The best way I can describe this song is to use an old Hee Haw skit:
“I crossed Chris Stapleton with Thomas Rhett!”
“What’d you get?”
“A generic Metropolitan track by some guy named Todd O’Neill!”
*fence board pops out and whacks speaker*
O’Neill received his big break last year when he won the Nash Next 2016 competition (yeah, I’d never heard of it either), earning himself “a major-label record deal with Big Machine Label Group as well as substantial radio play on Cumulus radio stations nationwide.” The latter part of this award is the most important here, as it got his official debut single “Love Again” just enough airplay to pop up on my radar screen. Unfortunately for O’Neill, the song is an attempt to modernize a Metropolitan track for today’s traditional-leaning radio climate, and it doesn’t quite stick the landing or stand out from the crowd.
The song’s R&B roots are most prevalent in the production, as the song is dominated by a slick-sounding electric guitar that brings to mind Drew Baldridge’s “Dance With Ya.” There’s no hint of fiddle, steel guitar, or anything else even remotely traditional, and while the song gets credit for using real drums to add some punch to the track, the guitar’s bright opening tones give way to a more-serious sound on the verses and chorus, contradicting the fun, uptempo vibe the rest of the song wants to set. Despite this, the track establishes a nice groove that connects with the listener and doesn’t wear out its welcome, even if I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not reaching its full potential.
O’Neill’s raspy voice falls into the Brett Young/Drake White/Chris Stapleton lane, and though he acquits himself fairly well, this lane is starting to get crowded, and he doesn’t really stand out from those other singers. His flow is good, and while he doesn’t get much of a chance to show off his range, the hints that do appear are promising (he gets fairly low on the bridge, and he capably climbs the ladder on a background “ooh-ooh” on the last chorus). However, O’Neill lacks the power of a Chris Stapleton or the sheer vocal charisma of a Brett Young, and while O’Neill sells the song well, he doesn’t quite do enough to distinguish himself from his more-famous peers. (It’s also worth noting that the harmony on this track isn’t great, as it just makes O’Neill voice sound washed-up and slightly garbled on the chorus.)
The writing itself focuses on the current and future effects that the narrator’s significant other has on the singer’s lifestyle, and it’s a mixed bag overall. While the idea of a person reorganizing their life for love is far from novel, the imagery used is refreshingly unique, with references to remodeling the narrator’s man cave and buying a motorcycle that can carry two people. (The standard Metropolitan objectification of women is mostly absent here as well, although the singer mentions that his love interest has a “whole lotta sexy when you move them hips.”) On the other hand, some of the lines are vague and lack the necessary context (it took me forever to realize that the “shopping for the cut that you like” line was about buying an engagement ring), and some of the rhyming is laughably bad (“ring” with “piece?” Seriously?). I would have also appreciated a bit more backstory about the whole “loving again” notion, as the lyrics give no clues about what made the singer hesitant to love in the first place. Is there a painful breakup in his past? Did tragedy strike a former love down prematurely? Unfortunately, the song has no answers.
In the end, “Love Again” isn’t an annoying or offensive song, but it’s not a memorable or interesting one either, which is about the worst thing a leadoff single can be. O’Neill deserves some kudos for becoming the Nash Next 2016 champion, but he wants to be anything more than that, he’s going to need some better writing and production to back him up.
Rating: 5/10. It’s okay, but don’t bother going out of your way to hear it.