhere,” it’s right here. I’d throw the track into the same “Bro-Lite” category as Chris Young’s “Hangin’ On,” as the usual tropes are present but toned down: The narrator is drinking Sunkist rather than Crown Royal, the pair is driving in the daytime rather than the nighttime, the name-dropped song is by Shania Twain rather than the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, etc. Even so, however, on paper the lyrics feel like they should have enough emotion and personality to move the listener by themselves. The problem is that they as overwhelmed by the production as Dickerson himself, and are further hampered by the song’s structure (the rapid-fire sections keep the words from getting the time and space they need to let their emotional content sink in to the listener’s mind.) As it is, the lyrics flow in on ear and out the other without leaving a trace, instead serving as a prime example of the destructive power of a drum machine.

I’m not sure “Blue Tacoma” could have been a great (or even good) song, but it could have easily been a lot more memorable or interesting had the producer not decided to dress it up like a Florida Georgia Line track.  How costly a decision this turns out to be for Russell Dickerson remains to be seen, but it makes him blend in more than stand out, and that’s a major problem for a newer artist.

Rating: 5/10. Why bother? You won’t remember hearing it anyway.

Song Review: Jake Owen, “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)”

Jake Owen’s new single “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” is meant to conjure images of teenage nostalgia, but the only thing I see is a big old fork sticking out of Owen’s career.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Jake Owen, but once upon a time he released material I could actually appreciate (“Alone With You,” “What We Ain’t Got,” etc.). In truth, however, he never evolved beyond being “the Barefoot Blue Jean guy,” and he kept going back to that well even as the genre tide turned against Bro-soaked party tunes. The results were exactly what you would expect: Some of the worst songs I’ve reviewed on this blog (“Good Company”, “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You”), and absolutely zero traction on the radio. Now, with his career in real danger of flatlining, Owen has taken an even more desperate measure: Blatantly ripping off John Cougar/Mellencamp’s 1982 classic “Jack & Diane”  for his own new single “I Was Jack (You Were Diane),” and while it clears the low bar of Owen’s last two singles (in fact, it’s probably his most listenable song since “What We Ain’t Got”), if it takes this level of plagiarism to make your material even remotely tolerable, you probably need to consider a career change.

Honestly, it’s the unrepentant sound copying that bothers me the most about this track. Lyrical allusions and hook “borrowing” happen all the time in music, but only a select few tracks also copy the production of their spiritual predecessor to this extent. To call this a lazy effort would be giving the producer too much credit: Essentially, this song takes all the melodic guitar riffs from “Jack & Diane” (both the acoustic and electric ones), smashes them together, tosses a token banjo and drum machine on top of the whole thing (who the heck thought that was a good idea?), adds a steel guitar stab or two, and calls it a day. I can only recall two songs that went this far with their production: Kid Rock’s 2008 tire fire “All Summer Long,” and Brad Paisley’s actually-decent “Old Alabama” from 2011, which only worked because:

  • Paisley already had enough gravitas and stature to make the song feel like more than a cheap coattail-riding effort.
  • Paisley worked really hard to pay the proper respect to the group he was mimicking (Alabama even got to sing and play on the track).

This song, in contrast, doesn’t feel like a tribute to Mellencamp at all, and just seems to be trading on his name to get some attention.

While the mix admittedly generates a fair amount of positive energy, it creates more of a generic party atmosphere than a nostalgic one, and it doesn’t feel personal or emotional enough to move the listener. I’m not sure whether I’m more irritated by the Mellencamp mimicking itself, or by the fact that the result sounds so uninteresting and run-on-the-mill.

As a singer, Owen has an easy, earnest delivery that’s probably above-average in the genre today…so why in the name of Jimmy Buffett does he feel the need to channel his inner Sam Hunt and talk-sing all the verses here? (It certainly can’t be because it worked so well on “Real Life.”) In doing so, his voice completely loses its tone, and turns what should be a casual, song-induced walk down memory lane into an ear-grating nightmare that invites comparisons to Walker Hayes’s “You Broke Up With Me.” He sounds just as good as he ever did on the choruses (decent range, decent flow, decent power), and he’s still got enough charisma to sell these sorts of lightweight tracks, so why he chose to sing a song that handicapped him like this is just inexplicable.

