Is it just me, or does something sound a little…off with this track?
Chris Lane isn’t exactly known for quality tracks: His breakthrough song “Fix” serves as a pretty good summary of everything we couldn’t stand about the Metropolitan era, and his most-recent single “I Don’t Know About You” (his first No. 1 since “Fix”) is one of the reasons I’m worried the Metro-Bro sound is starting to make a comeback. Still, “For Her” demonstrated that Lane had the ability to produce emotional material that was actually convincing, even if the approach (the song peaked at #10 on Billboard’s airplay chart) wasn’t quite as successful in the marketplace. Now, however, Lane is making a surprise move by dropping his Laps Around The Sun album after only two singles and bringing out “Big, Big Plans” as the presumed leadoff single for an unannounced third project. The song falls somewhere between the extremes of his discography thus far: I like the sentiment and detail here, but there’s something about the sound and the vocals that doesn’t sound right here, and it keeps me from giving it too heavily of a recommendation.
The more I listen to this song, the more the production feels like an awkward fit for the subject. The pieces present here seem innocent enough: An acoustic guitar drives the melody forward, the drums are real and not terribly intrusive, and there a surprisingly amount of steel guitar sprinkled into the mix. The overall arrangement, however, just doesn’t feel right: The instrument tones feel a lot darker than they should for a song this forward-looking and optimistic, the frequent minor chords detract from the atmosphere, the percussion line gets a bit too busy and distracting at points, and there’s a stray audio effect floating around in the background that’s messing with the steel guitar and making it sound distorted and unsettling. (There’s also something—a keyboard perhaps?—that’s floating around creating some spacious background noise that feels a bit out of place as well.) For a momentous and celebratory occasion like a marriage proposal, this mix feels too tepid and restrained to really fit the moment, and leaves the listener feeling nonplussed about the whole thing.
I never thought more Chris Lane would be the solution to anything, but he doesn’t bring the energy and enthusiasm he needs for this song, and settles for putting periods on sentences that deserve exclamation points. Technically, his performance is fine: His range is barely tested, he’s got enough flow to effortlessly handle the faster portions of the lyrics, and there’s even a earnest feel to his delivery that I didn’t expect, a solid display of charisma that at least convinces the audience that he likes the other person. Just like the production, however, Lane comes across as far too matter-of-fact for a guy that’s about to pop the question, and rather than being excited at the prospect of a future together with his soulmate, he seems almost nonchalant about the whole thing, making whether or not he loves the other person more uncertain than it should. It’s nowhere near as bad (or slimy) as “I Don’t Know About You,” but it’s also a far cry from “For Her, ” and in the end it’s that lack of exuberance that leaves the biggest impression on the listener.
It’s too bad Lane and his producer couldn’t get themselves revved up for this song, because the writing is actually pretty good here. At its core, there’s nothing groundbreaking here: The narrator is about to pop the question to their significant other, and his mind is running wild over the “big, big plans” he’s got for their life together. The exotic travel, the parental permission, the “little house out on some hand-me-down land”…we’ve all heard these things a million times before. The key things that separate this from the slicker tracks we’ve been getting a lot of lately are the level of detail and commitment that we see. The significant other is fully fleshed out in the opening verse, the ring is given enough time to let us visualize its sparkle, and even some quick addition like “hand-me-down land” add a bit of flavor to the scene. The “big, big plans” also give us a good sense of the depth of the narrator’s feelings: Rather than being a short-term companion, the song takes great pains to convince us that there are real feeling behind the romance here, and the narrator is willing to stake the rest of their life behind them. Unlike songs like “Take Back Home Girl” or “I Don’t Know About You,” the words don’t ring hollow here, and that’s a step in the right direction, even if nothing else follows its lead.
“Big, Big Plans” is really just a small, small step for Chris Lane, but at least it’s a step back towards respectability. The writing is pretty solid, but the production and vocals don’t do enough to really set the mood, and the tempered atmosphere tempers my enthusiasm for the track. I’ll take it for now, but I’d like to hear more from Lane before I anoint him as more of a boon for country music than a bane.
Rating: 6/10. Give it a shot and see what you think.