When your song tries to be two different things, it usually winds up being neither of them.
Given that Michael “HARDY” Hardy’s debut single “REDNECKER” earned the distinction of being the worst country single of 2019 en route to a mediocre #26 Billboard airplay peak, you have to figure the dude had nowhere to go but up with whatever he chose as his follow-up release. Now that he’s finally given us “One Beer,” I can officially say that the song is not worse than “REDNECKER”…but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. This song, which mashes three singers (HARDY, Lauren Alaina, and Devin Dawson), two goals, and several musical genres, is the sonic equivalent of taking five different jigsaw puzzles and trying to put them all together into one giant picture, and the result is one big mess that leaves the listener more confused than anything else. There may be things to like and things to hate, but there’s nothing here worth remembering.
For the sake of comparison, let’s start by revisiting a track that plowed this same ground back in 2003 and got things mostly right in the process: Kenny Chesney’s “There Goes My Life.”
Let’s start with the differences in the sound. Chesney’s track opens with a soft, reflective piano, transitions to an acoustic guitar and subdued snare drum that pushes the lyrics to the forefront, slowly builds in volume and complexity (steel guitar, electric guitar, a full drum set), and builds to a perfect crescendo at the end of the bridge. The tempo was deliberate, the noise level was careful not to trample on the writing, and that mix had a real warmth and humanity to it that accentuates the emotional impact of the song.
In contrast, HARDY opens with a mind-numbingly simple guitar riff marinated in audio effects, tosses in a drum machine on the chorus, and makes them the primary focus of the arrangement for the rest of the song. While the producer eventually adds a few other instruments here and there (pianos, guitars…actually, many of the same pieces from Chesney’s song can be found here). The result is a song that feels as sterile as a doctor’s office, and it generates a limp club-beat vibe that doesn’t fit the subject matter at all. This sound is not inviting enough to be thoughtful and not energetic enough to be danceable, which pretty much makes it good for nothing.
Speaking of nothing, that’s pretty much what HARDY brings to his vocal performance. His flow is basically his only redeeming quality: His voice is monotone and flat, his range is so limited that he’s uncomfortable when the song pushes him into his lower register (he voice tails off and gets raspy at the end of nearly every line), he delivers his lines with less feeling than an Amazon Echo, and worst of all, he doesn’t breathe any life into his characters and make them sympathetic. Where Chesney really made you feel for the protagonist as their dreams disappeared (and then brought his charisma to bear to make the rest of the song adorable instead of cheesy), HARDY never gives you the sense that he cares about the characters here, so why should the audience care? (What’s even more jarring is that the lyrics try to make a point about how alcohol consumption has unintended consequences, but HARDY’s stoic monologue explicitly refuses to take the same stand.)
You would think the track would make more use of the featured singers to prop up HARDY’s lackluster lead, but Alaina only shows up of the chorus harmony work, and Dawson is…er….well, I’m sure he’s here somewhere, but you’d never know it from listening to the song. The song squanders the talent of the singers who actually have talent, and make us sit through HARDY’s ear-grating performance, one that makes us pray to every spirit we can think of that the song is over when he reaches that long pause on the bridge.
And then we get to the subject matter, and…*sigh*. It may be the same story that Chesney tells about two people who get surprised with an unexpected pregnancy and discover that it’s more of a blessing than a curse, but the lyrical construction of this song is vastly inferior. For one thing, the verses are nothing but disjointed laundry lists featuring choppily-sequenced snapshots:
Seventeen in this small town
Weak knees in a CVS
Door locked in the bathroom
What’s it gonna be waitin’ on that test?
Sesame Street on the TV
A race car rollin’ on a cardboard bridge
Crayon stick figure family
Stuck right there front center on the fridge
The detail is there (and it’s actually impressive), but the thread between the images is missing, and the song feels more like a context-less photo album than a true story. (The song also stops short at this point, while Chesney’s tune at least sent the kid to college and tied the ends of the tale together by having the kid fulfill their parent’s dream.) To their credit, the writers try to use the “one beer” hook to point out how alcohol can change the course of someone’s life, but the point lacks enough punch to overcome HARDY’s nonchalant reading of the text. (To their discredit, the extended schoolyard “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” song reference feels more lazy than clever.) In the end, the writers seemed to have good intentions, but all they do is keep the devil’s paving company in business.
The only good thing about “One Beer” is that it is, in fact, a better song than “REDNECKER,” but then again, so is the sound of a cat running its claws across a chalkboard. The writing has some flashes of competency, but neither HARDY nor the producer actually care about what’s being said, and the sound does it own thing while HARDY does nothing at all. (Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson could have added a lot to the track, but they’re criminally underused and are reduced to bystanders gawking at a train derailment.) It’s a mess of clashing ideas wrapped in a layer of sheer indifference, and instead of convincing me that HARDY deserves a more-prominent place in the genre, it tells me we need to throw him out before he can do any more damage.
Rating: 4/10. No thank you.