Song Review: Eli Young Band, “Break It In”

…I’m sorry, what’s the point of this song again?

The Eli Young Band achieved some moderate success in the early 2010s with songs like “Crazy Girl” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” but after failed singles in 2015 and 2016 and sitting out all of 2017, the band had been given up for dead by most of the genre. However, the group included a new song “Love Ain’t” when they released a greatest-hits album back in 2018, and while I was not impressed by the track, it found enough traction on the radio to reach #1 and temporarily bring the group back into the public consciousness. Whether or not they can stay there will depend on the performance of their latest single “Break It In,” the presumed leadoff track for their first post-greatest-hits project. The song uses the hook as a metaphor to make the larger point that…wait, this song doesn’t actually make a larger point. Combined with a “been there, done that” sound and attitude, the track is a waste of airspace that only exists for the sake of existing.

Besides their use of heavier tones, the Eli Young Band doesn’t really have a distinct sound beyond the generic guitar-and-drum arrangement, and that generic feel continues on this track. The song starts small with a quick, choppy electric guitar that gives it an initial shot of energy, but that feeling quickly fades away as the verse begins and a few more instruments jump in to deaden the pace (some standalone acoustic strums, some simple (and slightly brighter) electric guitar riffs, and eventually a full drum set). The choruses turn up the instruments and give them a spacious, atmospheric feel, but in truth all these new pieces end up adding is volume, and the result is a boring, run-of-the-mill mix that you’ve heard a hundred times before, played at a tempo caught in the no man’s land between plodding and exciting. (Seriously, they could have at least thrown a guitar solo in there to spice things up.) It’s not interesting, it’s not memorable, and it’s not going to stick with the listener beyond the last note.

I’m going to jump to the writing next, because it’s a half-finished mess that sets the audience up for a payoff but leaves them with an aggravating cliffhanger instead. The narrator starts by talking about certain (obvious and overdone) touchstones from their childhood (baseball glove, guitar, truck), and how they improved after some wear and tear from regular use (i.e., they were “broke in”). It’s a common setup in the genre, and makes the listener think “Okay, they’re going to relate this idea to some serious matter of love and life and try to make some grand philosophical statement.” So we keep listening as the narrator makes broad generalizations about “you think that good is good as it can get/Then you break it in,” spends a line or two talking about a heart getting broken in (?) on the bridge, and…wait, that’s it?! Where’s the satisfying conclusion? I was looking for at least another verse tying the theme back to adulthood or romance or something, but no, the narrator just rambles on about his past, says “yeah, everything’s better after you use it a while,” and walks away. It felt like reading a book with the last few chapters ripped out, and leaves the listener with a sour taste in their mouth over having their time wasted so casually. It’s not exactly a great way to follow up your first true hit song in five years.

To his credit, lead singer Mike Eli tries to make chicken salad out of the chicken you-know-what the lyrics hand him, but all the talent and charisma in the world couldn’t mask the odor this song gives off. Eli’s voice may be distinct, but I’ve never found him to be terribly compelling as an artist, and his range and flow and little more than adequate for the task at hand. He does, however, have enough earnestness in his delivery to feel believable in the narrator’s role and convince the audience that he feels strongly about the items he describes and the position he’s staking out, although it’s revealed that he’s severely oversinging and overselling the story when you discover that there’s no punch line. While bringing all of his emotional weight to bear is pretty much Eli’s only option here, it doesn’t make the listener feel any more kindly towards him after the deception comes to light. (On a side note, given the generic production and barely-noticeable harmony work, the “band” part of the EYB doesn’t make a great case for its own existence here. If you stuck a bunch of random Nashville session players behind Eli, and this song would sound the exact same.) I’d give Eli a B for trying, but this is a bad situation that he can’t sing his way out of.

Listening to “Break It In” is like watching three hours of world-building in a movie and then fast-forwarding through the climax. Everything seems to build towards this grand conclusion that never arrives, and you’re left with a generic sound behind an undistinguished singer telling the boring half of a story. If the Eli Young Band wants to make their sudden success more than a last gasp before the final fall, they’re going to need to bring more than this  blather to the table.

Rating: 5/10. Skip it.