What if people stopped overreacting to breakups for a change?
Crying over a lost love may be the oldest trope in the country music playbook, but I’m noticing a mini-trend of narrators whining and flailing about in the wake of a lost love (Maddie & Tae, Brandon Ratcliff, Tucker Beathard, Michael Ray, etc.), and aside from the M&T track, I could do without all of them. Now Lady Antebellum is ending their mini-hiatus following the disappointing #15 peak of “Heart Break” back in 2017 by jumping on the trend and releasing “What If I Never Get Over You” as the presumed leadoff single to an upcoming album. Unfortunately, this song does exactly what you might expect: The talent of the trio make this a more palatable track than those offered by mediocre meatheads like Ratcliff and Ray, but the topic is no more compelling or memorable, and I’m just not interested in entertaining the narrator’s romantic paranoia.
The production here is a standard pop-country arrangement that isn’t anything to write home about: Clean electric guitars, real but restrained drum set, and some background synth swells for added atmosphere. (However, I’ll give props to the bass guitar, which adds a little flavor during the song’s quieter moments.) It’s not as slick a sound as, say, Dan + Shay’s latest material (hey, there’s no snap track here!), but there isn’t a lot of texture here and it feels like it keeps its distance from the listener rather than letting them share in the song’s emotion. There’s a mismatch between the tone and the subject matter as well, as the mix feels surprisingly bright and only the occasional minor chords really reflect the narrator’s underlying fears. In the end, the sound comes across as a bit sterile and generic, and it’s overly reliant on the vocals to bring any real emotion to the table.
Thankfully, at least the vocalists are talented enough to help cover for the production’s deficiencies. Charles Kelley and and Hillary Scott are both capable, polish performers with strong technical skills, and their distinct harmonies and impressive vocal chemistry try to impress the true feelings and concerns of the narrator onto the listener. (Dave Haywood is invisible as usual, but at least he does a lot of instrumental and behind-the-scenes work to justify his existence, unlike Brian Kelley and other second/third wheels.) However, this song is not a great fit for the trio’s leads: Kelley is pushed below his comfortable range during the first chorus, and the narrator feels like a single character awkwardly split across two vocalists rather than two distinct characters such as on a track like “Need You Now.” As such, despite Scott and Charles seeming believable in the role, the result is like watching a rainstorm from a window: You can certainly see that there’s emotion and anguish present, but you really don’t feel it (unless your roof is leaky). It’s a decent performance overall, but the group is starting from such a disadvantage that it limits the song’s ceiling.
And then we get to the lyrics, and okay, I get it already: Breaking up sucks and it hurts like hell. While the narrator acknowledges early on that time heals all wounds, they spend the rest of the song needlessly obsessing over the possibility that it might not. While Maddie & Tae sold their sob story as youthful inexperience, the members of Lady A feel like they should know better:
- Things generally do get better over time.
- Even if they don’t, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot you can do about it, so you might as well move forward.
- Life is way too unpredictable to bother projecting your pain years into the future like the narrator does here.
Seriously, this one-track narrator makes me want to grab them by the shoulders and shout “You. Will. Be. FINE!” in their faces. Their attitude is more annoying than endearing (if confidence is sexy, this is the least sexy character in the universe), and it detracts from what is otherwise a fairly well-written song: The narrator is at least self-aware, and the future projection helps the listener visualize the scene (even though it’s a bit light on detail).
I’d like to like “What If I Never Get Over You,” but there’s just not enough here to hold my attention. The production is too safe and middle-of-the-road, the writing is so over-the-top it’s irritating, and Lady Antebellum has trouble making up the difference and closing the sale. I’ll take this over anything Ratcliff, Beathard, and Ray have to offer, but it’s not something I’ll likely revisit of my own volition, and I doubt this will be the magic bullet Lady A needs to return to the mountaintop of the genre. Recycling an old topic like this one is fine, but you need better source material to really make it worth doing.
Rating: 6/10. Give it a try, but don’t set your expectations too high.