Song Review: Sugarland, “Still The Same”

This track doesn’t lie: Sugarland is indeed “Still The Same,” and I’m totally okay with that.

Like countless groups before them, Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland found out the hard way that they could never duplicate their shared success individually. Together, the trio/duo scored five Billboard No. 1s (and another four No. 2s) from 2004 to 2011; apart, neither artist could crack the Top 20 (Bush’s best showing was #21, Nettles only made it to #26). After years of struggling, the group has decided to reform and relaunch, starting with its new single “Still The Same.” Much like Shania Twain’s recent single, this track is a signal of career vitality hidden under the veneer of a love song, but unlike Twain’s tune, this one makes me think Sugarland actually has a chance to recapture their former glory.

Production-wise, “Still The Same” feels like three songs awkwardly mashed together:

  • The verses are sparse and choppy, featuring mostly an acoustic guitar and drum machine with minimal background noise.
  • The chorus suddenly introduced some atmosphere electric guitars and real drums, and instrument tones are allowed to linger and play out instead of getting clipped.
  • The bridge returns to a sparse arrangement, but trades the spacious guitars for a slick one that gives was seemed to be a bright pop-country song a sudden disco flavor. The transition is a jarring and unexpected one, and doesn’t really feel justified.

All three of these styles have been used by Sugarland in the past with varying degrees of success, but cycling through all three in a single song feels like overkill. Despite this, however, the song still manages to maintain a bright, optimistic feel that suits the tone of the writing, and isn’t weighed down by unnecessary anger and seriousness the way “We Got Something They Don’t” was. The focus is on the future rather than the doubters, and that’s right where it should be.

I’ve always considered Nettles to be in the upper echelon of female county singers, and she sounds about the same as she always did: Plenty of range, power, and charisma, albeit with a flow that can get choppy at times. She does a nice job infusing the lyrics with positive energy and selling the song to the listener. (I’m not sure I believe Sugarland can reach its previous heights, but I believe that Nettles believes it.) As far as Bush goes, “Still The Same” puts him in the traditional Kix Brooks/Brian Kelley role, limiting him to harmony duty and a few “here we are!” shouts (a wise decision, in my opinion). Together, the pair still exhibits decent vocal chemistry, and helps push the message that Sugarland is back and ready for action.

By themselves, the lyrics here are nothing special: They’re the sort of vague, generic lines you expect to hear from a “let’s rekindle an old flame” love song. What makes this track more interesting, however, is how well it relates to Sugarland’s history as a once-succesful, now-separate group that thinks they can reach the top of the country music mountain again. Lines like “Our future is our history” and “Let’s leave it better than how it came” are more meaningful as a declaration that the duo intends to build onto their legacy, while saying that they feel like “we never went a day without it/Pick it back up where we left off” indicates that the group’s same old chemistry is still there. Unlike “We’ve Got Something They Don’t,” the writing here exudes confidence instead of vengeance, a feeling that gets furthered by the writing and the vocals.

Overall, “Still The Same” is a surprisingly decent song, with its dual-purpose message enhancing rather than detracting from its impact. Its unfocused-but-bright production, quality vocals, and well-chosen words turn what might have been a forgettable love song into a nice addition to Sugarland’s discography. I don’t know if they’ll find the success they once had, but I’m very interested in seeing them try.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

Advertisements

My Thoughts On Nintendo’s Jan. 11 Mini Direct

Dear Nintendo: When I find Luke Bryan’s latest single to be more interesting than your latest Direct, that’s a really bad sign.

The Internet had been awash in Direct rumors all week, and Nintendo played along by posting bizarre images on its Twitter feed to simultaneously hype and troll its fanbase…and then suddenly, without warning, the company dropped a Mini Direct in our laps Beyonce-style and watched the world react.

