On “Crash And Burn,” Thomas Rhett took a sad song and sang it in a happy way. On “Craving You,” it sounds like he’s trying to do the exact opposite.
Up to this point, Rhett’s singles have been positive, optimistic affairs in their sound (and, aside from “Crash And Burn,” in subject matter as well), even as he shifted from the Bro-Country sound of his debut album It Goes Like This to the Metropolitan groove of his follow-up album Tangled Up. While his upcoming third album is likely to push him farther in a pop-tinged direction, his leadoff single “Craving You” seems intent on broadening his discography by adding a bit of darkness to the mix. Whether or not Rhett has the same command over less happy material, however, is an open question.
Rhett tends to bounce between boundary-pushing pop sings and country-tinged ballads, and based on the production, this song definitely falls in the former category. There isn’t any dobro or steel guitar thrown in here for the country crowd—this is a straightforward pop-rock mix, with clean (but real, surprisingly) percussion and electric guitars that carry the melody with more punch than I expected. The important thing to notice, however, is the difference in the song’s mood compared to past singles. The guitar tones aren’t as bright, and minor keys pervade both the chorus and the verses, which create a serious and foreboding atmosphere and indicate that the craving Rhett is singing about isn’t a healthy one.
The track’s seriousness carries over to the vocals as well, at Rhett himself doesn’t sound as upbeat and carefree as he usually does. Instead, he does his best Jason Aldean impression by infusing his delivery with more weight and gravity, and while he has the flow and charisma to make the song believable, it isn’t as natural a fit for him as his more-positive material. The song does a good job of keeping Rhett in a comfortable singing range, however, and Morris’s background harmonies accentuate the song’s tone perfectly without overwhelming Rhett’s melodies (a problem that forced the producers to turn Jordin Sparks’s volume way down when she back Rhett on “Playing With Fire”). Overall, the vocals are decent, but you can tell Rhett is slightly out of his comfort zone here.
The lyrics are probably the weakest part of “Craving You,” as the love-as-an-addiction trope has been done to death (most recently by the Zac Brown Band on “Beautiful Drug” and by Brett Young on his album cut “Close Enough”), and the words come off as a bit repetitive and nonsensical (can self-control really be paralyzed?). Like most of Rhett’s singles, this song sets itself apart via its sound rather than its writing, and the writing here is vague enough that if the song sounded more positive à la “Beautiful Drug,” the lyrics would fit that interpretation just as well. Despite their inconsequentiality, however, the writing is passable enough to keep from disrupting the track’s atmosphere.
Overall, “Craving You” is an unexpected departure from the tone of Thomas Rhett’s previous work, and while I’d argue the song is not as strong as his prior single “Star Of The Show,” it’s decent enough to show that he has the flexibility (and the courage) to take on material with a darker tone. I’d like to see him take on weighted topics the next time he stretches himself like this, but I’ll take this track for now.
Rating: 6/10. Unless you’re a stringent country purist, this song is worth checking out.