Song Review: Luke Combs, “One Number Away”

Luke Skywalker resisted the call to join the Dark Side. Luke Combs, however, seems to be waffling.

After two successful singles, Luke Combs found himself at a crossroads when deciding what his third release from This One’s For You should be. Should he mimic the darker, contemporary sound of “Hurricane” or walk the brighter, neotraditional path of “When It Rains It Pours” instead? I’ve made no secret of which song I liked better, but money talks a lot louder than bloggers do, and the numbers appear to tilt heavily in favor of “Hurricane.” Thus, we’ve received “One Number Away,” a tale of lusting over a lost love that manages to feel both slightly haunting and slightly generic at the same time.

The production here is reminiscent of “Hurricane” with its atmospheric electric guitars, melody-carrying acoustic guitar, and mixture of real and synthetic percussion. (A few other instruments, such as a steel guitar, are tossed into the background for flavor.) Some mixes establish a dark, serious tone through tone and chord choices, but this production embraces its inner Vader like few others, going so far as to present the verses exclusively in minor chords. Unlike a lot of other songs, however, going this dark enhances the song’s impact by highlighting the depth and unhealthy nature of the narrator’s feelings. (Come to think of it, this feels a lot like the last single from that other Luke, except with less urgency and a more natural sound.) Neither the tempo or the volume are anything to write home about, but that foreboding vibe sticks with you for a while after the song ends.

Combs’s vocal performance here is okay, but something feels a bit off compared to his prior singles. His flow isn’t terribly smooth on the faster sections of the song, and he sounds a little uncomfortable when he tries to turn up the volume and power during the choruses, like he’s trying to make his voice sound less raspy than usual. It’s still a believable performance, and the song suits his range fairly well, but it lacks the sheer power of “Hurricane” or the carefree confidence of “When It Rains It Pours,” and it lacks that extra something to truly catch a listener’s attention.

The writing suffers from a few problems, most notably a lack of focus, as the narrator keeps jumping from discussing his own feelings to projecting said feelings onto his ex. (Think Vern Gosdin’s “Is It Raining At Your House,” but with less clarity about who’s being discussed.) The verses imagine what the ex might be doing and feeling, and unfortunately it’s the same old stuff you’re heard a million times before: Re-watching old movies, avoiding old songs, staring at the phone, and so on. The lyrics have some small construction issues as well, as Combs sometimes has to cram lines into a too-small space (and some of these would have been trivial to avoid: Why force Combs to cram “Marlboro” into a two-syllable slot when there are plenty of shorter-named cigarette brands to use?). It’s small things like this that blunt the impact of the song and keep the writing from cashing the checks written by the production.

Overall, “One Number Away” is appropriately titled, because it feels one or two pieces short of being a truly good song. It’s a tolerable track as is, bolstered mostly by intriguing production, but neither Combs nor his co-writers are able to keep up with the mix.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two to see if it sticks with you.