Don’t look now, but I think Runaway June has found their groove.
The third time turned out to be the charm for Jennifer Wayne, Hannah Mulholland, and Naomi Cooke: After “Lipstick” and “Wild West” failed to launch, 2018’s “Buy My Own Drinks” finally broke through the radio blockade: The song reached #8 on Billboard’s airplay chart, cracked the Top Five on Mediabase, earned a Top Twenty slot on my year-end song list, and generated enough buzz and momentum to finally get the trio’s debut album Blue Roses out the door. Now, however, comes the hard part: Country music will make just about anyone a one-hit wonder (especially when a debut single is involved), but avoiding a sophomore slump and becoming a consistent hitmaker is a whole new hurdle that many artists are never able to overcome. Judging by the sound of Runaway June’s follow-up single “Head Over Heels,” however, I’d say that any failure to repeat their recent success would be more on us than on them. The song is a confident, energetic anthem from women that are ready to move on from a failed relationship, and matches the power of its predecessor note for note.
The production this time around is noticeably more conventional than on “Buy My Own Drinks”: There’s a not-insignificant layer of Nashville polish on top of the instruments, the steel guitar is pushed deeper into the background to make way for a slicker guitar-and-drum arrangement (there’s even a token banjo that pops up on the chorus), and there’s a real seriousness behind the sound this time around. These changes would normally be causes for concern, but there are some positive developments as well, the biggest being that track has way more of a groove than “Buy My Own Drinks” ever did, keepin the energy level high and the song moving forward even as the instruments start to dim. The brazen, liquid-courage-fueled strength from the trio’s last single has been replaced with something more subdued yet more resilient, giving the listener the feeling that the narrator really means it when they it’s over this time. That consistent confident atmosphere is something that both tracks share, and it helps support the subject material by making the monologue feel more meaningful.
Lead singer Cooke may not be the bold, bubbly narrator that we saw last time, but she’s no less determined to exert her independence and showcase her talents. On a technical level, both her range and flow are strong, and she breezes through the song’s limited demands without breaking a sweat. However, just because she isn’t challenged here does not mean she mails in her performance: This sort of last-time-was-the-last-time song is uniquely challenging because it invites the audience to ask “Why is this time different from all the times before?”, and requires a performance that grabs us all by the collar and snarls “I mean it.” Cooke accomplishes this by projecting a hint of frustration on the opening verse and bringing back just enough of that “Buy My Own Drinks” swagger to suggest that she’s dealing from a position of strength this time, and Wayne and Mulholland back her up with some solid harmony work on the choruses (although that high harmony on the verses feels a bit more awkward than it should). These women seem to have found a formula that works with these confident “I can, and I will” songs, and they always leave me wanting to hear more.
I think the writing this time around is actually a tick better than on “Buy My Own Drinks.” The premise itself isn’t exactly novel: The narrator is sick and tired of a relationship that has devolved into a serious of never-ending one-night stands, and they’re putting their foot down and declaring that they’re done wearing their “you get drunk, call me up, and head over heels.” The hook is pretty clever once you realize what it’s saying (it admittedly took me nearly a entire playthrough before I realized “Oh, that‘s what they mean!”), and there’s a fair amount of wit spread through the entire song (“you don’t wanna go home alone/Yeah but you will tonight,” “I can tell by the way that I’m moving, I’m moving on”). While the premise itself is far from novel, the little details that are included really help the listener visualize the scene (“Pick my stilettos up off the floor/Walk of shame out your front door”). I kind of wish they’d taken the shoe metaphor a little bit farther à la Randy Travis’s “Old Pair Of Shoes,” but this song is more of a spiritual successor to Nancy Sinatra’s classic “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” and there’s more than enough attitude and determination in the writing to help the narrator get their point across. It’s a sharp lyrical showing across the board, and when paired when Cooke and some suitable production, the result is a darn good song.
Where “What She Wants Tonight” was a false god of supposed female empowerment, “Head Over Heels” is the real deal. The production is suitably serious, the writing projects a lot of strength, and Runaway June answers the question of whether or not their previous performance is repeatable with a resounding “Yes.” This deserves to be every bit as successful as “Buy My Own Drinks” (and even more so, to be honest), and while country music’s continued allergy to female artists will make that a challenge, this trio seems prepared for the fight. If nothing else, they’ve got the right footwear for the job.
Rating: 7/10. Find a spot for this one on your playlist.