There are no bad single choices on Brett Young’s debut album; only more- or less-good ones. “Like I Loved You” was a less-good choice.
I really enjoyed Young’s previous single “In Case You Didn’t Know,” but I didn’t expect it to strike a nerve with the rest of the country like it did. The song reached a milestone that few country songs achieve by exploding into the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 (sadly, it didn’t reach #1 on the Hot Country Singles chart because Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road” has topped that chart since February), and eventually spent two weeks atop the Country Airplay chart. Massive hits like that are always hard to follow, but Young had a number of strong choices on his debut album (my personal favorite being “You Ain’t Here To Kiss Me”). Sadly, Young and his label went with “Like I Loved You,” and while it isn’t terrible, it’s easily the weakest of his singles thus far.
The production here is a little different from Young’s earlier singles, but it still gives off the same restrained, minimalist vibe. The drums are real this time, and the song is primarily piano-driven until it reaches the first chorus and hands off the melody to the electric guitars. (There’s also an acoustic guitar and an organ floating around in the background.) The relatively-slow tempo and prevalence of minor chords set a darker, more-unsettled tone than Young’s other songs, but the tones are still surprisingly bright, making the song feel very easy on the ears while also serving as a nice counterpoint to Young’s delivery.
Back when I was planning to review Young’s debut disc, I noted that outside of some frustrated man-splaining on this very track, the album featured no hints of a bad attitude at all. This attitude is a stark departure from Young’s prior releases, but he actually executes the narrator’s role better than I expected, and expresses his frustration without sounding too whiny about it (it’s still a little whiny, but nowhere near as bad as most singers would sound). Young’s range and flow are both solid here, and his smooth, earnest delivery softens the rougher edges of the writing and makes listeners empathize with the narrator. The whole thing is outside of Young’s comfort zone, but he’s talented enough to (mostly) keep that from showing.
The lyrics tell the story of a man trying to come to grips with a woman who is leaving him, feeling that the woman’s calm declaration that he’ll be able to move on is an indication that “you never loved me like I loved you.” Not only is the premise a bit whiny, but specific lyrics come off as tone-deaf and hypocritical: The narrator’s point that the woman is being presumptuous with her optimism about his recovery may be valid, but his assertion that her feelings must not have been as strong as his is pretty presumptuous as well. Also, the woman seems to be acting out of concern and care, while the narrator just feels like he is lashing out bitterly. Young gets a lot of credit to elevating the song with his performance and keeping it from being too obnoxious, but the misplaced, self-righteous anger of the narrator is woven too deep into the writing to be covered up completely.
Overall, “Like I Loved You” is a poorly-written-but-well-executed song that winds up being just okay in the end. It lacks the catchiness of “Sleep Without You” or the sheer emotional power of “In Case You Didn’t Know,” but the solid production and Brett Young’s delivery keep this from being the outright train wreck it could have been in less-capable hands. Still, let’s hope Young and his team make a smarter decision about what single to release next time around.
Rating: 6/10. Have a listen and see what you think.