I’ve noticed that my review scores seem to be inching higher lately. Is this a blip on the radar, or an indication of a larger trend towards more quality music? For me, there’s no better test than a new Maren Morris single.
I’ve been a skeptic of Morris ever since she burst onto the scene last year with her debut album Hero and the critically-acclaimed single “My Church,” which I consider to be one of the absolute worst songs of 2016. The follow-up single “80s Mercedes” didn’t do a whole lot for me either, but thankfully it didn’t induce the waves of nausea that “Church” did. “I Could Use A Love Song” is set to be the third single off of Hero, and it appears to be another step in the right direction for Morris’s career.
Production-wise, I would describe this song’s sound in two words: “Restrained” and “unsettling.” The mix is surprisingly quiet and sparse, and is driven by an acoustic guitar and electric piano, with a low-volume drum machine keeping time in the background. A spacious-sounding electric guitar jumps in on the bridge, but it’s kept at roughly the same volume level as everything else to keep it from being too jarring a transition. More important than the instruments involved, however, in the mood they set: The darker tones and occasional minor chords used here create a dark, uncomfortable atmosphere that not only meshes perfectly with the song’s theme, but amplifies the singer’s pain and emotion as it passes on to the listener.
Vocally, this song is a case is a case of addition by subtraction: Morris’s voice was practically drowned in annoying echo effects on her first two singles, effects that are mercifully dialed back here and restricted to the choruses. On her own, Morris is a decent singer with some impressive range (which is demonstrated here on the bridge), and it’s nice to see the producers recognize this fact here and give her vocals some room to breathe.
Thematically, the song features a cynical, jaded narrator who’s had so much bad luck in romance that her old coping mechanisms (drinking, smoking, long aimless drives) are becoming ineffective, and that she “could use a long song” to remind her of more innocent days. The topic has been done before (a lot), Morris has more than enough charisma to own the narrator’s role (in fact, I think she’s more believable on serious material like this as opposed to fluffy songs like “80s Mercedes”), and the sharp songwriting helps the song feel fresh. While I question whether hearing an old love song would be any more therapeutic than the narrator’s other coping tactics, music has always been good at reminding people of long-forgotten places and times, and the fact that the song was thought-provoking enough to make me ask the question seems like a win in itself.
Overall, “I Could Use A Love Song” succeeded in shifting my opinion of Maren Morris for the better, and is yet another sign that country music on the whole is heading in the right direction. While I’m not sure if radio will get behind this song (it seemed a bit wary of her past material, and slowing things down doesn’t usually earn you a spot on summer playlists), I think this sort of more-serious material suits her style very well, and hope to see her continue in this direction in the future.
Rating: 7/10. If you’re weren’t sold on Morris before, give this song a few spins and see what you think.