“What I See” is a lazy attempt at a nostalgia trip.
LANco had a modest showing with their Hallelujah Nights album, earning a #1 with “Greatest Love Story” and cracking the Top Twenty with “Born To Love You” last year. Ever since then, however, the group has struggled to find its footing in the genre, starting with its unnecessarily-angry single “Rival,” which was so toxic that it barely made the Billboard airplay chart at all (while also comfortably assuring itself a spot on my “worst of 2019” list coming next month). The group is back now to try to make amends with their latest single “What I See,” but frankly this thing isn’t much of an improvement from their last single. It’s a generic laundry list of rural tropes tied loosely together by the narrator’s uninteresting past, while a sprinkle of Jason Aldean’s “They Don’t Know” thrown in to declare that outsiders just won’t get it. The truth is that we’ve already gotten everything here that there is to get, and it wasn’t worth getting in the first place.
The good news here is that the band has abandoned the loud, in-your-face bravado of “Rival” in favor of the more-restrained sound from “Greatest Love Story” rode to fame in the first place. Gone are “the hard-rock electric guitars, spacious choral ‘whoa-ohs,’ and in-your-face drums” that dominated “Rival,” and instead we get the return of the acoustic guitar, dobro, and the buried-under-audio-effects drum set that defined the group’s earlier sound…at least for a verse or two. The choruses feel a bit more conventionally constructed, with the drums brought back up from underwater, some electric guitars added to the background, and even (sigh) a token banjo rolling on through. It’s a welcome return to form, and at least the warmer, brighter instrument tones match the shade of the narrator’s rose-colored glasses as they look back on their small-town life. (The mix also gives ample room for the lyrics to breathe, which would have been awesome if the lyrics were actually worth listening to.) That said, the mix plods a bit more than I expected, and overall it just seems to exist, doing little to entice the listener into paying attention to the track. It’s a step in the right direction, but I was hoping for a larger one.
I’m really torn on lead single Brandon Lancaster’s performance here. On one hand, he doesn’t sound terribly good: The song keeps him trapped mostly in his lower register, and he sounds unexpectedly flat and toneless as he works his way through the verses. (The song really needs to be kicked up a key or two to give him more room to stretch his vocal chords.) On the other hand, however, Lancaster rediscovers some of the charisma that he misplaced before recording “Rival,” and brings enough earnestness to the table to not only be believable in the narrator’s role, but also to impress upon the audience the importance of their hometown and how much they love it. (Sadly, one again the rest of the band proves that their talents are as instrumentalists rather than backup vocalists, as their harmony work is utterly replaceable here.) The biggest problem, however, is that rather than agree with the narrator’s assessment of their situation, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor guy: They’re looking back on glory days that will never return, and are basically trying to delude themselves into thinking they’re okay with that. Couple that with the hint of attitude shown when discussing how invalid other people’s views are, and…yeah, I gave up caring about the dude halfway through the song.
The lyrics serve as a verbal tour through the narrator’s hometown, discussing the brief moments of glory they had in days gone by. I’ve never been a fan of backwards-looking drivel like this, and I’ve got some serious problems with this particular piece:
- For on thing, the small town we’re shown could not be more generic if it tried to be: High school football fields, two-lane roads, late-night parking lots, American flags… Basically, this is the same run-of-the-mill rural community that we’ve heard about in hundreds of country songs over the years, and by trying to describe everything, the lyrics really end up describing nothing at all.
- Also, the narrator isn’t describing the town as it is, he’s describing the town as it was, back when they were young and full of promise. There’s no mention of the present, however, which gives the listener the sense that we’re really dealing with a corroding shell of a community whose only value these days is sentimental. By not giving us any sense of what they’re doing now, the narrator gives off the vibe that they’re in the same spot as the town: Stuck in the past with nothing but the memories of what was to comfort them. Honestly, the narrator’s reminds me a lot of the won’t-grow-up main character from Kelsea Ballerini’s “High School,” and the listener is left wanting to slap them and tell them to get over themselves.
- Finally, I can’t stand the narrator’s attitude towards the rest of the world, defiantly proclaiming that their delusions are real and anyone who says otherwise is just wrong (“Can’t nobody take that from me/See what you want but this is what I see”). It’s the sort of thing Aldean tried to pull with “They Don’t Know,” and it just leaves the narrator looking like an unsympathetic jerk. (The flag section on the bridge is especially galling, giving off the rank odor that they think other people don’t love their country as much as they do.) Bro, you need to make like Elsa from Frozen and let it go.
The best thing I can say about “What I See” is that it’s better than “Rival,” and even then I don’t expect this nonsense to land much higher on my year-end song list. It’s a generic ode to a mythical place that disappeared decades ago, and much like the current state of LANco’s career, there’s no sense of hope for the future. The sound is meh, the writing is pathetic, and the vocals convey nothing but a sense of blind loyalty. I don’t know what LANco and their team saw in this song, but “What I See” is a waste of my time.
Rating: 4/10. Skip it.