Song Review: Matt Stell, “Prayed For You”

It’s safe to say that no one was praying for this song to arrive.

The latest young male superstar wannabe to roll off Nashville’s assembly line is Arkansas native Matt Stell, and while his backstory may be a little different than your typical new artist (high-level NCAA basketball is one thing, but a graduate degree and medical missions in Haiti? I didn’t see that coming), his musical stylings don’t do much to differentiate him from all the other guys kicking around Music City right now. Case in point: His latest single “Prayed For You,” a “viral, hit song” that was released last year, but wasn’t officially sent to country radio until this week. It’s yet another generic, lightweight love song with a heaping side order of religious imagery (c’mon man, that’s so 2016), a song whose only standout quality is how much is doesn’t stand out.

My first reaction upon hearing the production was “Wait, didn’t I just review this song?” It was no accident: The track features the same electric guitar, sanitary drum line, moody keyboard, and generally-dark tone that Dylan Schneider’s “How Does It Sound” had. I called Schneider’s sound “the same mix you’ve heard a million times before,” and nothing’s changed in the last week. Stell’s arrangement may add a acoustic guitar to help carry the melody, and the electric axes might not be as clean as Schneider’s, but overall the mix all but screams “Just another song!” The slower tempo keeps the track from generating much energy, the minor-chord-heavy structure signals the seriousness of the song with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and for lyrics that traffic this hard in religion, there’s nothing spiritual or uplifting about this mix. Brighten up the tone, dump the minor chords, and bring in an organ or other stereotypical church instruments (heck, why not add a choir?) and maybe this track becomes a little more interesting, but as it is, it’s just a drug-free alternative to Unisom.

Stell’s voice falls somewhere in between Jake Owen and Granger Smith (which isn’t a great place to start), and he’s no more interesting than his soundalike counterparts. To his credit, the vocals are about the only thing injecting any brightness into the track, and while he isn’t challenged on a technical level (his range is pushed slightly, his flow is not pushed at all), his range and flow are enough to capably cover the song (although he gets a little raspy even on the lower parts here). Unfortunately, he doesn’t sound terribly invested in the track (even in the more-intense moments, he sounds more restrained than I expected, and I don’t feel much emotion in the delivery). Whatever love and passion the narrator feels just doesn’t come through to the listener, and the resulting reaction is more “meh” than “aww.” The sad truth is that in the hands of anyone else off that Nashville assembly line I mentioned, this song would sound the exact same, and for a new artist looking for their big break, that bland sameness is their worst-case scenario.

The writing tells the story of a narrator who kept his faith and persevered through a life of heartbreak and pain until the day his soulmate arrived, declaring to them that “I prayed for you.” We’ve been here before a lot (remember Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y,” Jerrod Niemann’s “God Made A Woman,” or Dierks Bentley’s “Woman, Amen”?), and in comparison, I’m struck at just how little the religious imagery adds to this track. Take out the King James reference and the mentions of scripture and church, and you’d still have pretty much the same song as before. I’m also confused by the opening two lines of the song:

I’ve never been one to ask for help
If I need a mountain moved, I move it myself

That’s great, but it’s completely disconnected from the rest of the track, as the writing immediately moves to the singer’s (lack of formal) faith, and never goes back to that “I’m a self-reliant loner” point. Instead, it goes through a PG description of the narrator’s dream partner (smile, heart, touch…see, I’m not one of those shallow bros, honest!) and a run-of-the-mill description of the dark path they walked to get to this point (“heartbreak trail”? “highway to hell”? Seriously, could you people be any less creative with this stuff?). It’s boring, it’s unoriginal, and if there’s some supreme being watching over the world, I doubt it’s on their playlist.

In the end, “Prayed For You” is yet another song by yet another indistinguishable singer. From its sleep-inducing sound to its surface-level spirituality, there is nothing here that makes the track interesting or memorable, and the audience will forget that both it and Matt Stell exist the moment the next song starts playing. For as many times as I complain about up-and-coming artists making terrible choices for “debut” singles, Nashville doesn’t seem to be learning its lesson. In truth, however, the Music City suits don’t care: If Stell fails, they can always grab another fresh face from their assembly line to take his place.

Rating: 5/10. Pass.