Song Review: Blake Shelton ft. Trace Adkins, “Hell Right”

“Hell Right?” More like “Hell No.”

By now, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever like a Blake Shelton song again. While I stand by my review proclaiming his last single “God’s Country” as one of the worst songs I’ve heard all year, I was in the minority on this issue, as the song became a massive hit that even cracked the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. After getting that kind of reward for that level of awfulness, I was more than a little nervous about what was coming when Shelton announced his latest single “Hell Right,” a collaboration with Trace Adkins and the second of Shelton’s apparent post-album singles. It would be hard to sink lower than “God’s Country,” but would this song really be much better? The answer is a flat “Nope”: The track is a leftover Bro-Country party anthem with a few of the rougher edges sanded off, and unlike the song’s “girl from a small town,” I’d rather listen to “Old Town Road” than this junk.

The only difference between this production and that of a song like Florida Georgia Line’s “Smooth” is that Shelton left out the drum machine and the dobro. Otherwise, this mix is exactly the same: A slow, swampy tempo, an amplified acoustic guitar for the verses, a wall of noise on the chorus (Shelton’s song uses electric guitars, while FGL’s just turned their mics up), a not-terribly-prominent drum set (which is left underwater for half the opening verse, and includes a clap track on the bridge that at least sounds like actual clapping), and even the same unnecessary cricket-chirp clip at the beginning. I called FGL’s mix “languid” and “lethargic,” and the same adjectives apple here: There’s no energy and only the slightest hint of a groove present, and the darker instrument tones, the basic verse chord constuction, and the reliance on minor chords in the chorus really don’t get the listener in a partying state of mind. (The effects on the “all my rowdy friends” line needs to be called out as well—it sounds so robotic that I’m convinced they brought in Optimus Prime for the backing vocals.) There’s nothing fun or interesting about this sound, and it leaves the audience begging for the next song to wash this one out of their ears.

Blake Shelton is one of the most charismatic and earnest performers in country music, but only when he wants to be (which apparently isn’t now). Instead of putting his strong singing voice to use, he brings back his toneless, half-talking cadence from “Boys ‘Round Here” and delivers the verses with all the emotion and passion of someone reading the evening news. The choruses are better when Shelton gets back to his conventional delivery, but he runs into another problem: His lack of vocal chemistry with Adkins, which makes the pair’s shared lines sound a bit off. (They sounded fine together on “Hillbilly Bone” back in the day, so I’m not sure what went wrong this time around.) Because of this, Adkins really doesn’t add much to the song, and outside of a few conversational bits, he could have been left out entirely. Overall, I found Shelton more irritating than endearing on this track, and I wish he’d stick to material that played to his strengths.

And then *sigh* we have the lyrics:

Hell right, hell right
Everybody’s throwin’ down on a Friday night
Somewhere in America
There’s a bottle to burn and a fire to light
And you ain’t done nothin’ if you did it half way
If you gonna raise hell, then you better damn raise
Hell right, hell right, hell right…

I just labeled Jon Langston’s “Now You Know” as “the most generic, paint-by-numbers ‘I’m so country!’ track” I’d heard in a while, and now Shelton has claimed that title for “let’s party!” tracks. There’s a small shred of story here, it’s not a terribly novel or compelling one: Guys get off work, drink themselves into a stupor because that’s the way to have fun, and then go back to work hungover. (I doubt this is what Easton Corbin meant when he said story songs were missing from the genre.) The “hell right” wordplay only barely qualifies as such, and beyond that, it’s everything you would expect: throwing down on a Friday night with alcohol, bonfires, hay bales, small-town girls and Hank Jr. references. (Also, if you’re going to throw shade at “Old Town Road,” you should at least sing a song that’s better. This song is not.) In other words, this is a generic, poorly-constructed song that feels way out of place this far from the Bro-Country era, and deserves a spot in the dustbin of history right next to that terrible trend.

Despite it’s name, “Hell Right” does absolutely nothing right: The production is boring and lifeless, the writing is lazy and bland, and Blake Shelton comes across as tone-deaf and annoying. We put up with far too many songs of this ilk back in the Bro-Country era, and I’m not about to start putting up with them now. (I would still rank it above “God’s Country,” but only by a micrometer or two.) Deciding to stop making albums was a good first step for Shelton; now I just wish he’d embrace the tactic completely and stop making music altogether.

Rating: 3/10. Get that garbage out of here.