As far as the lyrics go, the title pretty much gives the song away: The narrator reflects upon how “Jack & Diane” made he and his significant other act and feel when they heard it, and wonders whether it still makes the other person think about those wild and crazy days. The song-as-a-nostalgic-touchstone angle has been done to death in country music (even Chase Rice took a stab at the topic last year), and there’s nothing here you haven’t seen or heard a hundred times before. (Given that the “American kids” and “holdin’ on to sixteen” phrases are ripped right from “Jack & Diane,” that statement is true both figuratively and literally.) The imagery is generic, the use of Mellencamp’s tune in the story is predictable and uninteresting, and the talk-singing structure was a poor design decision. You’ve got to give me a compelling reason to listen to a song about “Jack & Diane” rather than just listening to “Jack & Diane” directly, and this track doesn’t deliver.

At best, “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” is a forgettable, unremarkable track that really doesn’t justify its existence. At its worst, it’s an shameless attempt to drum up some money and notoriety via a knockoff of a rock ‘n’ roll classic, one that would make John Mellencamp turn over in his grave even though he’s still alive. I understand that Jake Owen’s career is on the ropes and that desperate times call for desperate measures, but there are some lines that are better left uncrossed, and trying to co-opt an artist’s legacy like this just to earn a few radio spins is one of them.

I closed my “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” review by saying “Come on Jake, you’re better than this.” I was wrong.

Rating: 3/10. I’ve got a growing list of artists that need to be booted out of country music (Dan + Shay, LoCash, etc.), and Owen has just added his name to it in bright red ink.

My Thoughts On Nintendo’s March 2018 Direct

Sometimes a tweet is worth a thousand words:

Nintendo’s last direct felt a bit underwhelming, as it included very few games that piqued my interest and left out several important pieces of information. I declared the whole thing to be as sleep-inducing as Chris Young’s latest single, and implored Nintendo to put on a better show the next time around. Judging by the reactions I saw on Twitter yesterday (including my own), it’s safe to say Nintendo pulled it off.

My overall feeling is that yesterday’s direct was a success on a number of different levels. It featured a bunch of high-profile first-party announcements, included a number of prominent third-party releases, addressed the future of both the Switch and 3DS (and spoke volumes about Nintendo’s support strategy for its older handheld going forward), suggested how Wii U ports might be handled going forward, was structured perfectly to build momentum and excitement as it went on, and featured the big splash (two of them, really) at the end to bring down the house. It was a brilliant display of marketing and presentation skills, and it left quite an impression on the crowd.

Here are my specific thoughts broken down by game:

