After two days of having this song on repeat, I still can’t decide whether Jon Pardi’s new single is truly a “Heartache On The Dance Floor” or just an earache on the radio.
Pardi’s 2014 debut album Write You A Song was largely ignored by country radio, with none of its singles reaching the top 10 on Billboard’s airplay chart (although one did peak at #11). A 2015 EP of album rejects, however, earned Pardi some favorable buzz as a keeper of the traditional country flame, and the singles released from his second album California Sunrise thus far have all hit the top of the charts (and his last single “Dirt On My Boots” made itself at home there for a while). “Heartache On The Dance Floor” is Pardi’s third single from California Sunrise, and while it’s just as catchy as his prior offerings, it’s also a fair bit creepier too.
The production here is the standard mix used by the current crop of contemporary traditionalists (Brett Young, Easton Corbin, etc.), with a synthetic beat forming the foundation and loads of traditional instrumentation (steel guitar, 90s-era electric guitars, and eventually some real drums) piled on top to handle the melody. What makes Pardi’s sound stand out is the prominence (heck, just the mere presence) of the fiddle, whose return from Bro-Country exile has been a lot slower than other instruments. The song tries to walk a tightrope between being a fun and a sad song, with its uptempo pace and bright tones countered by its constant use of minor chords on the verses and chorus. This balancing act is surprisingly successful, and gives a song a nice groove while also causing the listener to stop and reflect on the lyrics.
Unfortunately, the lyrics are where “Heartache On The Dance Floor” starts to go wrong. The narrator here is a random guy who stumbles in a random bar, spies a random hot girl breaking it down on the dance floor, and…spends the rest of the song awkwardly stalking her from afar? For someone claiming that he’s “gotta know her name” and “gotta see her again,” he never takes the opportunity to, you know, actually talk to her or something, and just comes off as whiny, self-unaware, and utterly unsympathetic. On top of this, the writing itself is not particular clever or witty, and the oft-repeated “where you at tonight” that closes the chorus gets really annoying by the end of the song. Frankly, the production would have been better off trying to distract you from these lyrics rather than making you think about them.
While some singers might have been able to salvage this track with a strong vocal performance, Pardi just doesn’t have the chops to pull this off. While I hear a little bit of Darius Rucker in Pardi’s delivery, Pardi’s voice is more nasally and lacks Rucker’s tone and texture. His range, flow, and vocal charisma are all passable, but the last of these attributes just means that the narrator comes through in all his leering, frustrating glory. In the end, Pardi’s mediocre performance is more of a reason to avoid this song than a reason to hear it.
When you add up the strong production, weak writing, and middling vocals, “Heartache On The Dance Floor” ends up leaving the listener feeling ambivalent about the song when it’s over. It’s a definite step backwards from “Dirt On My Boots,” and one that makes me question whether Jon Pardi will be able to maintain his current radio momentum. There’s more to a country song than well-blended production, and Pardi needs to bring more to the table if he wants to make a song like this work in the future.
Rating 5/10. You’re free to ignore this one.