Song Review: Lee Brice, “Rumor”

…You know what, I’m going to let Grumpy Cat handle this one:

While Lee Brice has been around longer than you might think (his debut single came out over a decade ago), he’s never really progressedprogressed beyond the ‘hit-or-miss single’ stage. For every song he releases that makes you think “Yeah, I could get behind this” (“I Drive Your Truck,” “I Don’t Dance”), he releases another that makes your stomach turn (“Parking Lot Party,” “That Don’t  Sound Like You”). Now, four years removed from his last hit single, Brice is back to test our ears with “Rumor,” the second single from his recent self-titled album. It’s the sonic equivalent of a missed chip-shot field goal: The sound and writing put Brice is a solid position to succeed, but he manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and we’re ultimately left with this off-putting snorefest as a result.

The production has more of a bluesy feel than you’ll usually find on country radio. The song opens with a blend of Wurlitzer piano, electric guitar, and steel guitar that blends together way better than it has any right to, with a booming drum set giving the track a strong foundation. There are a few other instruments floating around in the background (an acoustic guitar and even an organ), they’re really just there to fill in the gaps in what turns out to be a spacious, reflective mix with a fairly chill vibe. However, while the track’s lack of energy is intentional, its utter lack of groove probably wasn’t, and as a result the track feels more run-of-the-mill than standout. It seems to flow a bit too easily in one ear and out the other, and doesn’t leave much of an impression on the listener after it’s done. It’s a decent sound that complements the writing well; I just wish it had done a bit more to grab my attention.

I don’t like pinning the failings of a track directly on the artist, but the truth is that Brice is the main reason this song just doesn’t work for me. Technically, his performance is fine: His vocal have a “Stapleton-lite” feel to them, his range suits the track well, and he does an impressive job handling the parts of the lyrics that try to cram too many syllables into a line. The problem is that a song like this one, which tries to entice/push someone into a romantic relationship with the narrator, requires a strong vocalist with enough charisma to keep the whole thing from feeling slimy, and Brice fails surprisingly hard on this count. Even when the lyrics give him the opportunity to say otherwise, Brice’s delivery gives us the clear impression that he’d really like this relationship to go forward, and thus when he says he’s willing to dispel this romantic rumor, he comes across as neither earnest nor believable. A better artist (say, Darius Rucker) would have been able to elevate this track and make it feel a bit more on the level, but Brice sounds like just another bro trying to pick up a date, and it’s not a great look for him.

The main reason I’m so hard on Brice here is that the writing gives him several explicit opportunities to take a step back and consider the feelings of the other person. The song’s premise is that there is a “Rumor” going around implying that the narrator and the person he addresses/dances with are in a romantic relationship, and the pair is pondering how to respond to this accusation. While I’m not overly impressed by the narrator’s calls to make this rumor a reality (“tell me why we’re even trying to deny this feeling/I feel, don’t you feel it too?” feels a little too pushy for my tastes), the writers seem to recognize the optics of the situation and built in some course corrections on the verses and bridge:

Well I can shut ’em down, tell them all they’re crazy
I can do whatever you want me to do, baby

Oh be honest girl now
Do you want to do this or not?
Should we keep them talking, girl
Or should we just make them stop?

There are some other unrelated issues with the writing (as mentioned earlier, they try cramming too many many words into a line on several occasions), but they at least went out of their way to try and make the song more conscious of the other person’s feelings. This make Brice’s failure to transmit these concerns via his performance a lot more glaring.

I believe there’s a good song somewhere inside “Rumor,” but it’s a track best suited for a more-charismatic artist. I noted during my review of “Boy” that I just wasn’t moved to feel the emotion that Lee Brice was shooting for, and while I wondered if the issue was his or mine at the time, he subsequent failure to elevate this track (despite the production and writing’s best efforts) makes me conclude that he’s just not a strong enough singer to handle this sort of material. Shoulda-woulda-coulda aside, we can only judge the track we’re given, and what we’ve been given is nothing but radio filler.

Rating: 5/10. Yet another mediocre track that’s not worth going out of your way to hear.