  • WarioWare Gold: I thought this was initially a port, but it’s actually a brand-new game in the series featuring both new and classic minigames to play. I’m not really interested in WarioWare, but it’s nice to see Nintendo placate another starving fanbase with a new game, and it feels like the sort of low-risk, quick-turnaround title that’s going to characterize 3DS games going forward.
  • Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers: This one piqued my interest more than I expected. It’s a strange fusion of Star Fox GuardMiitopia, and Mario Kart‘s battle mode where you and a collection of Mii-flavored helpers have to beat down enemies both on the battlefield and on the track. I’m not quite sold enough to buy the game right now, but I just might pick up the demo when it comes out in May.
  • Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey: This game, on the other hand, annoyed me more than I expected because it has no reason to exist. I thought the remake of M&L: Superstar Saga was pointless and unnecessary, but you could make the argument that as a Game Boy Advance game, at least you could finally play the game on the 3DS. As a DS title, Bowser’s Inside Story has no such excuse. (I know old copies of the game are selling for a mint on Amazon, but if that’s the main concern, why not just re-release the original game on the 3DS eShop? And if we’re really going down this road, can’t we at least go in order and get an M&L: Partners In Time remake first?) This game is arguably my least favorite entries in the series, and Bowser Jr.’s Journey looks like a copy of the pointless Bowser’s Minions mode from the M&L: SS remake. Nothing about this announcement makes me happy.
  • Detective Pikachu: Detective Pikachu’s character design is excellent, and I’m always in favor of exploring the complexities of people/Pokémon relationships. I’m not terribly excited by this game, but I can definitely see its charm, and wouldn’t begrudge people for trying it out. (An XL amiibo is not more useful than a regular one, though.)
  • Luigi’s Mansion: Hey, a remake I can actually get behind! I never played the original Gamecube version of this game, and have been mulling over buying its Dark Moon sequel for a while, so I might take a flyer on this one. Also, it looks like ports are going to be a central theme for the 3DS going forward.
  • Kirby Star Allies: I’m still on the fence about this game, but adding more capturable villians and bringing back some old friends from the past (Rick! Gooey!) is a brilliant move, and leaves the door open for even more fan favorites (Nago? Adeleine? Susie?).
  • Okami HD: I’ve never heard of this game and really don’t care about it, but one gameplay mechanic really caught my attention: The ability to mimic touchscreen controls simply by using the Joy-Con like a Wii Remote to draw things on the screen. At a high level, this means that more touchscreen-centered games are likely to appear on the Nintendo Switch. There’s one that stands out for me in particular: Super Mario Maker Switch. It’s totally coming, and my money’s on 2019.
  • Sushi Striker: The Way Of Sushido: Yeah, this one’s not my cup of tea. I prefer my puzzle battlers to be a bit more puzzle than battle. Still, the presentation is good, it’s the sort of off-the-wall concept that only Nintendo can bring to the table. (Also, it’s a dual Switch/3DS release, so more love for the two-screened wonder!)
  • Octopath Traveler: I’d mostly forgotten about this game after trying out the demo, but I’m still interested in how it takes shape. The two new travelers seem like solid additions to the cast, and I like the idea of heroes dual-classing into different occupations. With a July release date and no major first-party titles in that Q2/Q3 slot (yet), this could wind up being my game of the summer.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes: Wasn’t this franchise touted at the initial Switch reveal way back when? It looks a bit too Fire Emblem/Hyrule Warriors-esque for my taste, but with so many different game types, there’s probably at least one thing for everyone here.
  • Dark Souls: Remastered: Meh. I’m no more interested in this game than I was during the last Direct. Even amongst amiibo, the Solaire of Astora one stands out as seeming particularly useless.
  • Mario Tennis Aces: I’m torn on this one. I’ve never been particularly interested in Mario tennis games, but I’ve enjoyed different sports games in the past (golf, baseball, etc.) and Aces really stands out for its strategic depth. (Plus, the courts are way more varied than in Ultra Smash for the Wii U.) It’s a game that should really benefit from its pre-launch online tournament, giving it a chance to win over skeptical players like myself.
  • Captain Toad Treasure Tracker: I’m pleasantly surprised to see this here, as the original Wii U version deserved better than to be left on a forgotten system. More touchscreen simulation plus a dual Switch/3DS release means the ground-bound captain will finally get the attention he deserves. If you haven’t played the original, this one is definitely worth your time.
  • Undertale: This is when things started to get real. Undertale is a massive get for the Switch, even if it’s a few years late (and let’s hope “eventually” isn’t too long a wait). It’s a unique take on the RPG genre, and features some truly outstanding characters and mechanics.
  • Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy: For those of us old enough to remember the Mario/Sonic/Crash mascot wars of the 90s, finding them all on a single system is mind-blowing. The original Crash Bandicoot games had their flaws, but they were decent platformers that helped launch the Playstation into the stratosphere way back when. Aging Nintendo partisans now have the opportunity to try out all those games they boycotted decades ago, and that’s a good thing in my book.
  • Little Nightmares: Complete Edition: Meh. Looks like some decent puzzle/platform challenges, but the vibe’s a bit creepy for my tastes.
  • South Park: The Fractured But Whole: This is a game that I’ve heard a lot of buzz about, but didn’t really know anything about it until now. The battle system seems to be a cross between Fire Emblem and the Mario & Luigi series, incorporating both positioning and timing into attacks. It doesn’t quite piqe my interest enough to buy it, but it’s another cross-platform game to fill out the Switch’s third-party lineup.
  • Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition: I still don’t care about this franchise, but this should at least excite people who do.
  • ARMS Online Open and Testpunch: On one hand, I’m happy that Nintendo hasn’t given up this game, and is trying to overcome their mistake of shoehorning into its 2017 Switch lineup by trying to draw new players in and giving hardcore players a chance to show off their skills. On the other hand, nothing I saw here makes me any more interested in giving the game another try. Sorry ARMS, but you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
  • Splatoon 2 v3.0: I’m always happy to have new gear to buy, and while I was wrong about Piranha Pit and Camp Triggerfish not returning, I enjoyed them both (especially the Pit) and I’m happy to see them back. I don’t play ranked battles enough to care about the X rank, but I’ve heard some skilled players rave about breaking through the S+ logjam, and having Callie back in any capacity is a win. This would be a decent update by itself, but it didn’t come alone…
  • Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion: This was a stroke of financial genius on Nintendo’s part: People have been demanding playable Octolings for years, and most won’t bat an eyelash at dropping $20 for the privilege (especially given the amount of free content the game has gotten, and the fact that you get a full-fledged single-player Octoling campaign for the money). It’s a great opportunity to dig deeper into Splatoon lore, flesh out Pearl and Marina’s characters a bit more, and add even more replay value to the game. I was saying” Okay,this might be the big ending reveal, and I’m okay with that,” and then…
  • Super Smash Brothers + Inklings: Having SSB show up wasn’t a huge surprise (I’ve heard some chatter of about it being the game that launched alongside paid online services), but it’s always nice to have some confirmation. My Super Smash days are long behind me, but this is a huge tentpole franchise that will generate hype, get people talking, and be the final nail in the coffin of the Wii U.

