Song Review: King Calaway, “No Matter What”

“No Matter What,” King Calaway can’t seem to rise above their generic and lukewarm material.

Remember when King Calaway was the next act in line to destroy country music? Instead, a funny thing happened on the way to that “preordained” #1 that Kyle C. predicted: Radio didn’t embrace the manufactured supergroup, and “World For Two” barely cracked the top fifty on Billboard’s airplay chart before crashing back down to earth. With Boyfriend country becoming a thing late in 2019, however, the genre climate still seems favorable to a group leaning on lightweight love songs like King Calaway’s debut, so the crew is back with a new single “No Matter What,” the second release from their debut album Rivers. While the song has got an upbeat, wedding-ready feel to it, it also doesn’t offer anything more than overused platitudes, and doesn’t do anything that really sticks in the listener’s mind. It’s a thing that exists, and unless the listener has a wedding or some other life-changing event to give the song meaning, it doesn’t really stand on its own.

The production is probably the high point of the song, as it does a decent job creating a positive, high-energy atmosphere. There really isn’t a whole lot to the arrangement here: An acoustic guitar and restrained snare cover the opening verse, some electric axes and a full drum kit jump in for the chorus, and the bass guitar also stands out a lot more (and has a bit more groove and personality) than in most other mixes. The brisk tempo, the rapid-fire nature of the riffs, and a sizzling electric guitar push the energy level into the stratosphere, and the bright instrument tones plant the vibe firmly on the sunny side of the fence. All of this combines to enhance the forward-looking nature of the lyrics, infusing them with an extra dose of optimism and cheer that will make this thing a staple of party and especially wedding playlists this summer. In short, the producer deserves some props here, and it’s a shame that the rest of the track doesn’t live up to the sound’s promise.

Lead singing duties are once again shared between several different artists, and just like I said in my last review of the group, “as equitable as the arrangement might be, it’s also completely unnecessary.” The different vocalists sound slightly different this time around (I can at least tell when they pass the baton between singers this time), but they’re still literally interchangeable, and there’s no reason why we have to be subjected to so many different singers on the same song. The good news is that the other issue I had with the group previously (that “they don’t really transmit their happiness to the audience”) is at least partially alleviated here, as their upbeat deliveries combine with the production to allow the audience to share in the good vibes, even if the romantic angle of the writing doesn’t really shine through. (It’s times like this when I question whether or not it’s worth bothering to review tracks that are clearly not targeted at me, because I’m not feeling the love here any more than I was on their last single.) I’m sure they’re having a fun time and all, but I don’t see why I should care about it, and while we’re copy-pasting things from my last review, let’s call this “the kind of performance I hear once, think ‘that’s okay, I guess,’ and immediately forget about the moment the next song starts playing,” because I’m afraid the shoe still fits.

And then we get to the lyrics, and this is where things really get stale: The narrator has had a revelation that they want to spend the rest of their lives with someone, “no matter what.” There’s more recycled content here than in the jacket I got for Christmas (“made with 100% recycled polyester!”): Generic references to future life obstacles, life expectancy, traveled roads, disapproving parents, ” looking down on cloud nine, flying high, so high,” etc. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been said more effectively somewhere else, and worse still, there are so few specifics offered that the listener never gets a sense of who the protagonists are and how strong their relationship really is. It’s a classic example of a swiss-cheese song that requires the listener to fill in the gaps with their own feelings and experiences, and when that doesn’t happen, the song feels hollow and just collapses into a vague, fluffy mess (to paraphrase Maren Morris: “When the bones aren’t good, the rest don’t matter either”). Again, while I understand that I’m not the audience the writers had in mind, a strong-enough song will grab me the ears and give me a reason me to care anyway, and this thing simply has nothing to offer.

I’d call “No Matter What” a marginal upgrade over “World For Two,” but it still only rises to the level of forgettable radio filler, and only increases my doubts that King Calaway truly has a future in country music. Their sound is a bit more on-track than before, but their vocals are unmoving and the writing is unimpressive,  and on a chart that’s seen a sharp spike in quality over the last few weeks, I don’t think this is enough to make people sit up and pay attention. This group may be a manufactured supergroup with some serious built-in advantages, but if they don’t find better material to release than this, it’s not going to matter.

Rating: 5/10. Unless you’re a wedding DJ, feel free to let this pass you by.