This would have been a good strategy if the Direct had enough juice to generate buzz and excitement on its own, but honestly, I found it to be mostly uninteresting, as it discussed a bunch of games I either a) didn’t care about or b) had never heard of, while also not addressing some of the topics that I hoped it would.

Let’s start with what was contained in the presentation:

  • The World Ends With You: My experience with this franchise is limited to advising someone on a My Little Pony/TWEWY crossover fanfic several years ago. I was mostly confused about the idea then, and while this presentation provided some clarity, it didn’t really capture my attention. The story wasn’t appealing, and the real-time touch controls looked and sounded a bit confusing. I’m sure fans of the original game will like this, but I’ll pass on it.
  • Pokkén Tournament DX: Sorry Nintendo, but Aegislash, Blastoise, and a few new support monsters aren’t enough to get me on the Pokkén bandwagon (and this is coming from someone who thinks Squirtle is the best G1 starter). Like TWEWY, the concept of Pokémon as a fighting game just doesn’t catch my interest, and while existing players will rejoice over the new content, I’m just yawning.
  • Kirby Star Allies: Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. The gameplay doesn’t look much different than Kirby: Planet Robobot, but I really enjoyed that game, so more of the same is fine with me. The new copy abilities seemed cool, and the combination attacks looked almost OP in their effectiveness. My only concern is that given the focus on cooperative gameplay, those of us stuck playing the game by themselves won’t get the maximum amount of enjoyment from it (CPU NPCs are never as fun to work with as other humans are). It looks like a great local-multiplayer game, but I still have some questions about it as a single-player experience.
  • Kirby Battle Royale: …That’s it? All this game merits is a “hey, there’s a demo out now!” tacked on to the end of the Star Allies presentation? Way to sell a game, guys. =/
  • Dragon Quest Builders: Ditto the KBR bit above. This was the game I was the most excited about in the whole Direct, too!
  • Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition: I’d put this one in the same category as Pokkén Tournament DX: An expanded version of an existing title that I have absolutely no interest in. Existing fans will love it, and the rest of us will shrug and move on.
  • Mario Tennis Aces: Well…um…it looks more interesting than Ultra Smash, I guess? Bringing back the story mode feels like a “necessary but not sufficient” move, and reading your opponent’s placement and shot adds a bit more strategy to the game, but otherwise…it’s a tennis game. If you like tennis games, great; if you don’t, I don’t see this turning you into a fan.
  • Ys VIII: For better or worse, this looks like a Switch version of Ever Oasis. I’ve never liked having to switch between characters in an open-world real-time combat system, and the base-building component doesn’t like interesting at all. I envision myself giving the game the same wide berth I gave EO last year.
  • Mario Odyssey DLC: I’m all for free updates, but Luigi’s Balloon World looks like the type of “compete against other people!” tasks I mostly avoided during my original playthrough. The new outfits and new filters are nice, but now that I’ve mostly moved on to other games, these additions aren’t likely to draw me back in.
  • SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy: To be honest, the phrase that kept popping into my mind as I watched this was “politically incorrect.” There are enough generic 2D fighting games in the world, and given the hypersexualized avatars and uninteresting battle mechanics, this franchise would have been better left in retirement. Next!
  • ACA NeoGeo Art of Fighting 2: Didn’t I just finish complaining about generic 2D fighters? It’s got nostalgia appeal and little else.
  • Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle DLC: Now this is the kind of DLC that would entice me to pick up an old game. I’m curious to see how the developers distinguish DK from the other characters (More power? Smaller movement range, but a larger team jump one?), and while it’s not free, a new campaign with a new character just might be enough to make it worth buying.
  • Payday 2: I’m sure this is a perfectly fine game and all, but no amount of Switch-exclusive characters is going to make me interested in it.
  • Fe: Well, I’ll at least give the development team credit for trying to work in unique mechanics and a psychedelic neon art style to try and get out of Super Mario Odyssey‘s shadow. It’s not enough to convince me to try it out, but I’m sure someone will enjoy it.
  • Celeste: This game deserves credit for its granular difficulty scale: It can be as hard as you want it to be! The pixelated art style feels a bit bare-bones, and the mechanics feel a bit unoriginal (Stamina from Breath of the Wild? Midair dashing from Cuphead?), but hey, someone will have fun with it.
  • Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze: I skipped this game on the Wii U, and while it looks like a solid game that harkens back to the DKC games of yesteryear, I’ll probably skip it on the Switch too. There’s a bigger issue at play as well: Given that we’re almost a year into the Switch’s lifecycle, Wii U ports and remixes don’t cut it for me anymore. Nintendo should be hyping a brand-new Donkey Kong game right now, and the fact that it’s pushing a Wii U port instead makes me a little concerned.
  • Dark Souls Remastered: When the announcer said “something wicked this way comes,” I thought a port of Star Wars Balltefront II was coming. Then the dark environment made me wonder if we were getting some Metroid Prime 4 footage. Then the title appeared, and I thought “What’s Dark Souls?” I have no history with this game, and thus the closing surprise fell completely flat with me.

