Song Review: Brandon Ratcliff, “Rules Of Breaking Up”

Brandon Ratcliff needs to learn what Plum Pudding discovered the hard way: There’s a reason people put rules in place.

Ratcliff is a Louisiana native that apparently turned down a publishing deal four years ago because he wished to “work on his craft…. he would not take the quick and easy route.” In hindsight, this may not have been the best move: Instead of being in position to ride the Metropolitan wave to success, after signing with Monument Records last year, he’s stuck trying to catch the tail end of the wave as more-traditional sounds are crowding it off the radio. While “Rules For Breaking Up” has already been on the market for six months or so, he’s only now releasing it as a proper radio single, and honestly I’m surprised that he and Monument decided to go this route at all: This song is a slick, sterile slog with some seriously sleazy undertones once you start peering behind the curtain, and doesn’t give its audience to remember it once it’s over.

I never thought I’d use a word like this to describe the production of a song, but this song feels incredibly plastic to me, from the overly-clean electric guitar that opens the track to the drum set buried underneath an audio filter that serves as the song’s foundation. (The only other instrument of note here is a keyboard which sounds like a MIDI instrument when pushed to its upper range.) While I’m sure the instruments are real, they’ve got a surprisingly synthetic sound, and their tone feels a bit too bright at times (especially early in the track), causing them to conflict with the both the melancholy vibe of the lyrics and the many minor chords within the song’s chord structure. There’s a hint of a groove here, but the mix seems to be caught between trying to get people out of their seats and trying to give the lyrics enough space to let them sink in, and the middling tempo makes the song feel like it’s eternally teetering on the edge of plodding. In other words, there isn’t a whole lot that’s interesting here, and it inspires the listener to save space in their brains by forgetting this track in favor of something more interesting.

As a vocalist, Ratcliff reminds me of one of the Jonas brothers more than anything else, except with a bit more rasp and a lot less upper range. This song generally traps Ratcliff in his lower range, and he doesn’t showcase a ton of tone or power until he gets a chance to jump up a little higher on the chorus. I do, however, have to get the man credit for showing off a surprising amount of charisma, especially in the face of adversity in the form of the writing (which we’ll get to later on). This is not a narrator who deserves any sort of sympathy from the audience, but as he rails against the nameless person who “wrote the rules of breaking up,” he emotes enough pain and sadness in his delivery that I can’t help but feel for the guy a little (but only just a little). The feeling doesn’t last, however, so while I’d call Ratcliff a slight step above your generic, run-of-the-mill Bro singer, I wouldn’t call him particularly memorable or interesting.

The lyrics are where things really start to go off the rails. The narrator here is your typical heartbroken sap pining after their partner and raging at the “rules” that keep them from pursuing them further and trying to make the relationship work. Wanting to give love a second chance isn’t a bad thing, but then you start digging through the things he wants to do…

Can’t go out and hope you see her ’cause you gotta give her space, uh huh
Can’t go back to being friends, it don’t work that way, uh huh
You can’t call her up, tell her everything you’re thinking
Can’t show up at her place every time you’re drinking…

In the context of a relationship, these might be the actions of a significant other, but outside that context they’re the actions of a real creeper, and there’s a reason society generally frowns on some of the these actions. If the other person doesn’t want to deal with you, they shouldn’t have to, and you need to pick yourself up, put some Brad Paisley on repeat, and move on with your life. (It’s interesting to note that the other person’s perspective is never really considered here; the narrator spends the entire song just whining about milk that’s long been spilt.) The hook, which leans on the different meanings of “breaking up,” feels pretty lame to me, and it the writing lacks the interesting (or even the generic) details that other songs in this lane (Sam Hunt’s “Break Up In A Small Town,” Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell’s “What Happens In A Small Town,” etc.) bring to the table. In the end, it’s just another guy crying into his beer and raging at the world, and he doesn’t convince anyone to pay attention to him.

“The Rules Of Breaking Up” is just another song by just another singer, and in a crowded field of pop-tinged crooners (Thomas Rhett, Brett Young, Dan + Shay, etc.), there’s not a lot of reasons to tune into this track. The production lacks texture, the writing lacks tact, and the Brandon Ratcliff is missing that special something that could compel the audience to keep on listening. Nashville still hasn’t learned it lesson that you’ve got to go big or go home with a debut single, because if you don’t catch people’s attention the first time around, you don’t always get another chance to try.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t break any rules on this song’s account.