Song Review: Cody Johnson, “Nothin’ On You”

Dear Nashville: Are you trying to test my patience? Because this is a surefire way to do it.

The major message I wanted to get across in my dismantling of Kenny Chesney’s “Tip Of My Tongue” was that the genre had proven time and time again that it could not put together a sensual lovemaking track to save its life. Nashville’s response, unfortunately, was “Hey, you just haven’t heard Cody Johnson sing one of these tracks! You like Cody Johnson, don’t you?” I do like Johnson, and his team-up with Warner Music and ascension to #11 on Billboard’s airplay chart with “On My Way To You” is a solid success for a Texas artist transitioning to the national scene. Unfortunately, even Johnson’s talent has his limits, and while his latest single “Nothin’ On You” is better than most of the sensual singles I’ve heard from Nashville, that’s a really low bar to clear. This song remains a long way from being good or memorable, and rather than defying Nashville’s reputation as a sex-jam graveyard, it ends up reinforcing it.

The production starts with good intentions, but doesn’t quite convert its potential into production to set the proper mood. You can feel a heavy influence from Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color” here (which is about as close as country music has come to a sex jam in several years), from the deliberate 3/4 time to the echoey electric axe to the atmospheric organ in the background. The pieces are arranged a bit differently on this track, however, and they don’t seem to fit as well: The tempo is slower and lacks energy, the real drums are too high in the mix and feel a bit out of place amidst the other instruments, and the organ (and for that matter, the steel guitar) don’t seem to add anything to the mix besides noise. The result is a sound that doesn’t quite capture the magic it’s looking for, coming across as lifeless instead of sexy and creating a mood that feels sterile and snore-inducing instead of sensual. The producer gets an A for effort, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Johnson plays the role of a lovestruck, grateful partner with aplomb in “With You I Am” and “On My Way To You,” but when he tries to add some slickness and sexiness to his game, he completely loses his earnestness and just can’t make himself sound believable in the role. Technically, he sounds fine: His range, flow, and tone are all above-average in the genre, and on this song he remains sound and composed when he delivers his lines. However, his earthy tone and rougher, weathered delivery don’t fit the subject matter, and when he talks about coaxing his partner out of their dress, the audience comes down with a serious case of cognitive dissonance, as if Johnson is simply incapable of using such direct and descriptive language in this manner. Instead of getting wrapped up in the moment, the listener recoils and thinks “This isn’t the Cody Johnson I know.” Frankly, Johnson is over his head trying to turn himself into Marvin Gaye, and while he tries to make the best of things, he isn’t able to assume the persona required to make the song work.

The lyrics are standard for this sort of scenario: The narrator is so awestruck by the beauty of their partner that despite all the wondrous things they’ve seen in their life, nothing compares to the pure beauty of the partner’s nude figure. It’s Dan + Shay’s “All To Myself” meets Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” and nothing here suggests the writers applied a shred of creativity: The opening scene (black dress turning heads) is so stock it could have been found on Google Images, the places (high mountains, blue oceans, New York, Paris, LA, etc.) are the same ones everyone else mentions (even “Vermont in the fall” isn’t exactly groundbreaking), and the hook is even more limited than Chesney’s “tip of my tongue” line (and every possible use is crammed into the groan-inducing line “when you got nothin’ on, nothin’ got nothin’ on you”). “With You I Am” worked so well because it felt like it had a personal touch that fit Johnson’s public persona, but this song feels like it could have been written or sung by or for anyone in the world. Without that touch or that detail, we’re left with a watered-down make-out invitation that doesn’t justify the track four-plus-minute runtime.

“Nothin’ On You” is yet another lifeless, faceless, sexless sex jam from both a genre and an artist that should know better by now. The production is lifeless, the writing lacks personality, and Cody Johnson’s Conway Twitty impression is totally disingenuous. Sure, it’s a better use of your time than “Tip Of My Tongue,” but you’d be better off spending that time writing your congressperson demanding that Nashville be banned from creating any more of these unsexy monstrosities, because they sure don’t seem to be regulating themselves.

Rating: 5/10. It’s got nothing, period.