Talk is cheap, Luke Bryan, and talking is the only thing you’re doing differently.
Luke Bryan rode the Bro-Country wave to superstardom with the songs we’ve come to know and despise (“Rain Is A Good Thing,” “That’s My Kind of Night,” Kick The Dust Up”), and even as the zeitgeist of the genre has shifted back towards traditional sounds, Bryan is still a regular visitor to the Metro-Bro well for singles (“Light It Up,” and his most-recent radio offering “Knockin’ Boots”). Now, Bryan is back with the presumed second single from his yet-to-be-announced seventh studio album “What She Wants Tonight,” and it’s just more of the same junk that we’ve come to expect. The lyrics may try to frame the scene in a more-palatable light (“Look, we’re not being misogynistic! The women wants the sex this time!”), but nothing else here has changed: The production is too slick, the delivery is too grim, and the track is neither fun nor sexy. This is a Bro-Country wolf in the most threadbare sheep costume imaginable, and it’s not fooling anyone.
Jason Aldean takes a lot of flak (and deservedly so) for the overly dark and serious feel of his songs, but Bryan is a flagrant and serial offender in his own right, and it starts with the production here. The drum machine may be less prominent and is mixed with some sticks-only percussion for the verses, but that’s the only noticeable difference from the bowels of Bryan’s discography: The electric guitar somehow feels overly-polished on the verses and too edgy on the solo, the drum set is forcibly shoved in the listener’s face during the chorus, and there are as many minor chords in the song as there are major ones. The instrument tones are also super dark, resulting in a foreboding, ominous atmosphere that feels more suited to the Luigi’s Mansion 3 soundtrack than country radio. There is absolutely nothing fun, interesting, or sensual about this mix, making me wonder if anyone wants what’s really going on here.
Similarly, Bryan delivers his lines here with all the sincerity of a shady used-car salesman. His range and flow are more than enough to cover the physical demands of the song (honestly, his work on the rapid-fire section is surprisingly smooth), but his forceful, serious demeanor during the performance rivals anything Aldean has put out in the last few years, and is a flat-out horrible fit for the subject matter. I mean, for a guy who’s claiming that “what she wants” is basically what he wants too, he doesn’t seem terribly happy about the whole arrangement. Instead of attempting to inject any emotion or feeling into the song, Bryan chooses instead to spend the entire track cramming the fact that this woman wants to drink and party with me down the listener’s throat. Rather than supporting or siding with the narrator, all the listener wants to do is grab them by the shoulders and shake them while yelling “Chill the heck out, bro!” In the end, Bryan can’t convince anyone to take this story as seriously as he does, and the audience is more than ready to move on by the time the song is over.
As far as the lyrics go…I might give the writers a B- for effort, but that’s about it. At its core it’s just another Bro-Country drink/party/make out track, but the big difference is that the woman in the song is supposedly in control of the whole situation, and the meathead of a narrator we’re hearing from is merely “what she wants tonight.” I see what the writers were trying to do here (avoid complaints about being misogynistic or demeaning towards women by claiming this whole thing was her idea and her choice), but it’s hard not to notice that she’s still doing all the same stuff that women were doing in those misogynistic/demeaning Bro-Country songs, and that what she “wants” lines up conveniently with what our sleazeball narrator wants. Because of this, the speaker’s lines come across as hollow as an empty moonshine jug, and makes them somehow feel more slimy than if they’d just come out and said they wanted to sleep with the woman like every other Metro-Bro artist. This song is Bro-Country that’s barely hidden under the thinnest possible coat of female empowerment, and the listener a) can see right through it, and b) isn’t going to put up with it when there are so many better options on the airwaves.
“What She Wants Tonight” is the equivalent of putting whipped cream on a dog turd: It might taste a little different, but there’s no hiding the taste of the filth underneath. The production sounds dark and ominous, Luke Bryan sounds cold and serious, and the writing only makes a token (and blatantly obvious) attempt to sidestep the argument over how the genre treats women. Bryan may remain a hot property in country music today, but times are changing, and a few too many of these tire fires could get him put out to pasture sooner rather than later.
Rating: 3/10. It’s not what I want on any night.