My biggest takeaway from the Direct was not a good one: Basically, there is a very good chance that I buy nothing from this presentation. I’m intrigued by Dragon Quest Builders, and I’ll think about Kirby Star Allies and the Mario + Rabbids DLC, but otherwise I’m not interested by anything shown off here. There was a severe lack of star power here, and it makes me wonder if Nintendo dropped it without warning because it knew it didn’t have a lot to show and didn’t want to risk having a huge buildup for something this boring.

Then, of course, we have the things Nintendo didn’t talk about here:

  • The 3DS: Aside from the Kirby Battle Royale demo, Nintendo’s other console was nowhere to be found in the presentation. While Nintendo isn’t completely finished with the console (Detective Pikachu was given a March release date within the last 48 hours, but it was inexplicably left out of the Direct), it’s a strong indication that the 3DS’s days are officially numbered (a decision I strongly disagree with).
  • amiiboApparently Detective Pikachu is getting a new amiibo, but otherwise no new figurines were announced. As I posited earlier this week, I think Nintendolls are headed for the dustbin of history.
  • Mobile Offerings: No mobile announcements were here either, but that’s not totally surprising, as Nintendo likes to do special presentations for its phone offerings.
  • Online Services for the Switch: I’ve been waiting for more information on the Switch’s online functionality since last summer, and aside from some fine print on a few trailers here, Nintendo didn’t give it to me. I’ve been skeptical about this actually happening for a while (does the Big N really want to do something to blunt the console’s momentum?), but I’m really getting antsy about it now.
  • AAA First-Party Titles: No Metroid Prime 4, no Fire Emblem, no Super Smash Bros., no Mario Maker, not even freaking Yoshi! The Kirby franchise is great, but Star Allies isn’t a Direct-anchoring kind of game, and the lack of buzzworthy Nintendo franchises really made this presentation a snoozer. Given how quickly games like ARMS and Pokkén Tournament were forgotten last year, it’s fair to ask whether Nintendo crammed a few too many franchises in its 2017 schedule and will pay a price for that this year.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed with this presentation, as there was very little shown that I was interested in. It wasn’t a bad presentation by any means, but it wasn’t good either, and putting your audience to sleep like this Direct did is about the worst thing a performance can do.

Better luck next time, Nintendo.

Song Review: Luke Bryan, “Most People Are Good”

If this song proves anything, it’s that even Luke Bryan’s power has its limits.

There’s been a subtle tone shift in country music in recent months: Where once the genre’s told listeners to find an escape from the world’s problems (“Fix A Drink,” “Sway,” etc.), the party line now seems to be that said problems aren’t that much of a problem at all (“Heaven South,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”). Now Luke Bryan has jumped onto this trend with “Most People Are Good,” the second single from his album What Makes You Country. It’s an interesting hybrid between “Heaven South” and Billy Currington’s old album cut “That’s Just Me,” and while it’s a more thoughtful effort than other singles in this vein, it’s still not a terribly convincing effort.

