So Jake Owen has a new single…and like Justin Moore, I “Kinda Don’t Care.”
Dustin Lynch and Jordan Davis might draw the most complaints from me, but Jake Owen isn’t far behind them on my disgust scale: I’ve reviewed three singles from him thus far, and none of them have scored higher than a 4/10. Unfortunately, country radio doesn’t really care what I think, and after back-to-back flops with “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” and “Good Company,” his awful Mellencamp ripoff “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” soared up to be become his seventh #1 single and first since his generically-boring “American Country Love Song.” Buoyed by his uncreative rebirth, Owen now returns to the charts with “Down To The Honkytonk,” a song that tries way too hard to push the narrator’s country credentials and not hard enough at actually making me care about the story. In the end, it comes off as an half-baked, uninteresting wall of noise that should come with an FDA warning about operating heavy machinery under its influence.
The production opens with an awkward mix of retro and modern elements, tossing a 70s-era electric guitar on top of a synthetic hand-clap percussion line to give the sound a swampy feel similar to Florida Georgia Line’s “Smooth” (which isn’t a surprise given that FGL’s longtime producer Joey Moi also produced this song). However, instead of going full-on Bro-Country and cranking up the volume and guitars, the mix here is more measured and leans on classical country instruments (steel guitar, real drums, even an organ in the background). While the hand claps are a reoccurring (and annoying) theme, the mix does a nice job establishing a positive, carefree atmosphere that suits the song’s message, while also generating just enough energy to keep things moving along. It’s easily the best part of the track, but it lacks that special something that really hooks the listener and makes them pay attention, which ends up being a big problem when the singer and writing end up dropping the ball.
Technically, Owen delivers a decent performance here: He shows off much more range than I expected (his lower range is particular impressive), and his flow is untested but smooth and easy. However, it’s the artist’s charisma that makes or breaks this song, and while this is usually Owen’s strong suit and he does enough to feel believable in the artist’s shoes, he can’t get the next level and actually make me care about the narrator’s life. Although he admittedly doesn’t have a lot to work with here (more on this later), the best artists can sing the phone book and get the listeners invested in the song, and Owen just doesn’t make it happen here. Looking back, it’s a bit ironic to see Owen’s charisma put him in a deeper hole when playing creepy, annoying narrators, but absolutely desert him when he tries to play a more-conventional role.
And then we get to the lyrics, which are basically a watered-down version of those chest-thumping “I’m so country” songs that are forever plaguing the genre. The writing is incredibly weak on the whole, especially on the boring laundry lists that are the verses:
I got a house, down a backroad
I got a flag on the front porch
I got a dog named Waylon
I got a driveway that needs paving
I got a boat with a two stroke
A couple guaranteed to make you laugh jokes
I got friends in low places
Yeah, life is what you make it
…Okay, so you have a dog, a driveway, and a Garth Brooks tape. That’s…good for you?
The chorus reveals the ultimate irony about this song: The narrator declares that they will never be noteworthy or memorable, but they’re going to have a good time…except that the listener does not have a good thing because the song isn’t noteworthy or memorable! The narrator is as flat and boring as a piece of paper, and song does absolutely nothing to interest the listener in their story. (And don’t even get me started on the song’ other issues, like the repetitiveness of the bridge or limp lines like “I got a job that gets the job done.”) Even if we consider that the narrator is trying to take an everyman approach to reaching their audience (“hey, I’m just as boring as you are!”), it’s just not a terribly convincing ploy, and there are other artists currently on the charts (Brooks, anyone?) who are doing this is more interesting and successful ways. The only things this song moves listeners to do is yawn and wonder when the darn thing is going to end.
“Back To The Honkytonk” is a bland, boring, forgettable track, and while it’s still an improvement over Jake Owen’s most-recent material, it’s not a song or a story that I’m interested in revisiting or remembering once this review is posted. Owen needs to skip the honkytonk and go back to the drawing board, because after two years of putting up with his baloney, I’m ready to revoke his recording studio privileges and give them to someone (say, Rachel Wammack?) that actually has a story to tell.
Rating: 4/10. No.