How can a song feel so organic and so corporate at the same time?
Life is pretty good for Luke “Thanos” Combs right now: His last single “Beer Never Broke My Heart” spent only two weeks atop Billboard’s airplay chart (compared to his prior release‘s seven-week stay), and he’s generally regarded as the reigning monarch of country music. Despite this, Columbia decided to go the EP route for his sophomore effort, and is now releasing a second single from the five-pack called “Even Though I’m Leaving.” I’m really torn on this one: It’s got decent production and the usual Combs charm, but it’s also so sappy and formulaic that it feels like it was written by an algorithm geared towards cheap sentimentality. It’s far from Combs’s best work, and makes it seem like he’s trading artistry for popularity.
The production has a lot going for it: It’s got a solid acoustic foundation with real drums behind it, sticks some steel and electric guitars in the background for added atmosphere, and it features a bright and happy mandolin for most of the track. It’s a warm, bright mix with a lot of texture, but there’s such a thing as being too bright, and this thing overshoots the mark by a country mile, with its tone blowing far past saccharine and syrupy and ended up feeling like something out of a Hallmark movie. (Ironically, as much as I like the mandolin, the fact that it’s so in-your-face is what makes this thing bother my blood sugar, and the producer really needed to tone it down a notch or three.) The subject matter calls for a bit more seriousness amidst its sentimentality, but the producer sold out for the “D’awww” factor instead, and it ends up being more awkward of a fit than it should have been. It’s not a terrible max, but I need more substance than the empty sonic calories we get here.
Combs sounds as good as he always did here, but I don’t find him to be as credible or believable as usual. The song and key fit his voice well and don’t test his range and flow much, but it requires some serious charisma to break through the mawkish writing and sound, and while Combs has demonstrated the talent to do that, he doesn’t get the job done this time. He doesn’t show a ton of emotion in his delivery, he isn’t convincing in any of the narrator’s roles (especially as a scared child), and he isn’t able to mask the odor given off by the song’s other pieces and convince the audience that this is any more than a contrived example. I realize that the song is basically setting the difficulty at max for Combs (more on that later), but he is the man of the moment in the genre right now, and on this subject he’s getting shown up by everyone from George Strait (“Love Without End, Amen” to Cole Swindell (“You Should Be Here,” “Dad’s Old Number”). If you’re aiming to be the best, you just can’t let this happen.
Honestly, the writing here irritates me more every time I listen to this song, and seems to be the major source of the song’s ills. It just feels like the writers got together and tried to figure out how to maximize the impact on the listener’s feels, and decided to take the scared child trope, some reflexive token patriotism, and the dying parent story, and just mash them all together to see if they could turn on the waterworks. (Frankly, the song feels like it was written for someone with little-to-no presence or charisma, offering a crutch for someone who can’t generate their own empathy. In other words, it’s beneath Combs’s talents.) The predictable story means the audience sees the punch line coming a mile away, the paint-by-numbers scenes are beyond bland, and the characters are one-dimensional and rely on the listener to fill in the gaps with their own experiences to make them interesting. The whole thing comes across as equal parts lazy and calculated, and the listener can see right through the ploy (and they are not impressed).
“Even Though I’m Leaving” is a blatant-yet-flavorless attempt to prey on the audience’s emotions, cycling through a bunch of stock scenes in the hopes that something connects with whoever’s listening. It’s the weakest track I’ve heard from Luke Combs yet (even “Hurricane” had more punch than this), featuring sickeningly-sweet production, nondescript vocals, and lyrics containing zero feeling or imagination. Thanos may be on top of the world right now, but as many wise souls have said, “it’s only a short fall back down,” and in this business you’re only as good as your last single. When historians chronicle Combs’s career years from now, they won’t spend much time on this track.
Rating: 5/10. Leave this one alone.