Luke Bryan’s production generally falls into one of two categories: Modern and synthetic (“Kick The Dust Up,” “Light It Up”) or 00s-era traditional (“Fast”). “Most People Are Good” falls into the latter category, centered around a bright acoustic guitar and featuring a restrained electric guitar, real drum set, and an atmospheric organ-esque instrument. Unlike the darker seriousness of “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” this song actually sounds hopeful and positive, with even the minor chords getting drowned out by the brighter sound of the guitars. It’s not a terribly-intricate mix (even the guitar solo feels bland and basic), but it creates a relaxed mood that fits the song well and keeps the focus on the lyrics where it belongs. I haven’t always been keen on Bryan’s production choices, but between this song and “Light It Up,” it sounds like this album is a step in the right direction.

I’m not sure how I feel about Bryan’s performance here. The song is a classic charisma tester, exercising a singer’s earnestness and believability rather than their range or flow, and Bryan’s got the vocal chops to knock out a track like this in his sleep. While he owns the narrator’s role and feels invested in the track, however, he comes across as naive and oblivious to a cynical listener like myself, and doesn’t convince me that most people are actually good. After everything that’s gone on in the last year or so, I just don’t find Bryan’s performance here to be even remotely persuasive, and I’m not sure whether the blame for this shortfall lies with him or me.

The lyrics seem to have a split purpose, as they both articulate the beliefs of the narrator (kids should be kids, you should love whoever you want to love, etc.) and offer an assessment of the current state of the world (it isn’t as bad as it feels, the evening news is overly negative, and in reality “most people are good”). The writers certainly seem to have the hearts in the right place, but the specific images are disappointingly boilerplate (Yay mom! Yay heaven!) and occasionally shallow (the “neon or stadium lights” line feels really weak). Essentially, the song boils down to this point: If you agree with a point the song makes, the writing works, but if you don’t, the writing isn’t strong enough to convince you of its correctness, even with the power of Luke Bryan’s vocals behind it.

Overall, “Most People Are Good” sets some laudable goals but ultimately fails to achieve them. The production sets the proper mood and Luke Bryan does his best to bolster the track, but my opinion of whether people are actually good or not remains unchanged at the end of the song. Still, it’s a step up from other recent songs in this lane, and Bryan and his crew deserve a little credit for trying.

Rating: 6/10. Less-cynical listeners may get more out of this track than I did.

amiibo: Are Any Of Them Worth Buying?

Hi, I’m Daisy a piece of plastic with questionable future utility!

At this point, the future of Nintendo’s hardware series has been established: The Switch is ramping up, the 3DS is winding down, and the Classic series appears to be a new annual tradition for the company. But what about amiibo, the company’s beleaguered toys-to-life market entry?

Remember when Nintendolls were released a few years ago and gamers were swept up in a tornado of hype and scoured the country for the rarest of figures? These days, I can’t even find a retailer who stocks them, and although I purchased a few amiibo in the past year, I didn’t pay full retail price for any of them (most were on clearance at a deep discount). The company still releases a few random figures for new games (Metroid: Samus ReturnsSuper Mario Odyssey, etc.), but their availability is limited, their functionality is minimal, and while random amiibos will get you random perks in unrelated games, the goal of having cross-compatible hardware modules that provide cool bonuses across a range of titles remains mostly unfulfilled.

