Song Review: Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos”

I like how this song sounds, but I have no idea what this song says.

Despite From A Room: Volume 1 becoming the first gold country record of 2017 (and doing so in a mere month), Chris Stapleton’s run of radio futility continues, as the record’s leadoff single “Either Way” peaked at a mediocre #26 before crashing and burning. Part of the blame lies squarely on Mercury Records’s unexplainable release strategy: “Broken Halos” was released as a promotional single before “Either Way,” (and wound up with a higher Hot Country Singles chart position than “Either Way” ever did), yet the label did not capitalize on the song’s positive reception and is only now pushing it for radio adds as the album’s official second single. After repeated listens, however, I have to say that while “Broken Halos” is a nice song to listen to, its unnecessarily-muddy message leaves me more confused than anything else.

The production here is a major step up from “Either Way.” The volume balance of “Broken Halos” is much better, and the instrumentation is no longer drowned out by Stapleton’s voice. While the only change to the instrument lineup is the addition of a drum set on this song, the mix has noticeably more punch and energy (especially from the acoustic guitar), and there’s a lot less dead space that it has to fill. (The bridge instrumental is still pretty underwhelming, though.) Stapleton’s voice has also been dialed back a notch or two as well, making the vocals and instrumentation equal partners in the track. The mood is much brighter and more positive, and as a result it’s a more pleasant listen than “Either Way.”

Stapleton remains the vocal king of country music, and despite a slightly-more-restrained performance that better matches the production, his voice still retains the power and charisma that defined his earlier material. It’s not a terribly demanding song to sing (its range isn’t too wide, its flow is nice and slow), and it lacks the “oh wow” moments of “Either Way” where Stapleton’s voice could really shine, but he still infuses his delivery with enough emotion and earnestness to pull in listeners. Let’s be honest: The dude could probably sing the phone book and still make it compelling.

Where the song goes a bit astray is in the writing, as it seems to feature two orthogonal threads that are hard to reconcile. The song is called “Broken Halos,” and the oft-repeated hook “Broken halos that used to shine” seems to indicate that the song will be about virtuous people that have fallen from grace and onto hard times. The verses, however, spend their time talking about selfless folks who come into peoples’ lives just long enough to save them, and then move on to the next hard-luck case—in other words, folks whose halos seem to be completely intact and shiny. So who is this song actually about: Former angels, or current ones? The writing, though solid on a technical level, never gives us a clear answer, and the confusion is a slight blemish on an otherwise-solid track.

Overall, “Broken Halos” addresses most of the issues raised about “Either Way,” but incurs a self-inflicted wound in the form of the writing that limits its potential. It’s still a good song that features stellar performances from both Stapleton and the musicians, but it could have been a great song, and that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a listen to see what you think.

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