Song Review: Johnny McGuire, “I Can’t Even”

Yeah…I think I preferred Jordan Walker.

After seven years of kicking around Nashville with only the really-can’t-call-it-a-hit “‘Til Tomorrow” to show for it, Walker McGuire finally called it quits roughly a year ago today, with Walker planning to focus on songwriting and Jordan McGuire continuing on as a solo act. The decision was a confusing one: As the lead singer of their singles, Walker was the clear Ronnie Dunn of the duo, so have much of a chance did McGuire have at success? Then again, Kix Brooks did have “Rock My World (Little Country Girl),” so perhaps McGuire had an ace up his sleeve?

Spoiler alert: McGuire put his cards on the table…and wound up with deuce-five offsuit.

Walker McGuire never had the most distinct sound in the world, but McGuire’s leadoff single “I Can’t Even” feels like the mid-2010s throwback that nobody wanted. It’s the underwhelming combination of a stock Metro-Bro sound, a bad Kip Moore impression, and yet another watered-down “Break Up In A Small Town” story that simply fails to stand out the crowd.

The warning lights start flashing from the opening notes, as the production greets you with the same clean, guitar-heavy mix and restrained drum machine (which becomes less restrained, although no louder, when the real drums eventually jump in) that everyone was leaning on five years ago, and while the electric axes are a bit higher-pitched than those Florida Georgia Line and company were leaning on back in the day, the tempo, cadence, and spacious arena-ready effects give me flashbacks to the “classic” Bro sound of the era. Even with the guitar tone shift, the overall vibe remains dark and ominous thanks to the song’s heavy reliance on minor chords, giving it an “Aldean light” feel that comes across as incredibly generic and derivative, and not only is there nothing here that causes the song to stick in the listener’s mind, but the deliberate drains away whatever energy the sound creates and make it plod along lifelessly from start to finish. Given the trouble Walker McGuire had defining their own sound outside the context of their peers, perhaps it’s no surprise that this song already sounds like you’ve heard it a hundred time before, and that it doesn’t stand out any more now than it did then.

After hearing McGuire step up to the mic, I can see why Wheelhouse kept featuring Walker as the lead singer: McGuire’s voice is only slightly smoother than Moore’s or Brantley Gilbert’s, and not only does his raspy performance start grating on your nerves quickly, but when the harmony vocals (which are inexplicably marinated in vocal effects) finally jump in, it makes McGuire sound like a freaking robot (especially when the unnecessary low harmony jumps in for a line or two on the chorus). Without Walker blocking for him up front, McGuire’s lack of charisma and tone are exposed, and instead of connecting with the audience and making them feel his pain, he has them covering their ears and imploring him to shut his mouth. He just can’t make me care about the narrator’s anguish (and considering that the other person is heavily hinted to be at fault, that’s not a good sign), and “I Can’t Even” get through one playthrough without wishing the next song would jump in and cut him off.

The lyrics here are the story of a heartbroken narrator who “can’t even” do anything without being reminded of a partner that walked away from their relationship. You can probably guess the story from here: The narrator can’t drive around, listen to the radio, or grab a drink at their favorite nightspot without thinking about what used to be. These sorts of songs were a dime a dozen back in the day (and they’re starting to make a comeback lately), and this track’s lack of detail, wit, and novelty means it can’t make a case for listening to it over its competition. (The “I can’t even” hook feels more forced than clever, and the Hemingway reference is more throwaway than novel.) In truth, there are some hooks here that a more-capable artists could latch onto and make the song a bit more emotional and meaningful, but McGuire’s performance isn’t strong enough to lift the lyrics beyond forgettable mediocrity. It’s not a terrible song, but it’s not terribly good either, and requires a lot of support from the other players here that it just doesn’t get.

“I Can’t Even” understand why someone thought this track would be a goo way to re-introduce Johnny McGuire to the public. The production is dated and stale, the lyrics are dull and weak, and McGuire’s performance builds a better case against a mainstream career than for one. I don’t see either the song or McGuire sticking around for very long, and given the number of faceless male singers that have invaded Nashville over the last decade, I can live with that.

I miss Jordan Walker already.

Rating: 5/10. Pass.