Song Review: Sam Hunt (ft. Webb Pierce?), “Hard To Forget”

Honestly, this song feels a bit too easy to forget.

For a few years during the 2010s, traditionalists declared that Sam Hunt was public enemy number one in country music. Since achieving world domination with “Body Like A Back Road” back in 2017, however, Hunt has maintained a fairly low profile, releasing only one single a year (and 2018’s “Downtown’s Dead” was DOA and only made it to #15 on Billboard’s airpay chart). Unfortunately, the rise of Boyfriend country seems to have awakened Hunt from his hibernation, and “Kinfolks” rebounded to reach #2, raising the specter of another Hunt-dominated summer. Now, Hunt is back with “Hard To Forget,” and the early reviews have been less than enthusiastic, which made me nervous when the song was officially announced as his next single. In truth, however, he had nowhere to go but up after “Kinfolks,” and even a bizarrely-upbeat and ultimately-forgettable retelling of “Break Up In A Small Town” like this track counts as progress, even if it remains far from a track that’s worth your time.

I like to start my reviews by examining the production, which means it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Hunt’s head-scratching decision to open the song with the first verse of Webb Pierce’s 1953 hit “There Stands The Glass,” immediately chop it up and toss an in-your-face drum machine on top of it, and continuously sample lines of the verse throughout the entire track. Surprisingly, I think this turned out to be a good decision for the song—the sample provides pretty much the only melodic foundation the track has, and it convinced whoever mixed this thing to drop in a few more classical instruments (wait, there’s actual fiddle and dobro here?!) to augment the standard, sanitized acoustic and electric guitars. However, let’s be honest: All of this could have been done on its own without dragging Pierce’s song into the mix, and the sampled verse really doesn’t add anything to the arrangement, especially since the percussion is so loud in the mix that it overwhelms everything else. (At least Brad Paisley’s use of Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” fit with the carefree nature of the song, and it was more of a complementary piece of the mix.) It also doesn’t do anything to address the main problem with the sound, which is that it’s way too bouncy and upbeat for what seems like a melancholy subject. The narrator is whining about how hard their ex is making it to forget them, but the bright instrument tones and toe-tapping tempo makes it feel like they’re singing with a smile, making their complaints feel completely disingenuous. In other words, sampling a 50s icon could have worked in another situation, but here, it’s just a distraction from the mess the producer left in the mixing booth.

For once, Hunt’s ultimate undoing is not his singing technique: His delivery is completely conventional this time around, and he shows off (dare I say it?) decent tone and solid charisma, letting the narrator share in the good vibes he gives off. The question, however, is why he chooses to project such comfort and happiness while telling us that his ex is always on his mind and torturing him with memories at every turn. I didn’t like “Break Up In A Small Town,” but at least Hunt was appropriately moody and dour about the whole thing—here, he gives the audience the distinct impression that he actually enjoys his current situation, making the lyrics ring hollow and the whole song feel a little surreal. (Maybe Hunt’s just a glutton for punishment?) In the bizarro world that is the planet Earth in 2020, Hunt seems to have made noticeable strides as a performer, but that’s the major reason this song doesn’t work: As likable and fun as this “new” Hunt seems to be, there’s absolutely zero synergy between the writing and the vocals, making you wonder what the point of him complaining was in the first place.

Hunt has shown flashes of decent writing in the past, but I question why he brought out this song after he told this same darn story four years ago: The narrator has an ex that seems to be needling him from a distance with her memory and her wardrobe choices, making her “hard to forget.” The story isn’t quite as raw this time around, and the wordplay’s a lot better here (“I got a bottle of whiskey but I got no proof,” “I swear your number’s all my phone wants to call”), but the details are a bit more washed-out (we’ve got from “that white Maxima with the sticker on the back” to “your car,”) and there’s no indication of what or who actually caused the relationship to fail (so who exactly in the villain here?). Ironically, there’s nothing terribly “hard to forget” about anything that’s said (it’s the beat that leaves the biggest impression), and not even the unexpected inclusion of Pierce keeps this song from being quickly flushed from the listener’s mind.

“Hard To Forget” might have a catchy beat, but it’s completely nonsensical as a song: It’s a tug of war with Sam Hunt and his producer on one end of the rope and the lyrics on the other, and while the two-person team wins out in their quest for summer-song domination à la “Body Like A Back Road,” they can’t cover up the fact that the writing has almost no connection to the rest of the track. Amazingly, this mess still constitutes a step in the right direction for Hunt, and there are admittedly some things to like here, but none of the pieces actually fit together (especially Webb Pierce’s surprise addition, which is never truly justified), and we’re left with a song that simply exists, for better or worse.

But hey, at least people will know who this guy is again:

Rating: 5/10. Wait, what song was I reviewing again? I’ve already forgotten.