Country traditionalists better make their peace with Kane Brown in the genre, because it looks like he’ll be here for a while.
Brown’s unorthodox rise to fame and his use of sounds and instruments not commonly associated with country music have earned him a sizable number of detractors within the genre, including some fairly prominent names. Try as I might, however, I just can’t bring myself to hate Brown’s output the way some of my contemporaries do. Instead, I see an artist cribbing from the playbook of other successful artists (especially Thomas Rhett) and who seems to be showing genuine improvement over time, even on a song like his previous single “Lose It.” His latest offering, the second from his Experiment album, is “Good As You,” and despite the album’s title, this is probably the least experimental song I’ve heard Brown perform. Instead, it’s a saccharine “wish I was as awesome as you” song, and while it’s certainly more generic than groundbreaking, the sound and vocals are strong enough to give the song some emotional weight and effectively share their good feelings with the rest of us.
The production is most impressive for what it isn’t than what it is: Brown’s songs have been heavily reliant on synthetic elements in the past (drum machines in particular), but this one seems to be completely driven by real instruments, with a slick electric guitar carrying the melody, an organ providing some background atmosphere, and a simple drum line from a standard drum set giving the song a solid foundation. While it’s far from perfect (the token banjo returns, and I’m not crazy about the decision to include a wood block and tambourine in the drum line), the resulting mix is a restrained one that supports Brown with a relaxed, positive vibe and a decent groove without getting in the way of his message. Instead of distinguishing itself instrumentally, the mix surprises the listener with its overall tone: Despite all the pieces being in place for a ‘sexy’ sound, there’s really no sexual energy at all here, which suits the high-minded romantic feel of the writing perfectly. Similarly, the mix’s bright feel overwhelms whatever negative energy the frequent minor chords generate, giving the track a unexpectedly-classy sound. It’s a lot more than I expected from a Kane Brown single, and I hope he builds on this sort of sound in the future.
I’m not completely sure how to feel about Brown’s vocal performance here. On one hand, the same range questions I ran into on “Lose It” are still present: The song traps Brown almost exclusively in his upper range, despite the fact that it’s his deeper vocals that really make him stand out from the rest of the genre. On the other hand, however, this is the most earnest and charismatic I’ve ever heard Brown sound, and his brings so much charm to the table that you never even think to question his intentions like you might many others in the genre (I’m looking at you, Michael Ray). Against all odds, Brown comes across as the perfect gentlemen here and sounds genuinely awed by the kindness of his significant other, and when the narrator proclaims that they want to better themselves to be as great as their partner, you’re totally convinced that they will! What’s lost in distinctiveness is regained in sheer likability, and on the whole, I’m extremely impressed with Brown’s delivery, even if he sounds a bit too much like Granger Smith in the process.
The writing is…well, think of it as a less-interesting version of Jimmie Allen’s “Best Shot”: The narrator is in a relationship with a saint of a partner, and they want to better themselves to make sure the relationship never ends. While Allen focuses on his flaws, however, the narrator here sticks to the conventional script of lauding the other person, and outside of the “taking care of your mama” line, there’s nothing here that you haven’t heard a hundred times before. Moreover, while never leaving “‘I love you”‘ left unsaid” is a good place to start, it’s kind of a lousy place to finish when that’s about the only resolution you make (the narrator leaves the door open for the other person to “tell me everything you need,” as if self-improvement were as easy as buying groceries). Additionally, there’s an annoying flaw in the hook that should have been caught in the studio: It falls one syllable short of the beat, which could ave been fixed with one simple word: “I just wanna be AS good as you.” It’s a song that way too reliant on the singer to make it memorable, and while Brown’s performance is up to the task, I wish the writing were a bit stronger to do more of its own heavy lifting.
While I can’t speak for his albums, singles like “Good As You” indicate that Kane Brown is showing some growth as an artist and moving in the right direction. His material may still leaves a lot to be desired, but this time it’s cheesy instead of irritating, and he and his producer make chicken salad out of bland, canned, processed chicken to make something that feels heartfelt and meaningful. Country music may be stuck with Brown for the foreseeable future, but if he continues his current trajectory, that’s not the worst thing in the world.
Rating: 6/10. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s worth a spin or two.