Song Review: Florida Georgia Line, “Simple”

You know, I kinda dig High Valley’s new single.

…Wait, what do you mean this isn’t High Valley?

Florida Georgia Line has given me a lot of reasons to dislike them over the years, as their music has ranged from bland mediocrity (“God, Your Mama, And Me”) to off-putting messes (“Smooth”) to outright garbage (“Sun Daze”). With the possible exception of “May We All” (unlike a lot of critics, I thought “Dirt” was pretty dumb), I would argue that Florida Georgia Line had never released a quality single in their seven-year career.

Now, however, it appears that something has changed in the minds of Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley, and the FGL brain trust. Maybe it was the lackluster reaction to “Smooth” (it peaked at a disappointing #14 on Billboard’s airplay chart), maybe it was the genre’s general shift away from Bro-Country, or maybe FGL just decided to follow Dustin Lynch’s lead and start cleaning up their act. Regardless, FGL has decided to take a page from the playbook of their Canadian counterparts (seriously, the lyric video even uses the same early-20th-century costume style) and release the rootsy “Simple” as their latest single. This time around, all of FGL’s usual bombast and misogyny were left on the cutting room floor where they belonged, and the result is easily their best-sounding single to date.

The production opens innocently enough with an acoustic guitar and some ominous whistling, but we’ve been here before, and the listener instinctively waits for the other shoe to drop and the obnoxious elements to jump in…except they never do. Instead, this mix feels like a carbon copy of “She’s With Me,” with perhaps even less of an electric influence. The drum machine is still here, of course, but it’s not the loud, in-your-face beat of FGL singles past, and is relegated to providing a foundation of bass and hand-claps. Likewise, instead of the swampy dobro from “Smooth” and the token banjo of most every FGL song, the instruments here have a clean, classic sound to them that give the mix an earthy, organic tone. (A mandolin is also occasionally tossed in for a bit of extra flavor.) Put it all together, and you’ve got a song with a spacious, upbeat feel, a catchy groove, and a ton of positive energy that complements the lyrics well. For as much as I’ve disliked the production of prior FGL singles, whoever put this together deserves some major props.

It’s hard to separate the vocal and lyrical components of “Simple,” because the effectiveness of the former is heavily dependent on the latter. For example, I’ve never taken Hubbard seriously as a singer of serious songs, mostly because I’ve never found him to be terribly convincing in that role. On this song, however, he gets a major assist from the straightforward structure of the lyrics: They keep things as simple as the title, with lines like “It’s five plus five, not rocket science” and “It’s like one, two three/Just as easy as can be” that fit Hubbard’s uber-Bro image perfectly and feel like exactly the sort of stuff he would say in such a situation. Similarly, Hubbard’s delivery feels surprisingly even-keel and lacks the sort of exuberance one would expect from a narrator in this situation, but again the lyrics frame the song more as a matter-of-fact conversation than a spirited declaration of love, making a delivery that would normally feel substandard instead come across as perfectly suitable. (The lyrics also deserve some credit for a strong second verse, as the narrator documents their transition from “I wonder what others think” to “What we think is the only thing that matters.”) I’m still not sold on Hubbard as a singer of substantial songs, but “Simple” sets him up for success better than any song since “May We All,” and it makes a huge difference. (Now if they could figure out what to do with Kelley…)

“Simple” is exactly what it claims to be: A straightforward, no-frills love song backed by fantastic production and a passable performance from its artists. As unoriginal as this back-to-basics approach might be, it may also be exactly what Florida Georgia Line needs to maintain relevance in the changing climate of country radio. As it is, it’s enough to pique my interest and see if the rest of their upcoming album lives up to this potential.

Rating: 7/10. I know, I can’t believe it either.