You can’t please everyone, but at least Cole Swindell gets credit for trying.
Like Brad Paisley and the Pokémon franchise, Swindell is grappling with a growing fan base that appears to be divided into two disparate, diametrically-opposed camps. Those that jumped on his bandwagon early did so for his Bro-Country stylings, jamming to songs like “Chillin’ It” and “Let Me See Ya Girl.” However, his more-recent turn to traditional sounds and topics have also won him fans from the classic country camp, people who prefer songs like “You Should Be Here” and his previous single “Break Up In The End.” The split forced Swindell to try to play both his old and new roles on his latest album All Of It, making the disc feel more scattered and inconsistent than I expected (seriously, you could get whiplash bouncing from “The Ones That Got Me Here” to “20 In A Chevy” ). I wasn’t sure which Swindell would show up on his follow-up single (and after “Break Up In The End” faltered and needed some serious help from Warner Bros. just to get a Mediabase #1, I was more than a little concerned), but he decided to try and split the difference between the two sides with “Love You Too Late,” an anguished-yet-energetic tune that backs a classic lost-love story with a modern sound. The tone and topic feel like awkward bedfellows at times, but it ends up being an interesting listen that mostly succeeds in bridging his fanbase gap.
The production comes at you hard and fast from the word go, featuring a combination of loud, rocking guitars and hard-hitting drums. Aside from some keyboards buried in the background (both a piano and an organ seem to be present), that’s pretty much all you get here, but it’s enough to give the track a ton of energy and punch, even when the mix lets off the gas during the verses. Despite the brighter instrument tones, the overall vibe is one of frustration and anguish, which complements the writing as the narrator turns his anger inward over his failure to express his feelings. (The song employs a neat chord structure trick to pull this off: It never actually uses its root chord! Instead, it rolls with a vi-IV-V verse, IV-vi-V chorus arrangement, emphasizing its minor chord to give the mix its darker undertone and balance the instrument sounds.) It mostly works, although the sheer volume and energy here make the sound feel a shade too upbeat at times. Overall, however, it’s a well-executed mix that gives listeners both the heavier sounds the Bro crowd craves and the weightier tone that indicates there’s some seriousness involved.
One of the keys to appeasing both traditional and modern country fans is to be flexible enough as an artist to be believable in almost any role. Luckily for Swindell, I called him “the most flexible performer in the genre today” two reviews ago, and his claim to the title remains strong today. The song itself isn’t a range-tester or a tongue-buster, but it requires a heavy dose of emotion to leave its intended impact of the audience, and Swindell lays it on heavy here. While he doesn’t quite reach the level of self-hatred that the production does, the pain and frustation are palpable in his delivery, and he matches the intensity of the instruments to really drive his point home. Again, it’s a nice balance between the amped-up narrator of “Flatliner” and the resigned one of “Middle Of A Memory,” and it’s a performance that offers a little something for everyone.
The lyrics are probably the weakest part of the track, as they don’t bring a lot of detail to the table and provide more confusion than clarity. The story is that the love of the narrator’s life has left them, and the narrator is left kicking themselves for never properly expressing their feelings (as the hook goes, “saying ‘I love you’ too late”). It’s not the most original tale in the world, and the song is limited to just two scenes: The woman leaving (with moderate detail) and the narrator drinking (with no detail at all, beyond what they’re consuming). There’s also a confusing bit where the narrator claims “I can’t take back what I never said, but if I could, man I would.” I kind of see what they were trying to say, but if what you never said was “I love you,” why would you want to take it back? It strikes me as the writers being too clever by half, and muddles what is supposed to be a straightforward song. Finally, I’d kind of like to see a bit more action from the narrator besides crying in their whiskey. Sure, the man has no idea where the woman went, but neither did Collin Raye in “Little Red Rodeo,” and he found some ways to move forward, right? If the narrator feels that strongly about their ex-significant other, they should do more than just whine about their plight. Thankfully, Swindell and the producer at least infuse enough emotion into the narrator to make them sympathetic rather than insufferable.
I wasn’t sure where Cole Swindell would go in following up “Break Up In The End,” but “Love You Too Late” is a solid, defensible choice that tries to throw a bone to everyone in the audience. It’s neither Bro-Country nor neotraditional country, but with great sound and an earnest performance from Swindell, I’d just call it a good song. Given that he’ll probably end up boring us to death with the title track from All Of It eventually, I’ll enjoy this one while it’s here.
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.
P.S. Check out the album closer “Dad’s Old Number” too. It’s not only the best song on All Of It, it’s the best song I’ve heard in 2018 period.