Song Review: Parmalee & Blanco Brown, “Just The Way”

Don’t look now, but it’s time for our yearly dose of Parmalee pop-country. Just like last time, you won’t taste a thing.

Parmalee has released a single song every year since its mainstream debut in 2012, but the last time they popped up at the Korner was in 2017 with “Sunday Morning.” The song barely cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard airplay charts, and since then the group’s yearly single hasn’t popped up on either the charts of my radar (which is probably a good thing, given how critics ripped 2018’s “Hotdamalama” to shreds).  The group caught a break, however, when the genre turned towards their style with the Boyfriend country movement, and they’re back again this year teaming with Blanco Brown to release their latest single “Just The Way.” Sadly, you know “just the way” this is going to turn out: The song is yet another indistinguishable Boyfriend country track both and sound and subject matter, and is not interesting enough to warrant further inspection.

Let’s be honest: You don’t need me to tell how this soundsyou can hear the production in your head right now. The opening piano and drum machine (of course there’s a clap track! Why wouldn’t there be one?), the guitar-and-drum wall of noise that hit you on the chorus, the token steel guitar that gets mostly drowned out on the chorus, the periodic minor chords that make the song feel more serious than celebratory…you know, the same darn mix every track in this lane uses. (Seriously, I hope Nashville got a discount on this arrangement for buying in bulk.) There’s a spacious, arena-ready feel to the sound, but the emotion feels a bit tempered and lukewarm due to the darker instrument tones the mix relies on. Don’t listen too hard for that extra special something that catches the listener’s ear and drawn them in, because it’s not here. It’s yet another soundalike song that passes in one ear and out the other without leaving any trace of its passing.

Brown is the only big addition to Parmalee’s bland formula, and to his credit his vocals are a real revelation: Where “The Git Up” kept him mostly trapped in his lower range, “Just The Way” turns him loose and allow him to showcase some surprising tone in his upper range (even if he sounds progressively more auto-tuned at the song continues). In contrast, Parmalee lead singer Matt Thomas showcases nothing distinct or unique in his delivery (stick any of Nashville’s faceless male artists behind the mic, and the song would sound the exact same), and while he exhibits enough charisma to give you the sense of his devotion to the other person, he doesn’t let the listener share those feelings, and doesn’t bring anything of note to the table to convince the listener to pay attention. The vocal chemistry between Thomas and Brown is also questionable, as their voices don’t blend together very well when they harmonize. (The rest of Parmalee suffers from the same problem as Thomas: Replace them with a bunch of session players, and neither the instruments nor the backing vocals would sound any different.) In short, the vocals feel as manufactured as the sound, and even Brown’s surprising vocal turn can’t mask the aggressive blandness of everyone else involved.

And then the lyrics…seriously, did it really take three people to write this drivel? You already know what’s coming: The narrator likes their partner “just the way God made you,” and then the stock footage reel comes out: The morning bed-head, the dimples, the re-watched movies, the drinking…even the hotel pool break-in is starting to feel passé. There’s absolutely zero wit or cleverness here (the “let my eyes be your mirror” line feels unnecessarily awkward), and the limp “just the way” hook gets real repetitive real fast. The whole thing resembles one of those ransom notes made from cutting letters out of magazines: A bunch of bits and pieces borrowed from a bunch of different sources, thrown together in a desperate attempt to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, we’ve heard this story a million times before, and it’s no more memorable now than it was the first time.

“Just The Way” is a sad example of how Nashville works these days, pumping out rehashed, derivative works that all says the same thing. Everything here, from the production to the lyrics to Parmalee themselves, is bland, generic, and utterly forgettable, and not even letting Blanco Brown cut loose a little on the verses can change this. In 2017, I closed my review by saying “Let’s hope Parmalee can give us something a bit more interesting next year”; today, let’s hope no one bothers to give Parmalee another chance to do so, because they don’t deserve one.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*