Song Review: Lauren Alaina, “Getting Good”

Ironically, as good as this song is, it makes me ignore Lauren Alaina’s advice and think about all the ways it could be better.

Alaina has been fighting some strong headwinds in country music since her runner-up performance on American Idol. It took her six years to break through on the radio with “Road Less Traveled,” and she was promptly shuffled back to the bottom of the deck: “Doin’ Fine” stalled at #27 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and the bizarre “Ladies In The 90s” barely cracked the top forty. With the genre starting to include more substance in their sound and writing, Alaina has returned to try her hand at the idea with “Getting Good,” the presumed second single off of her next album if she can generate enough buzz to get it published. It’s a good song with some decent depth and thoughtfulness, but there’s just enough missing here to make me ignore its message and wonder how good this song really could have been.

Whoever produces this mix took an interesting approach to the sound: It starts sparse with an acoustic guitar and a quiet-but-peppy snare drum to capture the in-vogue organic sound, but then slowly works electric and synthetic elements into the mix as it goes along (some synth swells, an electric guitar, and even a drum machine. On paper it seems like a recipe for disaster, but the producer avoids falling into a trap by applying a light touch to the arrangement, keeping the volume relatively low and ensuring that the new arrivals are unobtrusive. (Seriously, this is the best a snap track has sounded in years.) The result is a mix that blends together surprisingly well, with a bright, optimistic tone and a lively feel that adds some kinetic energy to the emotional power of the writing. I also like how the mix feels spacious and atmospheric without hitting the listener with a wall of noise, complementing rather than overwhelming the lyrics. It’s a solid pop-country sound for Alaina, one that I wouldn’t mind hearing more of in the future.

For a 24-year-old, Alaina does a nice job in the role of a wizened-yet-millennial narrator who’s been around the block just the right number of times (then again, Nashville will age even the best of us prematurely). We already knew about her impressive technical skills, and the song keeps her in a comfortable range and show off some understated power (she maintains the strength of her voice without leaning on the belting approach she used on “Doin’ Fine”). She does a nice job avoiding oversinging the song to drive home her point, and her earnest charisma allows her to own the narrator’s role and convince the audience to nod along. To be honest, this feels like the perfect song for someone like Alaina, as it comes across like a continuation of “Doin’ Fine” where that narrator realizes that there’s no silver bullet for happiness, and that sometimes “doin’ fine” is pretty darn good in and of itself. As much as Alaina claims to idolize Britney Spears and Shania Twain, I think her wheelhouse lies closer to Martina McBride territory, as she really shines with a bit more emotional heft behind her delivery.

If there’s anywhere I would fault this song, it’s in the writing, which can feel painfully conservative and cookie-cutter at times. On the plus side, I like the narrator’s message about recognizing the good fortune that you have and not chasing wildly after every little thing to find happiness, and the twist with her parents at the end was unexpected in the best possible way. Up until that end, however, the song stuck rigidly to familiar territory: Neither love nor money nor cars nor houses will bring you the peace and satisfaction you seek, which we’ve heard a hundred thousand times before. I’m also not a fan of how completely the song embraces the known and familiar, and kinda-sorta encourages the listener not to go out and chase down what they think will make them happy. That was the sort of complacent attitude that got me in trouble back in the blog’s early days, and had I not picked my head up and kept looking for something better, I’d be stuck in that same awful death cycle, sitting among the flames thinking “this is fine.” It’s important to know when things are going well, but it’s just as important to recognize when things aren’t “getting good,” and I wish the song had done more to push that point of view.

Despite my lyrical reservations, “Getting Good” is a pretty good song overall, and serves as a solid return to form for Lauren Alaina. The sound and singer breathe enough life into the track to keep the writing from weighing it down, and there’s enough of a positive message here to warrant a larger share of country radio’s playlists. Despite Alaina’s declaration that she appreciates where she already is, let’s hope this track pushes her to better, more successful places in the genre.

Rating: 7/10. This one’s worth listening to.