If you’re going to pull a head fake, don’t do it halfway like this, because you’re audience won’t follow.
By the numbers, Russell Dickerson has carved out a respectable little holding in Music City, with his first three singles from his debut album Yours reaching #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart. As much as I liked “Every Little Thing,” however, the song spent most of 2019 crawling up the charts, throwing a wet blanket on Dickerson’s momentum and hype as 2020 approached. Sensing that the time had come to turn the page, Dickerson is back now with the presumed leadoff single from his sophomore project, “Love You Like I Used To.” It’s a strange song that tries a reverse Thomas Rhett by deking towards a sad song before pivoting back to generic Boyfriend-country territory, but the fake is handled so poorly that the audience doesn’t really follow along, and is left more confused than anything else when the song finishes.
Let’s start with the production, which is perhaps the main culprit behind the failed reverse. The song opens with a semi-bright acoustic guitar and some spacious synth tones, but the riffs and the unorthodox IV-I-V-vi chord structure give the mix an unsettled and ominous feel (and the drum machine doesn’t help matters), which doesn’t raise any eyebrows because it fits the potential sad story of the first verse. When the deke hits, however, all the producer does is add a few washed-out, toneless electric guitars that barely add to the volume level, let alone the feel of the track. Not even some brighter strings (maybe a mandolin?) and an amped-up bridge solo add any life to the song, which means that while the narrator is professing their everlasting happiness, the one-note mix feels overly dour in comparison and makes the listener seriously doubt the narrator’s sincerity. I’ve heard some poor sound/subject matter pairings before, but I haven’t heard a mix undercut the writing this badly in quite some time, and it completely kills the mood of what seems like it could have been a decent track in a vacuum.
Dickerson doesn’t do the writing any favors either, as in his attempt to project more seriousness and depth, he loses all of the expressiveness and emotion he showed off on “Every Little Thing.” It’s as if there’s a wall between Dickerson and the mic: The listener can sense that he’s trying to pour his heart and soul into the song, but it doesn’t come through on the tape, and his tone and range feel artificially constrained and surprisingly flat. This also means that he lacks the punch to counter the poor framing of the production, and gets dragged down by the lifeless sound behind him. You just don’t get any sense of happiness from Dickerson’s delivery, and the performance feels a bit hollow and unbelievable as a result. I get the sense that Dickerson is the sort of artist who needs a lot of help from the producer to get his point across, and as well as the combination worked on “Every Little Thing,” it doesn’t work at all here.
The writing is probably the best part about the song, even if it spends much of its time in generic, overcooked territory. The narrator declares that they “don’t love you like I used to,” but instead of the usual yarn about a love gone cold, the writers borrow some ideas from Brad Paisley’s “Then” and declare that their feelings are even stronger now than in the beginning of the relationship. It’s an okay hook with some decent execution and even a few hints of wit thrown in (“What we got ain’t got no ending, like a band of solid gold”), but it also get too clever by half at points (lines like “But I keep fallin’ all in higher than I’ve ever been” and “gets as good as it gets old” sacrifice clarity for wordplay). Otherwise, the song mostly sticks to the Boyfriend country playbook while also staying annoyingly abstract and devoid of detail (we learn nothing about the other person, the scenario, etc.). It’s okay, but it’s not terribly memorable or passionate, and the listener has forgotten the track thirty seconds after it ends.
“Love You Like I Used To” makes we wish Russell Dickerson would sing songs like he used to, because this sterile, lifeless track isn’t a good look for him. The writing tried to set up a trick shot, but the producer never got the message, and Dickerson can’t rise above the mess to convince the audience to pay attention. In the end, the song goes nowhere and is nothing more than radio filler, and it’s a serious step down from “Every Little Thing” or even “Yours,” which leaves me wishing that Dickerson would release better tracks like he used to.
Rating: 5/10. Nothing to see here, folks.