It’s ironic that a song called “The Difference” sounds no different than everything else on the radio.
Tyler Rich is a California native who signed on with Valory Music late last year and officially released his debut single “The Difference” to radio last month. It’s a little surprising that Valory—the home of Thomas Rhett—is the team backing Rich, because he’s basically a clone of Rhett, right down to his production and writing (Rhett’s father is even a co-writer on the track!). While the song does a decent job highlighting Rich’s strengths as a performer, it’s too generic to make the splash required of a debut single, and I’m not sure there’s room for yet another artist in the pop-country lane.
If you’ll all pull out your standard pop-country checklists, you’ll find that this song checks all the boxes: An acoustic guitar on melody duties, some slick-but-sparingly-used electric guitars layered on top, and a mixture of real and synthetic percussion forming the foundation (I actually prefer the unobtrusive fake drums here, as the real drums are way too loud and in-your-face during the chourses). Aside from a rough-edge rock guitar providing some spacious power chords on the chorus, that’s all you get: No token steel guitar or banjo, no piano or organ for added atmosphere, nothing. Even given the seriousness with which the writing approaches the subject matter, the song feels a bit too dark for the subject matter, with minor chords playing a prominent role and the darker guitar tones clashing with the bouncy, upbeat percussion. Stop me if you’ve heard this line before: The mix isn’t bad, but it’s not interesting either.
Vocally, Rich’s tone sits somewhere between Rhett and Keith Urban, with a heavy influence from the former: The rasp in the lower range, the smooth flow, the easy and sincere feel of the delivery, etc. Unfortunately, Rich doesn’t bring anything special to the table that makes you sit up and pay attention, and if “The Difference” were performed by Rhett or any other pop-country singer, you wouldn’t notice much of a difference at all. Despite his earnestness and technical abilities, with so many singers mining this particular corner of the genre (Rhett, Chris Young, Brett Young, Brett Eldredge, Russell Dickerson, etc.), Rich gets lost in the crowd, and his run-of-the-mill performance doesn’t do enough to distinguish him from the field.
The lyrics here attempt to explain “The Difference” between being in the friend zone and being in a serious relationship. For the most part, the writing does a nice job highlighting the subtle differences in language between the two states, and the “I wanna be the difference” hook is tolerable if not overly clever. While the narrator mostly comes across as sincere, the song has one major misstep: The “hottie riding shottie” line in the first verse is beyond awful, and it taints the listener’s impression of the rest of the song and make them question the narrator’s true intentions. (It’s a testament to Rich and the quality of the choruses that the song doesn’t turn into an absolute train wreck.) Outside of that atrocious line, there’s nothing else here that is particularly memorable, and the song simply fails to stick in the minds of its audience.
Simply put, “The Difference” is just another nothing-to-see-here song, which makes it a terrible debut single—in fact, it might end up being the difference between Tyler Rich having a long career and being “Tyler who?” The production is uninspiring, Rich is unmemorable, and the lyrics are unable to move the listener beyond “Oh, that’s kind of cute.” If he’s going to step out of the shadow of the current pop-country titans, Rich will need to step up his game.
Rating: 5/10. Don’t go out of your way to hear this one.