*sigh* Give Chase Rice an inch, and he takes a mile.
Up to this point, Chase Rice had been taking some small steps to distance himself from his Bro-Country roots with “Three Chords And The Truth” and “Eyes On You,” although neither was anywhere near a good song. The latter song, however, was apparently close enough for country radio, which awarded Rice his first ever Billboard #1 and gave the man some legitimate buzz for the first time in his career. You never know how someone will react when they finally “make it big,” however, and in Rice’s case, he fell off the wagon immediately, closing the book on the Lambs & Lions era and releasing “Lonely If You Are” as the leadoff single to his upcoming fourth album. The song is a callback to everything we hated about Rice and Bro-Country in general, and indicates that this zebra hasn’t changed his stripes quite yet.
On paper, this doesn’t seem like it would be a terrible mix, featuring a prominent acoustic guitar on the melody and a echoey dobro providing some background atmosphere. The minute the snap track appears, however, things go off the rails: Suddenly the guitar sounds a bit too clean and slick (it drowns out the squeals of the fingers sliding on the strings), and the minor chords start to add a real darkness to the track that isn’t warranted or useful. (While real drums jump in eventually, this song is the first one I’ve noticed using both a snap AND a clap track, and it makes things worse rather than better.) The mix devolves into the soundtrack of every Metro-Bro song ever made, and it overshoots the sexy vibe it wanted and lands deep in sleazy/creepy territory. (Good fricking grief, would country music just leave the sex jams to the professionals already?) In other words, this arrangement is less than the sum of its parts, and it feels generic and unoriginal in all the worst possible ways.
Whatever magic Rice captured on “Eyes On You,” it is not present here, as he comes across as a faceless meathead looking to score with a hottie no matter what the context might be. The song itself is a major contributor to this problem: It traps him a bit too deep in his lower range and forces him into a rapid-fire pseudo-rap cadence on the choruses, causing his voice to lose all semblance of tone, power, or emotion. (Notice the difference between the bridge, where Rice gets a little time and space to put an iota of feeling behind the lyrics, and the chorus, where he’s spitting out the lines so fast he takes on the serious, matter-of-fact tone of someone reading a grocery list.) Quite frankly, Rice doesn’t have the chops to handle what this track demands of him, and instead of the caring, understanding narrator he wants you to think he is, he sounds like a desperate sex junkie looking for a quick fix with a warm body. While I’d place the blame for this disaster on whoever thought this song was a good fit for Rice rather than Rice himself, but at some point, as Dirty Harry would say, “a man’s got to know his limitations.”
Speaking of limitations: The lyrics here are basically an R-rated version of “Green Eggs And Ham,” with the narrator proclaiming that they are ready for some kinky sexual escapades anytime and anywhere the other person wants (“AM or PM,” “middle of the week or the weekend,” “late-night sidewalk” or “curled up on the couch,” in a box, with a fox, etc.) While he at least makes things contingent on whether or not the other person wants to participate or not, it’s not hard to see which decision the narrator prefers, and the lengths he’ll go to get the decision he wants make him sound pushy and insincere instead of flexible and gentlemanly. Songs in this vein aren’t inherently bad (for example, Midland’s “Mr. Lonely,” one of my favorite songs of the year, covers pretty much the same topic), but where “Mr. Lonely” takes a fun, lighthearted approach to the subject (and includes a lot more potential activities for the temporary couple), “Lonely If You Are” overly-serious, narrowly-focused approach makes the speaker much more unlikable and unsympathetic, and the audience is put off by then rather than singing along. This is one call that no one’s itching to make.
“Lonely If You Are” is a failure at every level: Slimy, copycat production, terribly-framed writing, and a harried, lifeless delivery from Chase Rice. It’s a monstrous step backwards from Rice (and a reminder of why we all mostly avoided him in the first place), and more evidence that country music really needs to get out of the booty-call business. I have no idea what prompted Rice to pivot back to his Bro persona, but it wasn’t a good idea then, and it’s a really bad idea now.
Rating: 3/10. Keep your distance.