Song Review: Chris Young, “Hangin’ On”

QUESTION 1. “Hangin’ On” : Bro-Country :: __________
a) Bud Light : Bud
b) Filtered cigarettes : Cigarettes
c) LOCASH : Florida Georgia Line
d) The song is so boring that nobody cares anyway

Chris Young has taken a lot of heat over the last few years for following Blake Shelton’s lead and releasing only the safest, most-sanitized, least-interesting music the genre has ever seen. While I don’t completely agree with this assessment (for example, “Sober Saturday Night” was a bit of a risk that wound up on my ‘Best of 2016’ list), his previous single “Losin’ Sleep” certainly fit that bill, and the trend appears to be continuing with “Hangin’ On,” the second single from his Losing Sleep album. The song is essentially a Bro-Country single that’s has most of its overdone tropes and rampant misogyny surgically removed, and although that’s a nice first step, the song fails to take advantage of its opportunity to delivery a truly memorable performance, and never rises above being “Aw Naw Lite.”

The production bears a fair share of the blame for this song’s failure, as the mix is lifted straight from the Bro-Country era with little alteration. It features in-your-face electric guitars with a distinctly “Cruise”-like cadence, a classic ‘pull back for the verse, crank up on the chorus’ volume balance (the verses are the only place an acoustic guitar gets to breathe), and a prominent mixture of real and synthetic percussion. The differences here mostly amount to sanding off the rough edges: The volume and intensity levels don’t go quite as high as “peak Bro” songs, there aren’t any token instruments tossed in (no banjo, for example), and the instruments that are present waffle a bit between lighter and darker tones. The result is that neither the party vibe nor the sleaze factor are nearly as strong here, and while that’s admittedly a good thing, cutting out the bad stuff isn’t terribly effective when you don’t replace it with anything that’s good or interesting. As a result, the track just chugs along mechanically, and the listener forgets that it existed within five minutes of hearing it.

Chris Young is one of the better vocalists in Nashville today, which is what makes it so maddening to hear him squander his gifts on stuff like “Losin’ Sleep” and “Hangin’ On.” The song isn’t a technically-demanding one, and Young glides over the lyrics with his usual effortless delivery (so much so that it makes him feel a bit distant), but I can’t shake the feeling that the song would sound the exact same in the hands of a generic Bro singer like Chase Rice or Michael Ray. Young certainly has more charisma than your average singer, which helps him sell the song while keeping the sleaze level to a minimum, but it doesn’t feel as personal or powerful as Young’s best work. It’s not a bad performance per se, but in a world where “Gettin’ You Home,” “Tomorrow,” and “Sober Saturday Night” exist, it’s a bit underwhelming, and makes you wish Young would use his powers for good a bit more often.

At a high level, the lyrics are about what you’d expect from a song like this: The narrator is leering at a woman from across the bar, and can’t wait until he gets a chance to make a move. The difference here is the type of details included/excluded from the track: Drinking is mentioned once in the opening line and never referenced again, the party atmosphere surrounding the pair is mostly ignored, and the only physical attribute of the woman that’s referenced is her eyes. (Also refreshingly absent: trucks, bonfires, name dropping, and hay-rolling.) This would be all a great thing, if all these things were replaced with unique, interesting topics and images. Instead, the writers don’t bother to fill the holes at all, and we’re left with a vacuous song that doesn’t really go beyond a guy being a creeper. The whole “hangin’ on” hook is more eye-roll-inducing than clever, and the narrator never actually takes action to get the object of his affection “hangin’ on to me.” The song, like the narrator, doesn’t actually go anywhere, and by the end the listener has given up on the track to focus on more important things, like catching on on their sleep.

“Hangin’ On” is the sonic equivalent of a redacted document: All the sensitive and explosive parts have been removed, leaving behind an incomplete piece of work that lacks meaning or purpose. It feels like a calculated, focus-tested track designed to do one thing only: Climb the charts, reach No. 1, and then immediately self-destruct and leave no trace of its existence. From lesser artists, this might be quite an achievement, but for Chris Young, it’s just a disappointment.

Rating: 5/10. Go check out Brett Young instead.