Song Review: Dan + Shay, “Speechless”

Well…at least they tried, I guess.

In my review of “Tequila,” I delivered an ultimatum to Dan + Shay: Either find a way to make more interesting music, or find their way to the exit. Of course, nobody is Nashville actually listens to me, and after the song found its way to the top of Billboard’s airplay chart for two weeks, the duo’s response was essentially “Scoreboard, baby.” Now, the pair is back with “Speechless,” the second single from their latest self-titled album, and unsurprisingly it’s more of the same safe, middle-of-the-road pop-country the pair is known for. While there’s a bit more to like here than on their last few singles, it’s still not enough to really hold my attention.

The production here has the same piano foundation as “Tequila,” but that’s where the similarities end. The arrangement is less spacious and more stripped-down than its predecessor, with the piano playing a more-prominent role and only an electric guitar and a restrained mixture of real and synthetic percussion behind it. It’s really kind of a “tweener” song, as it lacks the tempo and energy to feel happy, but doesn’t feature enough passion or groove to push it into sexy territory. Instead, the song has a general (and generic) romantic feel to it, establishing a casual, relaxed vibe that suggests a bit more depth and investment in the relationship than the average love song. It’s certainly easy enough to listen to, but it’s missing that je ne sais quoi that really draws the listener in and elevates it beyond an “okay” sound.

I was unimpressed with lead singer Shay Mooney’s performance on “Tequila,” but he seems to do a better job on happier subject material, to the point where his vocals are about the only thing that generate any energy on “Speechless.” He’s still a bit breathy at times, but he maintains a bit more tone in his lower range this time around (and more interestingly, he seems to differentiate his voice from Rascal Flatts’s Gary Levox more than I’ve noticed before, at least on the verses), and the song smartly gives him the freedom to climb the ladder and apply some power on the hook. (His flow during the faster portions of the vocals is also decent.) Unfortunately, Mooney falls a bit short in the charisma department: Even though he brings enough emotion and earnestness to the table to convince the listener that the narrator is head-over-heels in love, he isn’t quite able to move the listener and make them share in that emotion. Once again, it’s a passable performance, but not once I’m interested in revisiting.

The lyrics are as unoriginal as you might expect: The narrator is rendered “speechless” by the sight of their significant other (yet somehow has the words to deliver a whole song about the moment), as romantic feelings from the past and present flood into their mind. We get just enough detail at the beginning of the song to set the scene (the perfume smell, though overused, is a nice touch), but we lose this as the song progresses, with the second verse’s allusion to the couple’s first meeting falling flat because the audience doesn’t get enough information to imagine it. It’s one of those songs that is overly reliant on the listener having the requisite experience to fill in the lyrical gaps by substituting their own details in for the narrator’s, which means that anyone without the proper memories is left with just half a song. Mooney and the producer try to fill in the holes with their own performances, but in the end the gaps are too big to bridge and the listener is left disappointed with the payoff.

I’d group “Speechless” in the same category as Carrie Underwood’s “Cry Pretty”: It’s certainly trying to make me feel something, but for whatever reason it efforts just fall short. It’s too reliant on the listener’s memory to make the emotional connection it needs, which means it’s going to be hit-or-miss with its audience, and it missed with me. It still qualifies as the best Dan + Shay song I’ve heard in a while, but I’d like to see them take another step in the right direction before letting them back into my good graces.

Rating: 5/10. It’s worth a spin to see if it suits your fancy, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t.