Let’s end 2017 on a high note, shall we?
It’s a shame that Chris Janson only seems to find success with shallow singles like “Buy Me A Boat” and “Fix A Drink,” because he can throw down a darn solid country song when he wants to. He proved it last year with “Holdin’ Her” (#4 on my 2016 top song list), and he does it again with his latest single “Drunk Girl,” a powerful ballad that combines the clever songwriting and less-is-more production of Thomas Rhett’s “Marry Me” with the progressive message of Tim McGraw & Faith Hill’s “Speak To A Girl” and Keith Urban’s “Female.”
The production starts with pianos everywhere: Carrying the melody, providing the bass, and even keeping time in lieu of any percussion—in fact, outside of a cymbal here and there, there aren’t any drums here at all! This isn’t the gentle piano of “Marry Me,” however—these are louder, prouder and more prominent, with the constant bass line injecting intensity and establishing a serious atmosphere right from the start. The mix slowly adds more instruments (first an acoustic guitar, then a steel guitar, and eventually a string section deep in the background), and while it may not reach the intense climax that “Marry Me” does, it does an excellent job building momentum while maintaining a vibe that feels raw and personal. It’s an excellent match for the writing, and unlike some of the low-impact songs I’ve reviewed recently, this mix pulls no punches and leaves a mark when it lands.
I don’t consider Janson a standout vocalist, but when he gets away from the talk-singing that defines his biggest hits, he’s got the chops to make some magic. (Then again, I suppose it takes some talent for a teetotaler like Janson to sell a song like “Fix A Drink.”) The song is a good fit for Janson’s voice, keeping him within a comfortable range and not overtaxing his flow, but the more important thing is the level of earnestness and believability he maintains, turning in the best song-selling effort I’ve heard since Trace Adkins’s “Watered Down.” The song might sound better in the hands of a stronger singer, but I don’t think anyone (outside of maybe Garth Brooks at his peak) could match Janson’s charisma and make this track as believable or impactful.
If Cole Swindell’s You Should Be Here was “the last Bro-Country record” and Brett Young’s self-titled debut was the first shot across the Bro bow, then hopefully “Drunk Girl” is the final stake through the subgenera’s heart. The song starts with a head fake similar to “Marry Me,” watching as an inebriated woman sheds her inhibitions in favor of painting the town red. Everyone knows what happens next: Hey girl, you’re the hottest thing on two legs, let’s hop in my truck and ditch this scene in favor of some good ol’ fashioned hay rollin’!
And then the chorus arrives:
Take a drunk girl home, let her sleep all alone
Leave her keys on the counter, your number by the phone
Pick up her life she threw on the floor
Leave the hall lights on, walk out and lock the door
That’s how she knows the difference between a boy and a man
Take a drunk girl home
Wait, what?! If “Marry Me” was a pump fake, this thing is an ankle-breaking Allen Iverson crossover.
Of course, we’ve already heard a couple of songs address the proper treatment of women this year (“Speak To A Girl,” “Female”). These songs, however, were undermined by writing that felt lazy and uninspired (and occasionally bizarre). “Drunk Girl,” however, suffers from no such problem, as the song is chock full of unique and interesting imagery and described with an incredible level of detail, with not a wasted or confusing word to be found. (My only nitpick is that the song occasionally tries to cram too many words into a single line, as if the writers had so much they wanted to say that they couldn’t quite fit it all in.) Simply put, this is the sort of song with the sort of impact that McGraw, Hill, and Urban wanted to create, but only Janson pulled it off.
Back in March, I labeled “Watered Down” as “the perfect marriage of song, singer, and sound.” In my opinion, Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl” meets or exceeds Adkins’s effort on nearly every front, and it deserves the same score. I was ambivalent about “Fix A Drink,” but I’ll gladly grin and bear it if it means we get more songs like this one on country radio.
Rating: 10/10. A late entry, but a strong contender for my favorite song of the year.