Again, this was a strong presentation that did exactly what it needed to: It laid out the future of the 3DS (mostly low-effort ports from here on out), offered more evidence that third-party developers want in on this cash cow, provided some clarity for the Switch’s 2108 lineup (but where’s Yoshi?), and produced enough hype and excitement to get Nintendo out of the lull it started the year in. Its presentations can vary in quality from Direct to Direct, but the Big N did a really nice job this time around.

My only question now: What’s left for E3? (Metroid Prime 4 plz)

Song Review: Chris Young, “Hangin’ On”

QUESTION 1. “Hangin’ On” : Bro-Country :: __________
a) Bud Light : Bud
b) Filtered cigarettes : Cigarettes
c) LOCASH : Florida Georgia Line
d) The song is so boring that nobody cares anyway

Chris Young has taken a lot of heat over the last few years for following Blake Shelton’s lead and releasing only the safest, most-sanitized, least-interesting music the genre has ever seen. While I don’t completely agree with this assessment (for example, “Sober Saturday Night” was a bit of a risk that wound up on my ‘Best of 2016’ list), his previous single “Losin’ Sleep” certainly fit that bill, and the trend appears to be continuing with “Hangin’ On,” the second single from his Losing Sleep album. The song is essentially a Bro-Country single that’s has most of its overdone tropes and rampant misogyny surgically removed, and although that’s a nice first step, the song fails to take advantage of its opportunity to delivery a truly memorable performance, and never rises above being “Aw Naw Lite.”

The production bears a fair share of the blame for this song’s failure, as the mix is lifted straight from the Bro-Country era with little alteration. It features in-your-face electric guitars with a distinctly “Cruise”-like cadence, a classic ‘pull back for the verse, crank up on the chorus’ volume balance (the verses are the only place an acoustic guitar gets to breathe), and a prominent mixture of real and synthetic percussion. The differences here mostly amount to sanding off the rough edges: The volume and intensity levels don’t go quite as high as “peak Bro” songs, there aren’t any token instruments tossed in (no banjo, for example), and the instruments that are present waffle a bit between lighter and darker tones. The result is that neither the party vibe nor the sleaze factor are nearly as strong here, and while that’s admittedly a good thing, cutting out the bad stuff isn’t terribly effective when you don’t replace it with anything that’s good or interesting. As a result, the track just chugs along mechanically, and the listener forgets that it existed within five minutes of hearing it.

Chris Young is one of the better vocalists in Nashville today, which is what makes it so maddening to hear him squander his gifts on stuff like “Losin’ Sleep” and “Hangin’ On.” The song isn’t a technically-demanding one, and Young glides over the lyrics with his usual effortless delivery (so much so that it makes him feel a bit distant), but I can’t shake the feeling that the song would sound the exact same in the hands of a generic Bro singer like Chase Rice or Michael Ray. Young certainly has more charisma than your average singer, which helps him sell the song while keeping the sleaze level to a minimum, but it doesn’t feel as personal or powerful as Young’s best work. It’s not a bad performance per se, but in a world where “Gettin’ You Home,” “Tomorrow,” and “Sober Saturday Night” exist, it’s a bit underwhelming, and makes you wish Young would use his powers for good a bit more often.