So are amiibo figures still a viable commercial product, or are they doomed to join Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions on the toys-to-life graveyard? The answers, like with most seemingly-binary questions, lie somewhere in the middle:

  • Amiibo inventories have been in a general decline for a while: Brick-and-mortar stores are dropping them to free up shelf space, and you’re hard-pressed to buy one from a first-party seller online. That said, whatever inventories Nintendo releases seem to get snapped up quickly, so there’s definitely a demand.
  • Most recent amiibo releases are game-specific, and don’t offer much use outside of their chosen game. That said, certain franchises do a better job of re-using old amiibo releases than others (I’ve gotten some decent mileage out of my SSB Luigi, for example).
  • Most recent amiibo releases offer only cosmetic upgrades (see: Zelda: Breath of the WildMario OdysseySplatoon 2) with minimal impact on actual gameplay. That said, this isn’t a hard and fast rule: The hardest mode of Metroid: Samus Returns is only obtainable through amiibo.
  • Nintendo has started to adopt a more-traditional DLC model (Mario Kart 8Zelda: Breath of the Wild, etc.) for its flagship franchises. That said, having DLC that can also double as geeky shelf art has its merits…

In the face of this ambiguity, what’s a savvy consumer to do? Is it worth investing serious money in these glorified hunks of plastic?

In this case, I think the best thing to do is start with the pessimistic assumption that the amiibo you’re thinking of buying will not work with any game beyond the one it’s tied to, and judge it solely on its present functionality. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much more enjoyment will this amiibo give me on top of the original game? If the answer is “not much,” maybe it not’s worth it.
  • Can I eventually unlock the amiibo bonus without the amiibo? If you can stand waiting until you unlock it yourself, you can save yourself a lot of money.
  • How popular is the franchise this figure is tied to? Despite my pessimistic assumption, it’s worth noting that Mario and Zelda figures are a better bet to have future uses than, say, Animal Crossing ones.
  • How much is the physical figure worth to you by itself? Sometimes the novelty of having a Waluigi paperweight is justification enough.
  • How cheaply can I buy this amiibo? I have no use for a Tom Nook figure, but when I found it on clearance for $3, it was pretty tempting…

In the end, amiibo figures are like any other form of paid DLC, and picking one up is a personal decision based on a lot of different factors. I wouldn’t bank on getting any in-game functionality beyond what’s initially advertised, but I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for buying a few figures either. If nothing else, they make for amusing end-of-season fantasy football trophies. 🙂

Song Review: Luke Combs, “One Number Away”

Luke Skywalker resisted the call to join the Dark Side. Luke Combs, however, seems to be waffling.

After two successful singles, Luke Combs found himself at a crossroads when deciding what his third release from This One’s For You should be. Should he mimic the darker, contemporary sound of “Hurricane” or walk the brighter, neotraditional path of “When It Rains It Pours” instead? I’ve made no secret of which song I liked better, but money talks a lot louder than bloggers do, and the numbers appear to tilt heavily in favor of “Hurricane.” Thus, we’ve received “One Number Away,” a tale of lusting over a lost love that manages to feel both slightly haunting and slightly generic at the same time.

The production here is reminiscent of “Hurricane” with its atmospheric electric guitars, melody-carrying acoustic guitar, and mixture of real and synthetic percussion. (A few other instruments, such as a steel guitar, are tossed into the background for flavor.) Some mixes establish a dark, serious tone through tone and chord choices, but this production embraces its inner Vader like few others, going so far as to present the verses exclusively in minor chords. Unlike a lot of other songs, however, going this dark enhances the song’s impact by highlighting the depth and unhealthy nature of the narrator’s feelings. (Come to think of it, this feels a lot like the last single from that other Luke, except with less urgency and a more natural sound.) Neither the tempo or the volume are anything to write home about, but that foreboding vibe sticks with you for a while after the song ends.

Combs’s vocal performance here is okay, but something feels a bit off compared to his prior singles. His flow isn’t terribly smooth on the faster sections of the song, and he sounds a little uncomfortable when he tries to turn up the volume and power during the choruses, like he’s trying to make his voice sound less raspy than usual. It’s still a believable performance, and the song suits his range fairly well, but it lacks the sheer power of “Hurricane” or the carefree confidence of “When It Rains It Pours,” and it lacks that extra something to truly catch a listener’s attention.

