Song Review: Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle”

“Gabrielle” left Brett Eldredge because she was “wantin’ somethin’ more,” and frankly, I’m about to do the same.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what I would label “the lost generation” of 2010s country music stars, artists that came out of the gate with their hair on fire but have seen all their momentum evaporate in the last few years. While artists such as Kelsea Ballerini, Cole Swindell, and Brett Young have continued to fight an uphill battle filled with year-long #1 treks and short-circuited singles, Brett Eldredge decided to opt out of the struggle and basically disappeared from the genre after “Love Someone” took nearly a year just to limp to a #2 peak. While I admittedly really didn’t miss him during his hiatus, I still consider him to be one of the strongest vocalists in the genre, so I was mildly intrigued when he dropped a short-notice song “Gabrielle” as the presumed leadoff single to his eventual fourth album. Unfortunately, my reaction to “Gabrielle” is nearly the same as it was to “Love Someone,” as Eldredge once again squanders his talent telling an uninteresting story and winds up being far more boring than a singer of his caliber should ever be.

The production is the first upbeat piano-driven tune in a long while: It bright tones are a constant presence from start to finish, joined early on by an acoustic guitar some light (and very synthetic-sounding) percussion. The song eventually graduates to a full drum set and and background organ to give the mix a fuller sound, but they don’t add much to the volume level, and as a result we don’t get that slow swell to a crescendo that helps the track build energy and momentumin truth, the arrangement comes off as surprisingly flat despite its brightness. I’m also not sure how well the song fits the subject matter: The narrator is looking back at a romance that could’ve been, but the happy vibes given off by the production saps any feeling of reflection or nostalgia and makes the whole thing feel like a meaningless thought exercise (and if the narrator doesn’t care about the story, than why should the audience?). In the end, despite its optimistic tone, the whole thing feels like it only exists for existence’s sake, and isn’t worth investing time and energy into.

When a power voice like Eldredge or Chris Stapleton comes along, I want them to wow us by taking on challenging material that pushes their skills to the limit. Eldredge did that back in 2017 with “Something I’m Good At,” but he wasn’t rewarded for it, and ever since he’s stuck to safe, radio-friendly songs that are more likely to put you to sleep than anything else. “Gabrielle” is no exception: The track make next to no demands on his range, flow, and power, and in return Eldredge turns in a lighthearted performance that follows the same script of the production, and thus he doesn’t give the listener any sense that the relationship actually mattered to him. It feels more like the kind of meaningless, meandering musing that we’ve all been doing to pass the time while sheltering in place, and when he asks “can we just rewind it like it was before,” you don’t get the feeling that he actually means it. I declared in my “Love Someone” review that “with a voice like Brett Eldredge’s, he should never sound this boring,” but bored is exactly how he leaves us feeling here.

My biggest issue with the lyrics is that they really don’t tell much of a story here. Yes, we get the premise that the narrator is thinking back on a failed relationship and wondering if could have ever succeeded, but all we’re given is a pair of still images (one per verse) that don’t give us a ton of insight into what was going on: The other person had plans that the narrator didn’t see, they left to act of them, and…that’s it. There’s nothing about the things the couple used to do together or what the narrator is left doing now, no sense of how long this relationship lasted (or if it was even a thing at all, as lines like “Really made me feel like, like I could fall for you” makes you wonder if the narrator was just watching from a distance the whole time), and really no weight behind the narrator’s words (without Eldredge or the producer taking them seriously, they’re unable to stand on their own). Throw in the short chorus with the long, drawn-out “Ga-A-a-A-abrielle,” and the listener walks away feeling like the song is only half-written, and they aren’t interested in seeing how it ends.

“Gabrielle” is just more of the same bland schlock we were getting from Brett Eldredge before his hiatus, and it’s no more interesting now than it was then. The writing is too feeble to stand on its own, leaving the production and vocals to take the track in a direction that drains it of all its meaning and emotion. It doesn’t strike me as a song that’s going to change the trajectory of Eldredge’s career, leaving him stuck sitting in the waiting room next to Ballerini and Swindell waiting for a call to join country music’s A-list that isn’t coming.

Rating: 5/10. Ever since I said “country music in 2020 has actually been pretty good thus far,” I’ve given out exactly one score above a five and nothing above a six. Me and my big mouth…