Well…At least Matt Stell’s moving in the right direction?
Country radio will give a debut #1 to just about anyone these days, but Stell’s “Prayed For You” stood out from the crowd thanks to the sheer momentum the song built up and carried throughout its run. Although I found the song to be forgettable and mediocre, it struck a chord with enough people to not only top the country charts, but to also crack the Top 40 on the Hot 100. However, it’s the sophomore slump that catches a lot of artists flatfooted, and Stell is about to take his turn in the hot seat with the follow-up single “Everywhere But On.” Adhering to the ageless wisdom of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Stell offers pretty much the same experience here than he did on “Prayed For You,” albeit with a bit more melancholy than optimism this time around. That may work for some people, but although I’d call this a slight improvement over his debut, I don’t find this song to be any more compelling this his last one.
That “slight improvement” is decidedly not reflected in the production for this track. The overall sound suggests that the same cast of characters from the debut hit returned for the sequel, but every change seems like it was for the worst: The percussion sounds more-obviously synthetic than before, the keyboard has been scrapped entirely is was not replaced, and the usual acoustic/electric guitar combo is left to carry the melody as boringly as possible. The good news is that at least the tone feels a bit more suitable for the subject matter: The darker instrument tones, minor chords, and moderate-to-slow tempo return, but they feel more at home on a long-distance lost-love story than the actually-happy song that was “Prayed For You.” Sadly, the complete lack of energy returns as well, as the song plods a bit too much for the listener to get lost in the story and feel for the narrator’s plight. I called “Prayed For You” “a drug-free alternative to Unisom,” and this sound is even more forgettable and sleep-inducing than that.
Stell’s vocal performance on this song is a mixed bag as well. On the plus side, the song lets him stay deep within his comfort zone by not testing his range or flow, and he at least sound moderately more invested in the story this time around (although I’d still like to hear more power and punch in his delivery). The problem is that Stell remains the same nondescript, uninteresting artist that he was the last time we heard him, and if you stuck any of the other faceless male singers coming out of Nashville behind the mic, the song wouldn’t sound any different. The audience feels for the dude’s plight a little bit, but ultimately it’s not enough to invest any real emotional capital in the track. Stell comes across as just another guy trying to outrun a lost love, and my response is more “yeah, we all got problems pal” than anything else. I know “Prayed For You” performed well, but I really don’t know what people see in this guy.
So where’s this “slight improvement” I hinted at three paragraphs ago? Mostly it’s in the writing, which is essentially a copy of Tim McGraw’s “Everywhere”: Narrator breaks up with their partner, hits the road looking to find a new life, and yet still hallucinates about their ex everywhere they go. The “I’ve moved everywhere but on” hook is at least moderately clever, and while this one’s a bit lighter on details compared to McGraw’s song (for example, we get no indication of why the couple parted ways, and the locations they mention are beyond generic), the ones we get are surprisingly novel. For example, we learn more about the narrator’s occupations this time (“loading trucks, pouring coffee, pouring concrete”), and I really like the “mail’s still going to mama’s house” line because it emphasizes how temporary and fragile the narrator’s home life is and how lost they are in the world. This is basically the guy from Jason Aldean’s “Rearview Town” a few months after leaving, suddenly realizing that both the world and their ex’s memory are bigger than they originally thought. It’s the sort of story that builds a bond of sympathy between the artist and the listener, and it’s a shame that everything else here stretches that bond to its breaking point.
Overall, “Everywhere But On” is just “Prayed For You” with a sadder story, and that’s not enough to keep my interest. The writing is definitely a step up from before, but the bland sameness of the production and Matt Stell’s vocals leaves me just as unimpressed as I was the last time I heard him. The road to the top is a lot rougher and steeper the second time around, and I doubt that this track brings enough novelty and flavor to the table to make it back to the summit.
Rating: 5/10. You’ve got better things to do with your time.