Song Review: Craig Campbell, “See You Try”

Dear Craig Campbell: If you’re putting lipstick on a pig, making sure the shade matches its eyes doesn’t make it any better.

I like to think of Campbell as the answer to the question “What would have happened if Chris Young stuck to more-traditional country music instead of trend-hopping?” From that angle, Young’s decisions make a lot more sense: Both men have a similar voice and style, but while Young has managed to maintain his momentum and radio presence throughout the decade, Campbell is perpetually stuck on the outside looking in, with only a single Top Ten to his credit. After years of banging his head against a radio wall, Campbell’s latest single release “See You Try” feels like a bit of a white flag: It’s a Bro-lite, nothing-to-see-here, heard-it-a-million-times-before track that fits nicely into today’s radio climate, at the cost of being perhaps Campbell’s weakest single to date.

The first compromise you notice is in the production: The fiddle and steel that characterized much of Campbell’s prior work are gone, replaced by post-chorus hand claps, a token banjo, and the same wall of drums and guitars that you’ll find on nearly every contemporary country track. In truth, however, it’s not all bad: The drums are mostly real, and the electric guitars are rough and rollicking enough to give a song a decent groove and a nice shot of energy. I hate to use “the a-word” here (authenticity), but the atmosphere feels a bit more organic and real than most tracks in this lane, conjuring up the image/atmosphere of an old-school roadhouse rather than an urban nightclub. Unfortunately, it’s not really enough to make the song stand out from its peers, and it’s generally overwhelmed by the awfulness of the writing.

Save for some light echo effects, Campbell sounds about the same as he always does: An earnest, effortless delivery, solid vocal tone and presence, and plenty of charisma to help sell the track. (The song’s mid/slow tempo and constrained range don’t test Campbell’s technical abilities much, but he handles what’s there with ease.) The problem, however, is that the narrator is not the most sympathetic in the world (he comes across as equal parts creepy and lazy), and the directness of some of the language keeps him from elevating the song beyond its Bro roots (there’s only so far you can spin a phrase like “takin’ you home, gettin’ it on”). It’s the same problem that has plagued Jake Owen’s last few singles: What good is being a charismatic, believable singer if you’re playing the role of a douchebag? In short, it’s a good performance wasted on a bad role.

The lyrics are what really ruin this track. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The narrator spots a woman at a bar, likes what they see, and starts inquiring about nighttime drive and hay-rolling. It’s generic and uninteresting, sure, but what bothers me more about this track than other creeping-from-a-distance songs is how it puts all the onus on the woman to kick-start the relationship. The narrator wants to “see [her] try” to make him dance, go for a ride, and lead him out of the bar and into the sack, and doesn’t even make a token offering of “hey baby, my love is worth the work!” (Personally, I’d like to see him try to be less creepy and take some initiative for a change.) There’s no explicit or overtly misogynistic language here, but the implication that the narrator just sees this woman as a sex object is so think you could cut it with a knife. It’s the sort of lyrical disaster that irritates me more and more every time I listen to it, and given the choice I’d rather just turn the radio off.

Frankly, “See You Try” is a sleaze sandwich, and slapping such rancid writing between palatable production and a strong singer doesn’t help it pass the smell test. I understand what Craig Campbell is trying to accomplish here, and the efforts both he and the producer put in are admirable, but there are less-offensive ways to gain radio relevance, and Campbell, much like Chris Young, has more than enough talent to pursue other options and make them work.

I’m not mad, Craig. I’m just disappointed.

Rating: 4/10. Go back and listen to “Outskirts Of Heaven” instead.