At a high level, the lyrics are about what you’d expect from a song like this: The narrator is leering at a woman from across the bar, and can’t wait until he gets a chance to make a move. The difference here is the type of details included/excluded from the track: Drinking is mentioned once in the opening line and never referenced again, the party atmosphere surrounding the pair is mostly ignored, and the only physical attribute of the woman that’s referenced is her eyes. (Also refreshingly absent: trucks, bonfires, name dropping, and hay-rolling.) This would be all a great thing, if all these things were replaced with unique, interesting topics and images. Instead, the writers don’t bother to fill the holes at all, and we’re left with a vacuous song that doesn’t really go beyond a guy being a creeper. The whole “hangin’ on” hook is more eye-roll-inducing than clever, and the narrator never actually takes action to get the object of his affection “hangin’ on to me.” The song, like the narrator, doesn’t actually go anywhere, and by the end the listener has given up on the track to focus on more important things, like catching on on their sleep.

“Hangin’ On” is the sonic equivalent of a redacted document: All the sensitive and explosive parts have been removed, leaving behind an incomplete piece of work that lacks meaning or purpose. It feels like a calculated, focus-tested track designed to do one thing only: Climb the charts, reach No. 1, and then immediately self-destruct and leave no trace of its existence. From lesser artists, this might be quite an achievement, but for Chris Young, it’s just a disappointment.

Rating: 5/10. Go check out Brett Young instead.

Dragon Quest Builders: Is It Worth Buying?

Before the power goes out and I get buried in a mountain of snow, let’s take another moment to discuss Dragon Quest Builders, shall we?

The TL;DR version of this post is that pretty much everything I said in my early impression post remained true throughout my extended playthrough. The graphics still look amazing, the character design remains inspired and amusing, and the combat system still feels a bit clunky. The biggest change I saw as I finished chapter 1 and moved into Chapter 2 of my playthrough was how the speed and intensity of the game seemed to pick up:

  • In the tainted land of Rimuldar, the monsters don’t mess around: More of them aggressively attack you upon sight, and they attack your base more often and in greater numbers. You’ve still got a lot of allies to aid you in battle, but when they’re all sleeping, you end up going 4-v-1 against the enemy (it never turned out well in Splatoon, and it doesn’t turn out well here either). You learn pretty quickly to avoid doing anything at night and invest plenty of time in fortifying your base (I even went so far as to build a poison moat around my town).
  • As much as I enjoyed the story behind Chapter 1, battling the plague in Chapter 2 was even more compelling (and addictive), and I spent several hours just saying “One more quest, one more building, one more this, one more that, etc.” Stories and side quests are the main thing that classic Minecraft lacks, and this game is much more fun to play as a result.
  • There’s a lot more exploring in Chapter 2, and you’ll find yourself traipsing all over the countryside looking for rare materials and building blocks. Fishing and farming mechanics are also introduced here, and while the latter makes harvesting materials easier, looking for rare fish is only slightly less aggravating than looking for Feebas in Pokémon.
  • FWIW: I’ve spent a ton of time traveling recently (hence why this Wednesday post is my first of the week), and DQB plays as well on the small Switch screen as it does on a TV. That’s not something every Switch game can say (looking at you, NBA 2K18).
  • You get some new blueprints for your town in Chapter 2, but the size of your base isn’t much bigger (if at all) than in Chapter 1. It forces you to build up your base vertically, which can be kind of a pain when it obscures your view of an important room on the ground floor (and is doubly annoying when you have to rebuild it after a monster attack). Hopefully you get a bit more space to expand in later chapters.
  • There are certain mechanics that don’t really serve a purpose besides “Oh, Minecraft has it, so we should too.” Things like the day/night cycle and the hunger meter don’t seem to add anything beyond an added degree of difficulty, which doesn’t feel like enough to justify their experience.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my time with Dragon Quest Builders (and I haven’t even tried Terra Incognita out yet, which is the game’s version of Minecraft’s creative mode), and would totally recommend picking it up and trying it out if you’re interested. (As an added bonus, the game retails for $50 instead of the usual $60.) If you’re looking to kill some time between first-party Switch titles, you could do a lot worse than DQB.