Song Review: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me”

Tenpenny is an apt name for this artist, because songs like this are a dime a dozen in country music these days.

Mitchell Tenpenny is a Tennessee native who has been releasing music via his own independent label for some time now, but he decided to expand his reach by joining forces with Sony Music Nashville and releasing a self-titled EP earlier this year. While other tracks drew the public’s attention/ire, it was “Drunk Me” that was selected as Tenpenny’s official debut single. The choice is both an understandable and inexplicable one: It’s an inoffensive, time-tested formula that blends in seamlessly with the rest of country radio…which also makes it a generic, forgettable track that give you absolutely no reason to pay attention or care.

If I had to describe the track’s production in two words, they would be “aggressively generic.” The mix is dominated by slick guitars and synthetic percussion, with a few real instruments (piano, dobro, real drums) added in a futile effort to add some flavor. The song tries really hard to establish a groove and inject some energy (especially on the choruses, when the background guitars ramp up the volume), but the only feeling I get is that I’ve heard this song before, and done better. The confusing mixture of bright instrument tones and minor chords don’t help matters, as they only amplify the mixed signals sent by the lyrics and leave the listener completely confused about how to feel. (It begs the question: Is it worse for production to not complement competent writing, or complement incompetent writing? Because this song is definitely the latter.) There’s just nothing here that sticks in the listener’s mind and makes the track memorable, which is perhaps the biggest sin a debut single can commit.

Vocally, Tenpenny tries to do his best Chris Stapleton impression here, but his voice is more raspy and lacks Stapleton’s tone (especially in Tenpenny’s lower range, where the song traps him on the verses), and his delivery feels a bit labored when his tries to climb the ladder and add some power on the choruses. His biggest failure here is his failure to take a stand and clarify the song’s message, as his tone shifts back and forth between happy/hopeful and sad/mournful at various points during the track (the transition between the first verse and chorus is especially jarring). It’s hard to evaluate an artist’s charisma when you can’t tell what they’re trying to sell you, but being unable or unwilling to step up and point the listener in the right direction isn’t a great indicator for this guy’s future.

The writing is the root of this song’s ailments, as they fail to set a consistent tone for the song. More specifically, the first verse pulls a head-fake that throws the track into chaos: The song opens with some vague statements about hitting bottom and becoming sober (complete with uplifting production)… and then the narrator spends the rest of the track crying over a lost love that he can’t get through a drink without trying to resurrect. While such misdirection tactics can be effective (see: Thomas Rhett’s “Marry Me”), this one just puts the listener in an uncomfortable position: Should they feel happy for the narrator because they “started cleaning up [their] life,” or sorry for them because someone “broke their heart in two?” Unfortunately, the boilerplate nature of the topic (oh yeah, I haven’t heard the “love as a drug” allusion a hundred times before) and the imagery (the only real details we get are bottles and bedsheets) means that there’s nothing here to really interest the listener in the narrator’s plight, so instead of trying to decide whether to feel good or bad, they just shrug and walk away.

“Drunk Me” is just another song by just another singer, which makes it a disastrous choice for a debut single. It’s only outstanding feature is how obfuscated it feels, leaving its audience unsure of how to feel and uninterested in wasting time trying to figure it out. Mitchell Tenpenny better have some better material on his EP or up his sleeve, because otherwise his last name will also describe the value of his career.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.

3 thoughts on “Song Review: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me”

  1. Hey, you want to know what’s not worth my time??? Your dumb blog Kyle. Clever think you did with spelling Korner with a “k”. Real original, I’ve never seen that before you music snob. This particular track has a good beat and great vocals. If I wanted to listen to Stapleton I would, but I chose Tenpenny, which by the way, is a badass last name. Until you come up with a better debut track why don’t you shove your worthless critique up your ass.

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    1. Is it any better to critique the critic? At least Kyle kept personal insults out of it …

      And I think he’d agree that if you like it, keep on liking it! Some of us think it’s forgettable and some of us think it’s not. That’s ok!

      But taking time to make fun of a critic for wasting his time is kind of … idk, wasting time!

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  2. While I don’t love this song, I don’t hate it either. That’s mostly because it’s kind of slow, and I prefer more upbeat, faster country. That being said, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d heard this song before. It bugged me so much I did some digging and realized that one of Tenpenny’s opening lines “But that ain’t why I started cleaning up my life,” sounds exactly like the hook from Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”. The lyrics go “If they say why, why…Tell them that it’s human nature.” Listen to these lines from each song and you’ll hear how close they are to one another. Mystery solved for me, anyway!

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