Song Review: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Alcohol You Later”

Dear Mitchell Tenpenny: Don’t call me, alcohol you.

The bar for a young male singer fresh off of Nashville’s assembly line to score a “debut” #1 is absurdly low, so the fact that Tenpenny’s mediocre debut “Drunk Me” spent nearly nine months on the radio just to settle for a Mediabase-only #1  (Jimmie Allen swatted him away from Billboard’s top spot with an Embiid-quality block) should have set off some warning lights over at Columbia Records. Still, challenging “Best Shot” and anything Luke Combs releases is a tall order for any act, so the label decided to give Tenpenny a second chance with a second-chance single: “Alcohol You Later,” a song that was supposed to be Tenpenny’s “debut” single back in 2017 (in fact, it was his second attempt at such a breakthrough, the first coming in 2015), but it never charted and was completely forgotten in the wake of “Drunk Me.” I’ve had feelings of déjà vu before, but never quite this strong: This song is an exact copy of a track I reviewed a mere four days ago (Travis Denning’s “After A Few”), except that it’s appreciably worse in every category, from the singer to the sound to perhaps the most godawful hook you’ll hear all year.

The production here opens innocently enough, with some sparse acoustic guitar, some background organ swells for atmosphere, and a percussion line I can only describe as a tambourine and a typewriter. Once the first chorus hits, however, the slick electric guitars and drum machine jump in (heck, even the bass sounds like it was borrowed from 80s pop), and the whole thing turns into the same generic Metropolitan mess we’ve been putting up with for several years. The mix has an unexpectedly bright and energetic feel to it (especially on the choruses, which have a real “Keith Urban long song” vibe to them), which clashes with the supposedly-sad tone of the writing—the narrator and their ex can’t seem to end their relationship, but a dance beat and upbeat guitar solo don’t exactly scream “I’m not okay with all this.” This in-your-face, get-up-and-move arrangement takes the focus away from the lyrics and feels like empty sonic calories, as if the producer just wanted an excuse to make people get up and shake a leg. It’s a poor fit for the song, and leaves the listener unsure about just how to feel about the whole thing.

Frankly, I’m just not impressed with Tenpenny as a vocalist. His voice lacks any real tone (especially in his lower range, which is where the verses here trap him), and he’s only a step or two above Kip Moore levels of raspiness. (I’m not terribly impressed with his upper range either: He’s more comfortable on the choruses than the verses, but his falsetto portions sound a bit weak to me.) More importantly, he just doesn’t have the charisma to feel sympathetic or even believable on this track (heck, he was more convincing on “Drunk Me” than this thing). He delivers the lyrics no differently than he would a love song, and gives no hint of regret or remorse that he keeps ending up in bed with his ex. The audience is left thinking “Gee, this guy doesn’t seem too bothered about this on-again, off-again arrangement, so why should we care?” It’s the $64,000 question (or perhaps the ten-cent question in this case), and the song doesn’t have a good answer.

And then we get to lyrics, and good grief can we talk about this garbage hook? Sure, “alcohol” sounds slightly, vaguely, kinda-sorta like “I’ll call” if you squint at it and don’t think too hard, but there’s nothing clever or witty about it, and the listener’s reaction is just a raised eyebrow and a “Really?” Beyond that, the track is a carbon-copy of Denning’s “After A Few”: Narrator gets drunk, narrator meets up with his ex, narrator falls into bed with said ex even though, you know, they’re supposed to be an ex. Oh, and guess who’s the instigator again? Here’s a hint: It’s the person saying stuff like this:

I know I shouldn’t do it
Oh, but these shots I’m shooting
Make me not give a damn

So you’re combining the should-know-better nihilism of “After A Few” with the devil-may-care recklessness of Randy Houser’s “What Whiskey Does”? Yeah, that sounds like a winning combination.

Beyond this, the lyrics are the same old story told in the same old locations with the same lack of interesting details (I liked the “changing names on my speed dial” line, and that’s it). As unimpressed as I was with “After A Few,” I’d listen to it a hundred times before I’d give this drivel the time of day.

Put it all together, and “Alcohol You Later” is a pretty poor excuse for a song on all levels. The paint-by-numbers production doesn’t fit the song’s message, the writing’s one distinct feature is its lazy excuse for a hook, and Mitchell Tenpenny brings absolutely no charm or charisma to the table to tell his tale. There are much better ways out there to hear the same darn story, and I don’t see this song making much more of an impact the second time around than it did the first. Tenpenny better hope for better luck in the future, because with junk like this, he won’t get another second chance.

Rating: 3/10. When this song calls, don’t bother answering.