Sorry Kane Brown, but just like our post-coronavirus society, nothing’s going to be “Cool Again” without some serious effort from all parties.
It wasn’t that long ago that Brown was a provocative, genre-blending superstar-in-the-making, enthralling his audiences and infuriating his critics. In the last few years, however, he seems to have faded into the background, becoming just another country artist trying to get their name onto the genre A-list (a list that currently only has Thanos‘s name written on it ten times). Now, looking to reclaim some of his lost hype, Brown and RCA have closed the book on the Experiment era (which never felt that experimental in the end) and introduced “Cool Again” as the presumed leadoff single for his eventual third album. Unfortunately, while the song is a return to the synthetic Metropolitan style that Brown rode into Nashville on in the first place, it’s no more interesting than his last offering, featuring a nasty sound/subject mismatch and a narrator who isn’t terribly keen on self-reflection.
If there’s one thing I got wrong when thinking about what COVID-19 would do to country music (at least so far), it’s my prediction that artists would return to more serious topics in their music. Instead we’re getting upbeat romps like “One Margarita” and “No I In Beer,” and while “Cool Again” isn’t a party song, you’d never know from the production, which has the same bright, beachy vibe and the above singles. It’s also a return to Brown’s previous slick, synthetic Metropolitan style: The melody is primarily driven by slick, sharp electric guitars and a drum machine, with only an effected dobro and some hand-played drums giving the song any real texture. The bright tones, faster tempo, and summery flair of the mix make this feel happy and upbeat, which is the absolute opposite of what the writing is trying to say. (There are a fair amount of minor chords here and the verses feel a slight bit dark, but they seem to be minimized by the volume and energy of the chorus and don’t add a ton of seriousness to the atmosphere.) All in all, this sound makes the song feel like it’s trying to be both happy and sad, and it winds up being neither.
I feel like I’m one of the few people who actually thinks Brown is a charismatic singer, but I’m not terribly impressed by his performance here. The song does him no favors by keeping him in his decent-but-nondescript upper range, giving him no chance to show off the deeper vocals that caught peoples’ ears in the first place. He’s still got decent range, but I’m not really feeling his performance as a narrator who’s hoping to hit rewind on a relationship that went wrong. His delivery strikes me as more stoic than serious, and it lacks the heartfelt commitment that we saw from Old Dominion’s “Some People Do” (the lyrics admittedly deserve some blame for this as well). The listener doesn’t get the sense that the narrator is ready to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work this time around—the vibe is more “hey, let’s hook up again so I can have fun again!” (Also, whoever decided to cast the Transformers as backup singers here needs to be locked out of the control room for a few months.) Brown has the skills to pull off a song like this, but he chose not to use them here, and the track suffers as a result.
As bad as I found the lyrics to Parker McCollum’s “Pretty Heart” to be, they did one major thing that the lyrics here do not: They at least considered (in the shallowest way possible) their own culpability in the breakup that occurred. There’s no such reflection in “Cool Again”: The narrator is in full-blown nostalgia mode, reminiscing about all the fun things they did with their partner (which apparently was just drinking and having sex) and wishing they could just go back to doing them all again. I mean, I’m sure you enjoyed all that, but there’s probably a reason the relationship ended, and it’s probably because the other person wanted more from their partnership. Just hitting rewind on a failed relationship isn’t going to work; you need to go beyond saying “Where the hell did we go wrong?” and actually figure out where the hell you went wrong, or at least pledge to change whatever needs to be changed when you figure it out. Beyond this, there really isn’t a whole lot to the song: There are many questions, no answers, and even fewer scenes to collect evidence towards these answers (and the hook gets really repetitive really fast). “Pretty Heart” may have needed a lot more drafts, but this song would have benefited from another round of editing itself.
“Cool Again” is actually an apt metaphor for Kane Brown’s career at this point: His initial buzz is gone, and he’s going back to basics in an attempt to reclaim it. However, it’s going to take more than lukewarm radio filler like this to pull it off: The writing needs more detail and depth, Brown needs more charm and charisma in his delivery, and the producer needs to realize exactly what kind of song they’re making a mix for. Without better execution in the studio, Brown’s once-red-hot career could wind up ice cold before long.
Rating: 4/10. Not cool at all.