I’m confused: Exactly which “Lady” is this song directed at?
For a guy who’s started his major-label career with six consecutive No. 1 singles (“Sleep Without You” wound up as a Mediabase-only #1), Brett Young has surprisingly little hype or buzz to his name (for comparison, Thanos only has only one more #1, yet has been the king of country music for a while now). Despite having the perfect single to release in our troubled times, Young and Big Machine decided to close the book on the Ticket To L.A. era (too bad; the title track would have made for a decent single too) and bring out a fresh serving of music in the form of “Lady,” the presumed leadoff single for Young’s next project. It’s a decent song that’s tries to sell itself as an ode to his newborn daughter, but the song seems far more centered on the mother than the child, making it feel like a low-key Boyfriend country track in disguise. It’s okay, but I still think dropping “Don’t Wanna Write This Song” would have been a better choice.
The vaunted “Caliville” sound from Young’s debut disc had already started to fade into a generic Metropolitan ballad on Ticket To L.A., and that trend continues on “Lady.” The track opens with a sound of a heartbeat from an ultrasound machine (which doesn’t match the song’s tempo and honestly doesn’t add anything to the track) before giving way to the serious piano that drives the melody the rest of the way. Said piano is backed by the predictable string section and a restrained percussion line that appears to blend real and synthetic instruments, with some electric guitars tossed in by the first chorus to offer a few random stabs and a solo that mostly just exists. It’s got a spacious and serious vibe that fits the subject matter fairly well, and it generates just enough energy to keep from bogging down, but it also feels like I’ve heard this mix a million times before, and there’s nothing here that really grabs the listener’s attention. It’s okay, but it’s nothing special.
Young is a talented and charismatic performer (and he was the only thing keeping “Catch” from falling into the gutter), but he doesn’t quite nail the balancing act between mother and child here. Technically speaking, Young delivers an easy, effortless performance that easily covers the minimal range, flow, and power demands of the track, but it’s the emotional side of the song that feels a little out of sorts. One one hand, Young is believable in the narrator’s role, he certainly seems to care about both women in the song, and he does a nice job subtly referencing his own fears and insecurities as a father as he goes along. On the other hand, he gushes over his partner so darn much that the kid kind of gets lost in the shuffle and the song starts to feel like one of those sleazy Boyfriend tracks where the guy just won’t leave the girl alone. Despite the commitment the parents obviously have to each other and their daughter, Young’s performance sticks so close to the Boyfriend lane that the listener really feel that commitment in the vocals. Once again, this falls into the good-but-not-great category, and doesn’t quite live up to the song’s potential.
There’s an old saying that if you’re try to do two things you really end up doing neither (Exhibit A: this country music and Nintendo blog), but that’s only if you devote equal time and attention to each thing. That’s definitely not what happens with these lyrics (or this blog, for that matter): The narrator gives us a brief glimpse at the ultrasound before spending the rest of the song gushing over the mother, going on and on about her patience and her tear-drying abilities and how “She’ll hear you, she’ll hold you, she’ll help you through”… I mean, that’s great and all, but it’s so over-the-top that you forget that the baby even exists. (Also, I’m a little wary about the way the narrator’s minimizes their own role in this process: I get that you’re afraid that you’ll suck as a parent, but nevertheless you do have a role to play—as good as the mother is, she can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything!) Most songs is this vein try to visualize who the baby will be and all the things they’ll do in life (think Brad Paisley’s “Anything Like Me”), but here the daughter is nothing more than a vehicle for the father to highlight the mother’s amazingness. The sheer one-sidedness of the writing makes the listener question just who this song is actually supposed to be a tribute for.
“Lady” boils down to a solid premise with relatively poor execution: The sound is cookie-cutter and indistinguishable, the writing deifies the mother at the expense of the child, and Brett Young comes across as just another Boyfriend country artist singing the praises of his beloved. Despite all this, the song still qualifies as the best thing I’ve heard in over a month, and if it’s really a Boyfriend country song in disguise, it’s one of the best songs that trend has ever produced. Still, my expectations for Young are a bit higher, and after hearing this, I’m concerned that album #3 won’t be any more impactful on country music than Ticket To L.A. was. It’s not bad, but it could have been a lot better.
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see what you think.