The writing suffers from a few problems, most notably a lack of focus, as the narrator keeps jumping from discussing his own feelings to projecting said feelings onto his ex. (Think Vern Gosdin’s “Is It Raining At Your House,” but with less clarity about who’s being discussed.) The verses imagine what the ex might be doing and feeling, and unfortunately it’s the same old stuff you’re heard a million times before: Re-watching old movies, avoiding old songs, staring at the phone, and so on. The lyrics have some small construction issues as well, as Combs sometimes has to cram lines into a too-small space (and some of these would have been trivial to avoid: Why force Combs to cram “Marlboro” into a two-syllable slot when there are plenty of shorter-named cigarette brands to use?). It’s small things like this that blunt the impact of the song and keep the writing from cashing the checks written by the production.

Overall, “One Number Away” is appropriately titled, because it feels one or two pieces short of being a truly good song. It’s a tolerable track as is, bolstered mostly by intriguing production, but neither Combs nor his co-writers are able to keep up with the mix.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two to see if it sticks with you.

Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon: Is It Worth Buying?

Yes, I know I’m a month or so late with this post, but let’s pretend it’s still relevant, shall we?

Nintendo can be a bit unpredictable when it comes to “post-intro-gen” Pokémon releases. For any given generation, we could get:

  1. An official sequel (Pokémon Black/White 2).
  2. An updated version with a tweaked storyline (Pokémon Emerald).
  3. A remake of an old generation (Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire).
  4. Both #1 and #2 (G4 got Pokémon Platinum and Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver).

For Pokémon Sun/Moon, Nintendo went with option #2 and gave us Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, a slight reimagining of the original games with some new features tossed in for flavor. Whether or not these updates are enough for me to recommend purchasing these games, however, depends on what you’re looking to do with the game.

Let’s address some of the changes individually:

  • As is the standard with third versions, the variety of Pokémon you can find and catch is much larger than in Sun and Moon. This is generally a good thing and I appreciate the different monsters that are now included (including brand new ‘mons like Poipole!), but for someone like me (a Pokémon veteran attempting a Nuzlocke run), it means I seem to get stuck catching a bunch of G1 stalwarts that I’ve been avoiding for the past 20 years.
  • The story has technically changed between Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, but it takes a long time to notice it. I’m working my way through island #4 right now, and aside from different totem Pokémon and a few new characters that pop up occasionally, the story is essentially unchanged from Sun and Moon. I know there’s some exciting bits involving Necrozma and Ultra Space coming up, but otherwise it feels like Pokémon Platinum (i.e. Pokémon Pearl with more snow and the Distortion World) all over again.
  • A few new minigames have been introduced (such as Mantine Surfing), and while I could see some people enjoying then, they really didn’t catch my interest. Same with the interactive Pokémon and the Alolan Photo Club: Some people will have a blast with it, but most of the world will yawn and move on.
  • Remember how annoying the SOS mechanic was in Sun and Moon? It’s been dialed back a ton in the Ultra versison, giving enemy Pokémon a single chance to call an ally (and also seemingly reducing the chance that an ally will actually appear), putting an end to the frustratingly-endless battles of the first games.
  • Remember how annoying often you would receive phone calls in the original Pokémon Gold/Silver games? The Rotom in your Ultra Sun/Moon Pokédex is worse: It just. Won’t. Stop. Talking!!!  It cycles through the same basic advice constantly, and starts talking every you time you close the menu or finish the battle. (There’s also a Pokémon Refresh-like system that encourages you to interact even more with Rotom to get special Roto powers, but it’s feels really intrusive and I never actually got around to ever using the powers.) By the time you’re through a few islands, you’re wishing the game had stuck with the non-sentient Pokédexes of the past.

