Wait…a country singer gets a booty call from someone, and they reject it? It’s one thing when a relative unknown like Drew Baldridge does it, but when a mainstream star (and one of the biggest acts of the Bro-Country era) makes this move, it deserves your attention.
Cole Swindell made his name (and likely earned a large chunk of his fanbase) as an unrepentant Bro champion, which means that we’re always going to get occasional “retro-Bro” tracks from him like his previous single “Flatliner.” Songs like this, however, were the exception rather than the rule on Swindell’s latest album You Should Be Here, and the single choices have featured interesting (and melancholy) twists on the typical Bro tropes: The life of the party is gone on “You Should Be Here,” and the girl leaves him on “Middle Of A Memory.” “Stay Downtown,” the fourth single off of You Should Be Here, follows a similar pattern, as the narrator isn’t quite sure he wants the night of raunchy lovemaking he’s being offered.
The production is surprisingly minimal, with only an electric guitar and some occasional piano chords to carry the melody (and “carry” might be too strong a word: The two are mostly reduced to rhythm instruments, with the guitar only getting to stretch its legs on the bridge solo). There’s a drum machine here to start, but it’s ditched in favor of real drums by the start of the first chorus, which makes you wonder why it’s even there in the first place. Despite its simple structure, however, the song does a nice job establishing an haunting, uncomfortable atmosphere through its darker tones and use of minor chords, and carefully builds energy during the verses/bridge to release with a bang on the choruses. It’s a well-crafted mix that perfectly suits the mood of the song.
Vocally, the song doesn’t test Swindell’s limits much, although his range and flow are pretty decent here (he seems slightly more comfortable in his upper ranges, though). What the song does require, on the other hand, is the ability to deliver a nuanced performance in which the narrator wants to be with this woman on some level, but knows it will only lead to bad things in the future, and thus has to overrule his desires and strongly discourage her to come over without sounding disingenuous. It’s a tough task, but Swindell pulls it off, coming across as earnest and believable in his protestations while also acknowledging that he is powerless to stop her if she forces the issue. Between this song, “Flatliner,” and “You Should Be Here,” Swindell makes a strong argument for being the most flexible performer in the genre today.
I wouldn’t call the writing here groundbreaking or overly clever, but it strikes a nice balance between the defiance of Drew Baldridge’s “Rebound” and the inevitability of Easton Corbin’s “Clockwork” when discussing the narrator’s relationship with the object of his affection. Unlike other songs that lean on explicit (and shallow) ‘love-as-a-drug’ references, this relationship actually feels like an addiction, where the narrator knows a relapse is inevitable if the woman comes over and pleads with her to make the decision he isn’t strong enough to make. (I have a similar conversation with my Nintendo Switch every day.) I complain a lot about singers being held back by weak material, but the opposite is true here: The way the lyrics capture the totality of the relationship makes it a lot easier for Swindell to sound convincing in this role.
Overall, “Stay Downtown” is a well-executed song with good production, writing, and vocals, and serves as another positive step in Cole Swindell’s evolution as an artist. While we’ll probably have to deal with at least one Bro-Country single like “Flatliner” per album cycle, let’s hope that Swindell’s pivot back towards the mainstream is part of a long-term strategy, because he actually seems to have the chops to make it work.
Rating: 7/10. You Should Be Here was my top-ranked album of 2016, so I’d encourage you to check out the entire disc if you enjoy this song.