Song Review: Brett Young, “Mercy”

Is Brett Young sad about a relationship ending, or sad that it keeps dragging on? With a delivery like his, it doesn’t really matter.

While Young’s last single “Like I Loved You” was technically a success (#1 on Billboard’s country airplay chart, cracked the Top 50 on the Hot 100), it was a noticeable downgrade in both quality and chart performance from the  massive hit that was “In Case You Didn’t Know,” and seemed to squander a sizable chunk of Young’s momentum. Now, he’s looking to recapture some of that lost buzz with “Mercy,” the fourth (and likely last) single off of his self-titled debut album. For the most part, the song does its job: It lacks lyrical clarity, but there’s enough emotion here to pull in listeners and make them sympathize with Young’s plight.

If there’s one instrument that’s experiencing a renaissance in country music, it’s the piano: Not only does it seem to be a standard background instrument on every new track, it’s now popping up as the primary melody-carrier more often (see: Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl,” Jillian Jacqueline’s “Reasons,” etc.). On “Mercy,” it’s pretty much the only instrument you hear the entire track: There’s some stray acoustic guitar strumming and a few bass drum shots, and some synthetic-sounding swells get pumped into the background, but otherwise it’s just the vocals and the piano. It’s a sparse arrangement that feels anything but sparse, as the somber, spacious instruments and frequent minor chords create a sad, emotional atmosphere that forges a strong connection with the listener and really makes them feel the narrator’s pain. It’s an incredibly effective mix that demonstrates how less really can be more.

While I still consider Brett Eldredge to be the most talented vocalist in country music right now, I’m starting to think that Young can do Eldredge better than Eldredge himself! Young’s delivery on “Mercy” is just awe-inspiring, as it feels so easy and effortless yet generates so much raw vocal power. The man is so charismatic and believable that not only can he effectively transmit his emotion to the listener and make them empathize with his plight, he can do so even when the lyrics leave an opening to question the narrator’s motives (more on that later). Furthermore, the song helps Young’s cause by ditching the whiny, mansplaining narrator of “Like I Loved You” for an aching, anger-free narrator that’s much easier to sympathize with. Add it all up, and it’s one of the most impressive vocal performances in a long while.

The lyrics are where a few cracks began to appear in the facade, leaving the door open for listeners to question whether the situation is as black and white as it appears. For the most part, this is a softer version of Brothers Osborne’s “Shoot Me Straight,” where the narrator laments how their partner is dragging out a relationship that obviously isn’t working and asks them to “have mercy” by just ending things. However, while the narrator’s opinion seems to be quite clear and unbending, there are a few lines thrown in (for example, “Why you wanna stop this flame if it’s still burning”) that indicate the narrator is just as conflicted about the relationship as their partner is. This leaves the listener a bit confused: Is the narrator sad that the relationship is dragging on, or are they sad that the relationship might be ending? Whereas a song like Cole Swindell’s “Stay Downtown” acknowledged this duality and addressed it in his plea to end the relationship, “Mercy” just kind of leaves the thought hanging and doesn’t offer any resolution. While it winds up being a minor nit that Young and his producer drown in a sea of emotion, it’s something I wish the writers had done a better job addressing.

Overall, “Mercy” is a welcome return to form by Brett Young, as the vocals and production easily overcome any issues the writing might have to leave a lasting impression on its listeners. While I will forever mourn the fact that “You Ain’t Here To Kiss Me” was never released as a single, I’d still call this a satisfactory end to the Brett Young era, and I’m excited to see where Young goes from here.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.