Song Review: Kip Moore, “The Bull”

Well, I guess I now know who to blame for unleashing Kip Moore on the world.

Moore’s fifteen minutes of fame came during the height of the Bro-Country era earlier this decade, and he’s been desperately trying to convince country radio to keep him around ever since. His efforts, however, haven’t borne much fruit: “More Girls Like You” took eight months just to hit #4 on Billboard’s airplay chart, “Last Shot” took over a year to reach #6 (and earned a spot of my “Worst Songs of 2017” list)…and those constitute his best showings since 2013! Now, realizing that he won’t be reaching the fabled heights of country music stardom anytime soon, he’s decided to imagine the day and savor all the crow he’ll someday make his critics eat in “The Bull,” the third single from his Slowheart album. Unfortunately, while other artists have turned this sort of rejection into a positive, optimistic call to get back on the horse and keep going (see: Brad Paisley’s “Bucked Off”), this song just feels like an unjustified rant from a bitter, unsympathetic narrator, one that I have absolutely zero interest in listening to.

There isn’t a whole lot to this song’s arrangement: It opens with a repeated acoustic guitar riff and a stick-dominated drum line and sticks to that formula for both verses, but eventually brings in some electric guitars and a few more drums for a more-conventional sound on the chorus and bridge. (There are also a couple of fake snaps thrown into the percussion line, but they’re so sparse and spaced out that they’re barely noticeable and don’t seem to serve any purpose.) The faster tempo gives the track a lot of energy and momentum, but the frequent minor chords and darker instrument tones give the mix a moody, frustrated feel that unnerves the listener a little as they hear it. There seems to be some anger bubbling just under the surface that leaks into the sound, which gives the writing an angrier edge than it needs and takes it in an unwanted direction. While I’m not sure a better and brighter sound would have saved the track from Moore’s malice, it would have at least left the listener confused instead of annoyed.

While admittedly I’d rather rub sandpaper on my ears than listen to Moore’s hoarse caterwauling, this performance feels like a step backwards even from the awful “Last Shot.” His voice has no more tone than it ever did, but at least he came across as earnest and slightly likable as the narrator in his last single. Here, his serious, aggressive delivery gives the song even more of an angry undertone, and his “thank you” choruses feel more snarky than grateful, like they’re aimed more at the people he didn’t thank than the ones he did. However, neither he nor the writing give us any justification for his bitterness, so instead of the audience standing in solidarity with him, their reaction is more like “Dude, take a freaking chill pill already.” When Buddy Jewell did this on “I Wanna Thank Everyone,” the delivery felt more lighthearted and the narrator focused on the positives of how the rejection fueled him to success. Here, all we get it anger for anger’s sake, and it leaves a bitter taste that the listener would rather not sample again.

For the most part, the lyrics actually aren’t that bad: The narrator is dreaming of the day that they finally achieve the success they’ve been searching for, and of all the people they would thank when it happened, including “the bulls that bucked me off.” Looking down from the mountaintop at all the supporters and naysayers you met along the way is nothing new (in addition to Jewell’s track, Cole Swindell had a similar album cut “The Ones That Got Me Here” on his All Of It album), so why is this song so off-putting in comparison? The song plays in safe territory for most of the track: Imagining the award-show speech, imagining how their song might ease of pain of the brokenhearted, and namechecking the usual suspects (parents, teachers, exes, doubters). The only stumble in the writing occurs on the bridge, where we get a flash of the narrator’s true feelings:

Every knock down in the dirt
Every no I ever heard
Sure feel good to laugh when I look back and flip the bull the bird…

Aside from the middle finger, you could easily put a positive spin on the whole track and make this a hopeful, motivating song with the same sort of “keep going” message that Paisley’s metaphorical bullriding expressed on “Bucked Off.” Instead, Moore and his producer decided to take this track to a dark place and emphasize the narrator’s anger and desire to stick a thumb in the eye of everyone who put him down, even though the writing offers no specifics on exactly what transpired besides the word “No.” The whole thing feels like a bitter, repressed person lusting for a power trip, and that’s not something I’m interested in hearing about.

“The Bull” is actually a great title for this song, because a giant load of bull is all that it is. The hooks left by the writing to elevate the tune are instead used to drag it down into the gutter via dark, ominous production and Kip Moore’s frustrated, unsympathetic narrator. There’s a half-decent song buried in here somewhere, but if you’re not Jason Aldean, you probably shouldn’t be injecting so much unnecessary malice into your material. Moore really should have taken a hint: “Last Shot” was really his last shot, and he needs to join Jake Owen, Jordan Davis, and Michael Ray on the next train out of Nashville.

Rating: 3/10. Next!