Now, despite everything I’ve said about the game thus far, at its core it’s still a Pokémon game. You’re still catching, training, and battling monsters just you always do, and it’s just as addictive and fun as it always is. I would still recommend playing Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon, but with a few caveats:

  • If you’ve already played Pokémon Sun/Moon, getting the Ultra versions isn’t really necessary given the similarities between the games.
  • If you’re planning on doing a Nuzlocke run, I would recommend playing the original Sun/Moon games, since its focus on G7 monsters helps keep you from getting stuck with a team dominated by past generations.

In the end, you can’t go wrong with trying out either the ultra or non-ultra versions of Sun and Moon, but one run through Alola is probably enough.

Song Review: Shania Twain, “We Got Something They Don’t”

*sigh* I was really hoping to kick off 2018 with something better than this…

Although Shania Twain remains one of the best-selling artists in the world, she hasn’t been relevant in mainstream country for over a decade, and her recent album Now and leadoff single “Life’s About To Get Good” only reaffirmed this status with a poor #36 airplay peak and a designation as one of the worst singles of 2017. Now, Twain is trying to resusitate her career once more with “We Got Something They Don’t,” a defiant declaration of love that also seems to describe the current state of her career. However, if Twain plans on making critics eat their words, she’s going to need something stronger than this inferior ripoff of “You’re Still The One.”

The production here is dominated by a mix of real and synthetic percussion and a dark, serious-sounding piano, with a few electric guitars and an entire brass section (complete with the sauciest trombone I’ve heard since Dierks Bentley’s “Mardi Gras”) jumping in for the choruses and bridge solo. While the whole mix sounds much less artificial than “Life’s About To Get Good” (aside from the trumpets, which sound synthetic at times), it establishes a serious, attitude-laced atmosphere that lacks any feel of romance and feels a bit over-the-top for the subject matter. Songs in this vein tend to sound more celebratory and heartfelt, but this one sounds too angry and forceful to be enjoyable.

Twain’s performance is much more tolerable here than on her last single: The audio filters are scaled back (but not removed), and her vocals don’t have the extra intensity and emphasis that plague the production. The song’s range feels a bit low for Twain’s voice and detracts from her usual power, but the bigger issue is the way the writing forces her to stretch syllables to fill space during sparse lines, making her flow feel a bit awkward and choppy. Her usual charisma and earnestness are still here if you listen really hard, but they’re overwhelmed by the production, and she isn’t able to make the song feel personal or believable as a result. Tone down the drums, turn up the vocals, and just generally brighten things up, and this song might work, but as things are, Twain doesn’t even have the chance to elevate this track.

The writing here feels pretty cookie-cutter: People think the narrator’s relationship won’t last, but the couple will prove them wrong because “we got something they don’t.” As a love song, there’s nothing to see here: The relationship isn’t described in detail at all, and the actual “something they don’t” have is just “a fire burning deep in our bones.” (Sheer passion doesn’t strike me as a secret sauce that most couples lack.) Also, as mentioned earlier, the lines themselves are painfully short at times, forcing Twain to drag out syllables to make them fill the necessary airtime.

It isn’t a huge leap to think this song is actually a shot at Twain’s real-life doubters (she’s a co-writer here, and as an older woman in a genre dominated by youth and misogyny, she’s probably got a lot of skeptics), but this is a more explicit declaration of defiance than Luke Bryan’s “Fast” or Brad Paisley’s “Last Time For Everything,” and it’s not as effective because it works against the song’s cover story rather than with it. The song’s extra layer of attitude drowns out any romantic sentiment the track might have had, and it leaves the listener feeling ambivalent about the whole thing when it’s over.

Overall, “We Got Something They Don’t” is a slight step up from Shania Twain’s last single, but it’s still not very good. She took this same “we beat the odds” approach twenty years ago, and that song is superior to this one in every facet. Twain may have a lot of somethings that “they” don’t, but relevance isn’t one of them.

Rating: 5/10. Skip this, and go listen to “You’re Still The One” instead.