Does it matter how often you’ve done something if you do a solid job every time you do it? That answer will color your view of Thomas Rhett’s new single.
Don’t look now, but Rhett is quickly becoming one of country music’s safest performers, sticking to his familiar formula of pop-tinged ballads and wide-eyed nostalgia that have defined him since his breakout song “Die A Happy Man.” It was fun for a while, but it feels like he’s only competing against himself now, only he’s reduced to more-generic platitudes after using up his specific examples in previous songs. Case in point: “Look What God Gave Her,” which was basically “Die A Happy Man, Part 4” after going to the same well for the original, “Star Of The Show,” and “Unforgettable.” Similarly, his latest single “Remember You Young,” while a perfectly acceptable song by itself, feels like a mashup of “Unforgettable,” “Sixteen,” and “Life Changes,” and while he and his producer do a great job setting the mood and selling the story, you have to wonder if people will get tired of hearing the same darn song over and over.
The production is mostly what you’d expect from a reflective, serious song, but there are a few surprises hidden here. A traditional piano opens the track and serves as the primary melody carrier (and its mixture of higher/bright and lower/dark tones fits the tenor of the writing well), with only a restrained snap track keeping time for the first verse or so. Some real drums and acoustic guitars jump in over time, as well as a mandolin and a prominent cello (!), along with some electric guitars that seem to be standing fifty feet from the mic to give the mix some spacious atmosphere without overwhelming the rest of the arrangement. The result is an overall tone strikes a nice balance between the bittersweet knowledge that the past will never be reclaimed with the warm comfort that it will never be forgotten either. It’s an expertly-executed setup, and the production team (Rhett, Jesse Frasure, and Dan Huff) deserve some major props for putting it together.
At this point, Rhett is a convincing narrator here because of sheer repetition: He’s been living off of these pop-tinged, nostalgia ballads for years now, and he’s sung about every one of these topics over the course of his mainstream career (from being that wild young man in “Something To Do With Hands” to having two young toddlers in “Life Changes”). This isn’t the most technically-demanding song in the world (moderate flow, fairly constrained range aside from some stray “whoa-oh-ohhs”), but it requires a fair bit of charisma to let the audience share in the narrator’s wonder and gratitude. Luckily for Rhett, summoning this sort of pathos is squarely in his wheelhouse (at this point, after all the songs he’s sung about his wife, we all love her as much as he does), and he throws down yet another solid performance here, stepping back to let the verses sink in before adding a bit more a”oomph” to the chorus. When paired with suitable atmospheric production here, the result is a fairly moving song that has the listener remembering right along with the narrator.
If I were to fault this song anywhere, it would be in the writing, which feels generic and watered-down compared to its predecessors. Instead of the richer details we got from songs like “Sixteen” or “Life Changes,” this track is relegated to four scenes: wild behavior with friends, drunken escapades with his wife, babies on the floor, and the obligatory religious analogy at the very end. These vignettes feel both cookie-cutter and vague, and leaves the listener wishing we got a little more insight into the crazy youthful behavior the narrator is referring to. Instead of talking about “[tearing] the roof off that one red light town,” tell us some of the actual stuff that you did! How exactly did you “[shut] them college bars down”? What funny things have your kids gotten into? I’m sure Rhett’s gotten plenty of interesting stories to tell, so why does he stick to the same bland script that every other song in this lane uses? Thankfully, the lyrics do just enough to allow Rhett and his production team to pick up the slack, but I can’t help but feel like this song could have been so much stronger.
Despite its similarity to his prior work, “Remember You Young” is yet another solid effort from Thomas Rhett, and much like I did with Midland’s “Burn Out” and Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert’s “Drowns The Whiskey,” at some point you have to acknowledge a quality piece of work regardless of its novelty. The production is outstanding, the vocals are good, and the lyrics are…present. I’d still take this over much of what I hear on the radio today, although I’m not sure it stacks up against Rhett’s best work. As crazy as it sounds, I’m hoping for something a little more risky from Rhett the next time around (yes, even considering how Blake Shelton’s recent risk went haywire), because”safe” can turn into “bland and boring” quicker than you think.
Rating: 7/10. You know what’s coming, but it’s worth hearing anyway.