I don’t know about you, but the only place this song sends me is straight to sleep.
While Darius Rucker’s career appears fine on the surface, the warning lights on the dashboard are beginning to flash yellow. His first two singles from his latest album “If I Told You” and “For The First Time” did eventually top Billboard’s airplay chart, but both took nearly a year apiece to do it, indicating a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Rucker’s material on the radio. Now, in an effort to spice things act, Rucker has teamed up with a smorgasbord of current country hitmakers (Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley) for his third single “Straight To Hell,” an inexplicably-truncated cover of a 1989 Drivin’ N Cryin’ album cut. However, Despite the best efforts of Rucker and his team to turn the track into an old-school barroom stomper, the performance feel surprisingly lifeless, and leaves the listener feeling more sleepy than anything else.
I’m really not sure what happened with the production here: All the pieces are here to put together a classic arrangement ripped straight from the country bars of yesterday, but for whatever reason these pieces don’t quite fit together the way they should. It’s got the requisite guitars, fiddles, pianos, and drums, and it’s got the bright tones and unstructured feel to really set the mood, but everything feels too dialed back to be effective. The guitars don’t have enough bite, the drums don’t have enough kick, and the whole mix lacks the pace and volume it needs to generate the power and energy to really connect with its audience. Had the producer thrown caution to the wind and really let the musicians loose (as it is, only the fiddle stands out enough to be worth mentioning), this could have a really fun tune, but as it is, it’s too restrained to do anything but plod along weakly. It gets an A for effort, but a D in execution.
Vocally, Rucker is his usual charismatic self, and fills the narrator’s role with just the right amount of roguish charm to be a endearing figure (while also showing off his great vocal tone and effortless delivery). Everyone else, however, is used so little that I question whether they deserve “featured” status on the track: Bryan gets a few lines and offers some barely-noticable backing vocals, Kelley gets even fewer lines but is a bit more noticeable on the choral harmonies, and Aldean wins the Brian Kelley award by being completely invisible. I’m sure the artists had a fun time getting together and recording the song, but throw everyone but Rucker out of the studio and the song would sound roughly the same (only the lack of Charles Kelley’s harmonies would be noticed). What we’ve got here isn’t bad by any means, but it kind of feels like overkill for a song that required more help in other areas.
The lyrics, which chronicle the trials and tribulations of a young man growing up amidst, well, suboptimal circumstances, honestly weren’t that good to begin with: The lines don’t fit the meter half the time, and while the images are certainly vivid, they’re also incredibly bizarre, and the story feels more confusing than anything else. This version of the song, however, makes things even worse by blindly discarding the middle stanzas of the first two verses, completely destroying whatever story was there and leaving the listener even more confused! Throw in a barely-there chorus and an uninteresting “straight to hell” hook, and you’re left with a song that feels like a lazy excuse to make a bad barroom sing-along.
“Straight To Hell” feels like a poorly-photocopied facsimile of an actually-good song, featuring too many bad traits and not enough good ones. It’s certainly a change from Darius Rucker’s usual sound, but it’s a change in the wrong direction, with writing that’s too poor and production that’s too lightweight to let the user in on the fun the artist is supposedly having. While I’m normally in favor of recycling, this song would have been best sent straight to the wastebasket.
Rating: 5/10. Pass.