I don’t know about downtown, but this song sounds pretty lifeless.
Sam Hunt spent 2017 rewriting every rule and record book in country music with his (mediocre) single “Body Like A Back Road.” The track spent a mind-boggling thirty-four weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart, and defied gravity on the Country Airplay chart by sticking in the top five all freaking summer after reaching No. 1 in May. Despite this success, however, Hunt made the curious decision not to capitalize on ths song’s momentum, declining to release a full album and spending the entire winter in hibernation away from the spotlight. Now, over a year after “Body Like A Back Road” was released, Hunt has finally brought out a follow-up single: “Downtown’s Dead,” the presumed second single from the album I eventually expect him to release. Frankly, the song wasn’t worth the wait: It’s a forgettable, unappealing track that removes the most inflammatory elements of “Back Road” but doesn’t replace them with anything interesting.
The production is a bit more stripped-down than I expected, but unfortunately less isn’t more here. Despite the long list of instruments the song claims to have (and seriously, who are they trying to kid? There’s no steel guitar within a mile of this song), the only components you’ll actually notice are:
- A mixture of real and fake percussion (the most heavy and prominent feature of the track).
- A classical-sounding guitar with so much added echo you’ll think it was recorded in a cave.
- A bunch of random, fuzzy shouts and sounds that are more annoying than anything else.
- A brief-but-tolerable dobro solo on the bridge.
- A couple of whistling parts (which, in all fairness, sound much better than anything Walker Hayes tried to do on “You Broke Up With Me”).
The volume and the electronic influences are tuned down significantly compared to “Back Road,” but it leads to a real lack of groove or energy (I wouldn’t quite call this mix “plodding,” but it’s not far off). To be fair, it’s the first song in a while that actually warrants the seriousness of its tones and chords, but this isn’t enough to make the song compelling or interesting. Basically, the track boils down to a bland wall of noise, and it’s not something I’m keen on hearing.
Vocally, Hunt is who he is as this point, and while he’s moving (slowly) away from the atrocious talk-singing, he just doesn’t have the charisma to make the narrator come off as sympathetic. The song’s key doesn’t help matters any, as it forces Hunt deep into his lower range on the verses and saps his voice of whatever power it had. (He sounds much more comfortable on the choruses, where he avoids repeating Scotty McCreery’s mistake on “This Is It” and brings a bit much power and emotion to bear.) While Hunt feels earnest and believable on the track, he completely fails to transmit the pain from the lyrics to the listeners, and as a result, not only do I not care that he’s sad about a breakup, I wish he would clam up and stop being a killjoy about the whole thing. (As a wise man once said, “don’t ruin it for the rest of us.”) In the hands of a better singer, there might have been some potential here (heck, Brad Paisley basically did a better version of this almost ten years ago), but Hunt just doesn’t have the chops to interest listeners in the story.
What bugs me the most about Sam Hunt is that for all his foibles, he’s actually a pretty decent writer. There were a few glimmers of wit in “Body Like A Back Road,” and the same is true here, although the story (which is just “the night life just isn’t the same without my lost love”) isn’t terribly interesting. His images of city streets of club moshpits are descriptive enough to give you a clear picture of the scene, and he drops the occasional clever line like trying to “paint a ghost town red.” Still, the writing is not without its flaws, most notably the huge gaps in the middle of the chorus that have to be filled by washed-out shouting (they couldn’t think of anything more to say here?). While the blatant objectification from “Back Road” is gone, what’s left just isn’t that compelling, and when neither the singer nor the sound can draw listeners in, you’re left with little more than a waste of time.
‘”Downtown’s Dead” is as lackluster as the fictional city it describes, and both Sam Hunt and his producer fail to inject any life into the song. As much as “Body Like A Body Road” annoyed me, I’d take that tune any day over this lifeless corpse of a single. Hunt may have enough cachet to make this another hit song, but I don’t see it dominating the summer like its predecessor did, and frankly, I’m okay with that.
Rating: 4/10. Is it over yet?