Song Review: MacKenzie Porter, “These Days”

As a wise man once said, “There ain’t no future in the past.”

MacKenzie Porter is a Canadian entertainer who is probably better known as a TV star than a musician (her filmography is much longer than her discography), but she’s no stranger to the music business: Her debut album was released back in 2014, and she’s managed to notch a pair of #1 singles on the Canadian country charts within the last three years. Stateside success, however, has eluded her up to this point (I’ve found announcements of a 2018 EP, but no actual evidence that one was ever released), and I don’t it coming in 2020 with the release of her latest song “These Days.” The song is a same ol’ generic nostalgia trip we’ve been dragged through dozens of times, and nothing about the track motivates the listener to sit up and pay attention.

The production, for lack of a better term, feels recycled and indistinguishable from the rest of the radio. Its opens with a melancholy piano and Grady Smith’s favorite snap track, but by the first chorus it’s morphed into just another guitar-and-drum mix hitting us with an uninspired wall of noise. The instrument tones are both darker and fuzzier than they should be, causing them to all run together and blend into a dull, lifeless mixture that encourages the listener to simply tune out and wait for the next song to start. (The song’s over-reliance on minor chords doesn’t help matters either: I get that the narrator misses the old days, but the song sounds pretty dour even when reliving the good times.)  We got a bunch of these slick, overly-serious mixes back when the Metropolitan trend with still a thing, and the sound is no more interesting now than it was then.

Vocally, Porter reminds me a lot of Ashley Monroe, and her technical skills are admittedly pretty sharp: She drops to the verse lows and climbs to the chorus highs with ease, and her flow is both fast enough to handle the rapid-fire lyrics and clear enough that you can actually understand what she’s saying. Unfortunately, it’s the charisma department where she falls a bit short: As a narrator wistful for the good old days of her youth, she’s doesn’t sound terribly convincing, and her tone can feel a little deadpan when she’s busy blasting through the quicker portions of the song. Where Gabby Barrett brings a boatload of attitude to “I Hope” and Ingrid Andress forges an emotional connection with her audience on “More Hearts Than Mine,” Porter doesn’t bring enough feeling or personality to bear here, and feels like she’s telling someone else’s story instead of stepping up and owning the narrator’s role. There’s definitely promise here, but her potential isn’t fully realized on this track.

And then we get to the lyrics, which describe a youthful romance in the most painfully stock and cookie-cutter way ever. Most of the usual boxes are checked here: Trucks, cigarettes, beaches, fake IDs, back seats, small towns, the typical school hallway backdrop, and of course alcohol (although it’s only alluded to rather than actually drank here). The writing also falls into the same trap as Florida Georgia Line’s “I Love My Country”: The narrator claims that they were into “Throwback country, suckers for the old school,” despite the song sounding nothing like throwback country. The “those days, these days” punchline is fairly weak, and though there’s an underlying darkness to the narrator’s incessant focus on the past (this usually happens when they’re no hope for the future), it’s never meaningfully explored (in fact, it’s barely discussed at all). It’s a song that could have used a bit more reflection and present-tense imagery to set up a contrast between what was and what is, but instead we get a run-of-the-mill nostalgia trip that’s nothing to write home about.

“These Days” is a trip down memory lane that’s all too easy to forget, featuring nothing that’s bad or aggravating simply because there’s nothing here at all. Everything from the writing to the production to MacKenzie Porter’s performance are undistinguished and indistinguishable from its peers, and the song barely qualifies as radio filler as a result. The biggest indictment I can make is that this is the sort of song that one struggles to review because a) there’s nothing to talk about, and b) even in a shelter-at-home world, there are so many distractions that are much more interesting than this snoozefest. I don’t see gaining traction south of the Canadian border (or anywhere else, for that matter), and unless Porter can find some better material, I’m not optimistic about her chances of finding mainstream country success.

Rating: 5/10. Pass.