If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Kane Brown must be Thomas Rhett’s biggest fan, because they’re operating from the same playbook.
Despite my ambivalence on “What Ifs,” the seventh time turned out to be the charm for Brown, as the song found some radio traction and eventually became his first No. 1 hit. In an effort to maintain his airplay success, Kane appears to be using Rhett’s career as a blueprint, as Rhett made a masterful transition from a generic Bro-Country meathead to a successful R&B-inspired balladeer. Brown’s latest single “Heaven” suggests that he’s trying to walk the same path, as it eschews the synthetic bombast of his earlier work in favor of a restrained, romantic approach. Amazingly, if this song is any indication, Brown just might be able to pull this transition off.
At its core, the production here is very similar to Brown’s prior work, featuring a prominent mix of real and synthetic percussion (with a heavy emphasis on the latter), and an acoustic instrument (usually a guitar or banjo, but a dobro is used here) carrying the melody. However, the intensity and bombast that usually characterizes Brown’s work is completely absent here: The drum machine is limited to rhythmic snapping and give the real drums more space to shine, and in the in-your-face electric guitars have been replaced by simple chord stabs from a single slick-sounding guitar. While I’d stop short of saying the mix sets the super-sexy mood that Brown is shooting for, the atmosphere here is both romantic and refreshingly relaxed (as opposed to David Lee Murphy’s lifeless “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”), and there’s a nice mix of major and minor chords that conveys the depth of the speaker’s feelings without feeling overly serious. It’s not particularly memorable, but it’s at least a smooth-sounding song that’s easy on the ears.
In terms of Brown’s delivery, I would label this his best vocal performance since “Used To Love You Sober.” To fit the mood of the song, he drops his usual rapid-fire cadence in favor of a slower, R&B-styled sound, and the change seems to suit his voice well. On a technical level, he exhibits good range and a smooth flow, and he brings enough earnestness to the track to make it sound sweet and sincere. Just as I noted on “What Ifs,” while his lower range is still his voice’s biggest selling point (a fact the song exploits by plumbing the depth of Brown’s voice during the verses), he still lacks the tone and polish of a Josh Turner or Trace Adkins, and actually sounds more comfortable when he jumps into his upper range for the chorus and bridge. On the whole, however, it’s a decent delivery, and he seems comfortable enough with the song’s style to make future expansion into romantic ballads a real possibility.
The song’s premise is pretty simple: The narrator and his partner have just concluded a night of romantic bliss, and the singer is declaring that it was so pleasureful that “I don’t know how heaven…could be better than this.” There’s nothing terribly clever or original here, and there’s no context given for the engagement (one night stand, or committed relationship?), but there’s nothing offensive or annoying here either—it’s a light, fluffy ballad that relies on the singer’s charisma to keep it from becoming too cheesy or sleazy. There’s enough here to keep the writing from detracting from the song’s mood, and pairing it with Brown’s delivery and suitable production leaves the listener with a (slightly) favorable impression.
Overall, “Heaven” is a decent song that features enough positive signs to leave me surprisingly bullish on Kane Brown’s future in the genre. A lot of singers have made a pretty good living off of sappy romantic stuff like this (again, see Thomas Rhett), and while I wasn’t overly moved by this song, I’m not really its target audience either, and Brown flashes just enough potential here to convince me that he can make this work. I underestimated him once, and I’m not making the same mistake twice.
Rating: 6/10. Give it a listen and see what you think.