Sorry Travis Denning, but “After A Few” listens, I’m still not feeling it.
Denning tried to establish his identity by using a fake one in “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs,” but country radio wasn’t impressed, and the song limped to a disappointing #32 on Billboard’s airplay chart. Now, Denning is trying to show a darker, more serious side on his followup single “After A Few,” but he still seems to be suffering from an identity crisis: The track is a dark, uninteresting tune that just doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from its peers (in fact, it feels like a carbon copy of Easton Corbin’s “Clockwork”), leaving the audience feeling pretty “meh” and indicating that Denning is still looking for his niche in the genre.
The song opens with the same electric guitar, drum set, and dark, foreboding vibe that everyone else is leaning on these days, and outside of an organ that pops up in the background of the second verse, that’s pretty much all you get. Sure, the electric guitar has a bit more texture this time around, and the melancholy atmosphere actually suits the tone of the writing for a change, but it just doesn’t have the edge or energy to exploit its negative energy, and ends up sounding like everything else I’ve reviewed lately. In other words, it features the exact same problems I called out on “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs,” and even though this track has a bit more to say than Matt Stell, Dylan Schneider, or Denning’s last single did, the sound just doesn’t do enough to engage the listener and entice them to pay attention.
I have to say, Morgan Wallen sounds pretty decent on this track for a guy who didn’t actually perform on it! For someone still fighting for name recognition like Denning, however, such a spot-on imitation of Wallen’s tone and rasp can only lead to unfortunate outcomes (especially since Wallen is an off-brand derivative of Tyler Hubbard himself). Denning’s range is okay here, but his flow sounds a bit rushed at fuzzy at times (he has particular trouble enunciating the word “should”), and while I’m sure he’s all hot and bothered about the way he and his ex can’t seem to make a clean break, he doesn’t exhibit the charisma to actually make me care about it. A stronger singer could have made this sort of topic more interesting (for example, Brett Young does a solid job on “Back On The Wagon”), but Denning shows no more aptitude for serious songs than he does for odes to fake IDs. I said last time that “Denning demonstrates enough chops to make me think he might have a future in this league,” but he certainly doesn’t demonstrate them here.
The writing here tells the tale of a relationship that just won’t die, as the narrator gripes about how “after a few” libations or ballads, they always wind up in bed with their ex and wondering what went wrong. The whole “weak narrator who’s powerless to stop things from happening” tale is not the most novel topic in the world (in addition to Corbin and Young’s songs, Cole Swindell went to that well twice recently with “Stay Downtown” and “Break Up In The End”), and “After A Few” is one of the weaker examples of the trope. For example, while Corbin and Swindell paint themselves as helpless victims of the other person’s charm and desire, Denning freely admits to being the instigator in this case, and even declares that he “probably shouldn’t” have made the first move. How am I supposed to feel bad for the guy when he’s the one causing the problem? In addition, the lyrics couldn’t be any more vague and generic if they tried (drinks, songs, sex, etc.), and the “bar to bed” story progression is as predictable as it is boring. All I ask is something to make this feel fresh: An unexpected detail, a clever turn of phrase, anything! But no, we get an aggressively bland bag of words that neither Denning nor his producer are motivated to elevate.
I’m not sure what statement Travis Denning is trying to make with “After A Few,” but the one it makes is “Nothing to see here!” It’s the same old story backed by the same old sound and a replaceable vocal performance, and I don’t see it making any more of an impact that “David Ashley Parker…” did. I’m not sure how many chances Denning will get to make his mark on country music, but after a few songs like this, people’s patience starts to run out.
Rating: 5/10. You’ll forget it “after a few” songs.