I don’t get it: If Jimmie Allen wanted to move on to new music, why did he give us something that sounds this old?
Despite a lengthy nine-month climb, Allen’s debut single “Best Shot” arrived at #1 with some solid momentum and had to be forcibly removed from the Top 10 before it went recurrent. That momentum, however, was summarily squashed by “Make Me Want To,” which took over thirteen months to make the same trek and seemed to flatline at several points along the way (and honestly wasn’t good enough to deserve a #1 spot anyway). It’s safe to say that everyone from Allen to Stoney Creek to country radio was ready to move on from Mercury Lane, and Allen has returned with a fresh new single that sounds like…a mashup of 2014 and 1984? “This Is Us,” a duet with Noah Cyrus (better known as Miley’s younger sister) and the presumed leadoff single for Allen’s sophomore project, is a lukewarm love song that tries to stitch together every genre trend of the past decade (with some 80s pop thrown in for good measure), and it doesn’t offer a compelling reason for the listener to pay any attention.
Whoever produced this thing hasn’t bothered to change their calendar for the past five years or so, because this mix is straight out of the Metro-Bro playbook: A somber piano (serious song alert!), a slick electric guitar, an in-your face drum machine that winds up being the defining sound of the song, and a deliberate choral cadence driven by a wall of generic guitar-and-drum noise and (gulp) a token banjo. (There’s a steel guitar and dobro here, but they’re buried deep in the arrangement and barely noticeable.) On top of this, everything from the instruments to the vocals are slathered in echoey effects that make the whole thing sound a power ballad from the 1980s. Unfortunately, whatever power this thing generates feels hollow and artificial, and the mix doesn’t provide the groundswell of energy needed to launch this track into the atmosphere (in truth, it barely generates any energy at all). Instead of feeling heartfelt and passionate, the emotion here is as forced and synthetic as the beat itself, and never stretches beyond the level of bland background noise.
Allen sounds a bit different here than on his previous singles: The added effects may make his voice project a bit more, but they seems to diminish his vocal presence and detract from his charisma. Where he felt vulnerable on “Best Shot” and slimy on “Make Me Want To,” on this track he feels stoic and matter-of-fact, delivering his lines without a whole lot of feeling behind them (especially on the chorus, where he basically forces Cyrus to bring enough passion to the table to cover both of them). The listener finds themselves stuck behind a virtual pane of glass, able to hear Allen’s lines but not really able to feel them, and they’re left mostly unmoved as a result. For her part, Cyrus does a passable Lauren Alaina impression (honestly, the whole song gives me strong “What Ifs” flashbacks), but there’s nothing terribly distinct or memorable about her voice, and I’m not a fan of the song’s penchant for trapping her deep in her lower range. Her performance is the better of the two artists by a hair, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to hear either of them on this track.
The writing is ripped straight from country music’s redemptive playbook: The narrator is a recovering dudebro who lived life from sundown to sunup, and is now realizing how foolish and empty their life was (and how much better it is now that they’ve found true love), and now feels the need to tell us all about is in the vaguest way possible. The narrator references relationships that failed and dumb things that they’ve dumb, but they never actually give us any specifics, giving the audience nothing to visualize and picture just how bad the narrator’s former life was (which also keeps them from relating to the speaker or sharing in their pain and joy). The “this is us” hook is not only weak, but it seems out of place on a track that spends most of its time looking back on the failures on the past and almost no time looking forward to the future. (Thankfully, while there’s nothing here that really screams “duet,” the verses can at least be split without creating much awkwardness.) Without any true emotional pull or forward vision, the song just kind of sits there, hoping that the listener can fill in the cavernous gaps in its lyrics to give it some actual meaning.
“This Is Us” is the latest in a string of mediocre I’ve had the misfortune of hearing recently, and while I’d still take it over “Make Me Want To,” it never rises above the threshold of bland elevator music for me. The production is dated, the writing is vague, Jimmie Allen and Noah Cyrus are uninspiring, and no one convinces me that there’s actually love in the air. It’s nothing more than radio filler, and as much as I enjoyed “Best Shot,” I would have been less enthused had I known it was literally Allen’s best shot and things would be all downhill from there.
Rating: 5/10. *yawn*