Song Review: Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet”

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If at first you do succeed, however,  you do it again and again until you stop making money.

After the radioactive Bro-Country disaster that was Old Dominion’s debut album Meat And Candy, the band introduced their follow-up disc Happy Endings with “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart,” an upbeat, lighthearted call to live and love with hope and happiness, regardless of the noise that surrounds us in modern-day life. The tune signaled a welcome change in the band’s sound and attitude, and they were rewarded with three No. 1 singles for their efforts. Now, with the book closed on Happy Endings, Old Dominion is launching their third, yet-to-be-titled album with “Make It Sweet,” which is…an upbeat, lighthearted call to live and love with hope and happiness, regardless of the noise that surrounds us in modern-day life? I know this trick worked out well for them the first time, but now it invites a natural comparison to their last leadoff single, and unfortunately “Make It Sweet” is the weaker and less interesting track of the pair.

While “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart” had a experimental feel to its production, “Make It Sweet” features a much more conventional mix. Instead of leading with the percussion, the guitars take the lead right from the start, starting with a mix of acoustic and electric instruments and then slowly phasing out the former in favor of the latter. (The percussion goes in the opposite direction, moving from nothing to fake claps to a full drum set over time.) On its own, the sound actually has a lot going for it: It’s got a bright, energetic feel with enough of a groove to get your toes tapping, and it gives the song a real sense of optimism that complements the lyrics well. In the wake of its predecessor, however, the song feels a bit more run-of-the-mill than it should, and lacks that extra something to catch the listener’s ear. It’s a bit like eating a chuck eye steak: It’s not bad, but it doesn’t quite measure up after you’ve had the prime rib.

Lead singer Matthew Ramsey seems to have found his niche singing light, fluffy tunes, and he actually shows some development as an artist on this track. I gave him some grief on “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart” for his choppy flow, but he takes the edge off of his delivery and sounds a lot smoother here, even on some of the faster sections. Both his range and the band’s harmonies remain are solid, and Ramsey does just enough to give the listener a sense of the narrator’s feelings for their partner. I don’t feel like he does as good a job balancing the positive and negative pieces of the song as he did before, but that’s partially by design: The song isn’t trying to make the same sort of societal statement as “No Such Thing…,” and the bad stuff doesn’t get as much airtime in the lyrics. Overall, it’s a good showing from Ramsey, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the practice he’s had on the subject.

The writing is where I find this song fall short compared to its predecessor. “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart” was a song that felt like it had something to say about living in today’s world, and while its happy vibe may have undercut that message a little, at least it had some action items buried deep within: Focus on what you can control, and stay positive even when the world around you is collapsing. “Make It Sweet” is not nearly as ambitious, and instead comes across as one of those “forget about the rest of the world and just have fun” songs that ave been clogging up the airwaves recently. Once all the world’s badness in enumerated in the first verse, the song dumps it by the side of the highway and turns into a generic road-trip romance song that doesn’t really care if the planet is spinning or not. (The song also features some disturbing callbacks to the Bro-Country era with lines like “I never gotta wonder where my honey be” and “I ain’t savin’ all my sugar for a Saturday night/Seven days a week I got an appetite.”) It’s an escapist song more than anything else, and while it might be fun for a while, we’ve got enough devil-may-care songs on the radio as it is.

“Make It Sweet” isn’t a terrible song, but it less-than-novel production and less-than-caring attitude make it a lesser song than the last track Old Dominion opened an album cycle with. The “fun distraction song” lane in country music is pretty crowded right now, and without a deeper message to anchor it, this track is nothing but a brief sugar rush that you’ll forget three minutes after it ends. Hopefully the band switches up their leadoff-single playbook before their fourth album rolls around.

Rating: 5/10. Stick with “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart” instead.