Song Review: Lindsay Ell, “Champagne”

Dear country music: Please do us all a favor and leave the sex jams to the professionals.

It feels like every other country song being released right now is trying to inject passion and sensuality into the genre (“Turnin’ Me On,” “Night Shift,” “Bring It On Over,” etc.), and for the most part, these songs fall absolutely flat and have little to no sex appeal at all. Now, Lindsey Ell, a Canadian artist who has sturggled to find traction south of the border (her last single “Criminal” reached #1 in Canada but barely cracked the Top 20 in the US) has jumped on the trend with “Champagne,” an awkward cross between Maren Morris’s “Rich” and Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It.” With its raunchy-but-ill-fitting sound and writing that bounces between ostentatious and nonsensical, it winds up confusing the listener more than anything else.

Following the esteemed tradition of Jason Aldean, the production is way too dark and serious for the subject matter. The first thing that hits you is a deep-throated saxophone with some minimal piano backing, giving the song a somber and sleazy feel right from the start, and despite the addition of some guitars (acoustic and electric) and a lightweight percussion line, it doesn’t get any better. There’s a little bit of a groove here, but there’s absolutely no energy present (sexual or otherwise), and the song just plods along stoically from start to finish. The song is yet another attempt from a country producer to mimic that “dangerous love” feel that “Run Wild Horses” captured so well, and like all the other pretenders, it lacks the passion and feeling to truly pull it off.

Ell has never really impressed me a vocalist, and “Champagne” gives the listener a clear window into her struggles:

  • Her effective range is incredibly limited, especially on the lower end, and her voice lacks tone and power on the verses and bridge as a result (they feel more talk-sung than actually sung).
  • Just like the production, her delivery comes off as far too serious for the subject matter. If she’s as happy about her partner’s behavior as the lyrics indicate, she sure doesn’t sound it.
  • She tries to give the narrator a ‘sultry temptress’ quality, but she just doesn’t have the charisma to make it stick. This make the more opulent and outlandish portions of the writing feel awkward and hollow, and make Ell come across more as a poser than a diva.

Her flow isn’t shown off the way it was in “Criminal,” but what’s here is tolerable. Beyond that, there’s nothing to recommend and no reason to listen.

There are a lot of ways to describe the lyrics here, but none of them are positive. In theory, the narrator is celebrating the way their partner treats them, but the imagery they use to do so is so over-the-top (comparing herself to Jessica Biel and Aretha Franklin, coming out of a limo dripping in diamonds) that it almost feels satirical, and “you make me feel like I’m the champagne” might be the worst hook I’ve ever heard (seriously, what does that even mean? Is that supposed to be a compliment?). There’s an odd disempowering feel to these lyrics as well, as lines like “Don’t you dare take your hand off the small of my back” or “I can open my own door, but I like that you don’t let me” make the narrator come across as slightly subservient to their significant other. The more I listen to this song, the more I think that the only way it could have worked is if a real diva (someone with gravitas who just radiates power, like a Franklin or a Beyoncé) had recorded the track, as they could give the track some real sensuality while also giving listeners the sense that they are in total control of the situation. Ell is decidedly not that kind of performer, and the track falls apart as a result.

I’m not sure there’s a singer in the genre today that could make a song like “Champagne” work (maybe Carrie Underwood or Rachel Wammack), and Lindsay Ell feels like a fish out of water trying to fill the narrator’s shoes. The production is more somber than sexy, the lyrics collapse under their own weight, and the audience is left wondering what the heck they just wasted their time listening to. Forget about breaking into the US market; I don’t even think the Canadians will put up with this train wreck on the airwaves for very long.

Rating: 4/10. Next!