“New Garth” may have beat Old Garth at his own game…but it’s not by much.
If it wasn’t already apparent that Luke Combs was a force to be reckoned with in country music, “She Got The Best Of Me” is hammering that point home as we speak: The song rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts, spent a month making itself comfortable at #1, and is now doing its best “Body Like A Back Road” impression, camping inside the Top 5 and daring people to move it (it regained its bullet on the Mediabase chart last week, and jumped back up a spot from #4 to #3 this week). If the Rhetts, Bryans, and Aldeans of the world aren’t looking in their rearview mirrors yet, they should be, because Combs is coming for their crown.
Combs and Sony Nashville are already testing their powers by tapping Combs’s debut album (albeit the deluxe version) for a fifth single “Beautiful Crazy,” which already has enough airplay to crack the Mediabase Top 50 (despite the fact that the song isn’t officially released until today and “She Got The Best Of Me” is still kicking). In light of my recent review of Garth Brooks’s “Stronger Than Me,” I found it really interesting to not only watch Combs take on Brooks with a very similar song, but also surpass him on nearly every level (better sound, better writing, etc.). Unfortunately, the margin of victory was pretty slim, making this one of Combs’s least-interesting singles to date.
While the neotraditional sound of the 90s remains an endangered species, Combs has been unafraid to use it when the moment feels right (see “When It Rains It Pours”), and he does so again here. The song is primarily driven by an acoustic guitar, but the fiddle and steel guitar are featured early and often—in fact, with the relaxed drum line and the electric guitars barely noticeable, the fiddle/steel pair end up providing the lion’s share of the volume and texture for the mix! There isn’t much energy here (mostly by design), but the traditional arrangement gives the mix a warmer, brighter feel than Brooks’s piano does (and that’s even despite the fact that both songs feature a fair number of minor chords). I’m still not sure I would call this mix romantic, but it feels more like a moving tribute to the narrator’s significant other than “Stronger Than Me,” and leaves a light-but-noticeable impression on the listener.
This song isn’t Combs at his most-rambunctious, but it at least gives him enough leeway to inject some emotion into his delivery. The track’s range is a much better fit for Combs than “Stronger Than Me” was for Brooks, allowing Combs to maintain both his tone and power throughout the entire song. The bigger question, of course, is charisma, and whether or not the narrator’s feelings are shared with the listener. I give Combs partial credit here: I wouldn’t call his performance particularly touching, but it felt a lot more heartfelt and earnest than Brooks’s did. (And hey, at least Combs got me to pay attention for the whole thing.) The reaction is more “That’s nice” than “D’awww…”, and while that wouldn’t be a bad result for some results, Combs has set the bar so high for himself lately that I can’t help but feel like he could do better.
The lyrics, like the rest of the song, offers only marginal improvement over “Stronger Than Me.” The story here is less about the other person’s strength and more about their little quirks and eccentricities that make them “crazy.” While I like the additional details the song provides about the narrator’s significant other, they make the “beautiful crazy” hook feel like a misnomer: Does drinking coffee and wine, being “unpredictable” and “unforgettable,” and deciding to stay in and fall asleep watching TV really make someone “crazy”? Outside of the vague “not afraid to take chances” statement, this person sounds completely normal to me. (The song also missed a chance to make an amusing point about the narrator being scared of the other person’s driving…but the delayed “…me wild” conclusion ruined it.) Beyond that, it’s the same old stuff you’ve heard in love songs since the beginning of time, and it’s overly reliant on Combs and the producer to inject it with heartfelt emotion.
“Beautiful Crazy” is neither of the two; instead, it’s a run-of-the-mill love song backed with traditional production and a solid-but-not-spectacular performance from Luke Combs. You might appreciate some of the finer details in the moment, but in four months you won’t remember it the way you will “She Got The Best Of Me.” In truth, this will be the true test of Combs’s power: If he can take weaker material like this and bulldoze his way to #1 anyway, Luke Bryan may find himself as “the other Luke” in country music before too long.
Rating: 6/10. Try it before you buy it.