Cole Swindell is good enough to do his own thing, so why does he insist on sounding like everyone else?
Swindell’s All Of It album wound up being none of what country music was looking for: Despite their decent peaks, “Break Up In The End” and “Love You Too Late” both required a long, laborious climb up the charts to achieve them, effectively sapping all of the momentum he had from the You Should Be Here era. Both Swindell and the album tried to be too many things and would up being nothing, leading me to pen an open letter to the artist telling him that he needed to put his foot down and find a consistent artistic identity so that listeners knew what to expect from him. We won’t know for some time whether or not Swindell has made that call yet, but we’ve got our first piece of evidence with “Single Saturday Night,” the presumed leadoff single for his upcoming fourth album, and unfortunately the song is a return to Swindell’s Bro-Country roots in the wake of the resurgent Cobronavirus trend. The track is really a microcosm of his career thus far: It can’t decide if it’s a standard party track or something more serious, and winds up being an ineffective version of both.
The first sign of trouble is the production, which begins as an unapologetically synthetic mix with atmospheric synths, a slick electric guitar, Grady Smith’s favorite snap track, and an amplified dobro tossed in for flavor. Some rougher, more-conventional guitars and drums join in on the first chorus and take over the melody-carrying duties, but they’re the same instruments everyone else leans on in the genre, and thus the mix winds up feeling more generic than anything else. The vibe here is a bit awkward: There’s not a lot of energy or tempo here and thus it doesn’t work as a party song, but the instrument tones are so dark that it really doesn’t feel like a love song either (for a song in which you find the partner of your dreams, this mix is a real downer). It’s a sound that fails to mesh with the subject matter (not that the writing this confused could be worked with anyway), and it just kind of goes through the motions without leaving any impression on the listener.
Swindell does a slightly better job of setting the tone than the producer, but it still doesn’t amount to much in the end. His performance is fine from a technical perspective (the song doesn’t push him out of his comfort zone), and he at least attempts to shift his delivery from the despair of the opening verse to the elation of finding his forever love. Attempting, however, isn’t the same thing of succeeding, and his slight hint of happiness is completely drowned out by the production and isn’t even noticeable unless you really dig in and go searching for it. While I wouldn’t call the performance mailed-in, it’s a lot weaker than I would expect from an artist like Swindell, who has the flexibility to walk the absurd tightrope that is the writing here and make it work. (He also comes up short in the commitment department: He insists that this is a forever love, but the sound screams “just another pick-up song” behind him.) As good as Swindell is, he can’t do it alone, and just being passable here isn’t enough to elevate this track.
The lyrics here share an unfortunate amount of content with many Boyfriend country tracks, as the narrator sees someone and immediately declares that this person is their soulmate. Thankfully, there’s at least a hint that the offer was accepted by both parties this time, as the initial event is placed in the past (that was the narrator’s “last single Saturday night,” and now the pair wakes up to go to church together and all their old partying buddies miss them). Unfortunately, there’s also a bit of Bro-Country drivel here (the woman is just presented to us as “pretty red lips working on a white claw,” and with my OCD I can’t decide if I’m bothered more by the objectification of the “shaking to a little” line or that the line is never finished and we never find out what they’re shaking to). Beyond this, all the imagery (from the bar to the church) is all stock footage, and there’s nothing here that really distinguishes the track from the fifty others written in this same vein. In other words, the writing here feels like the worst of all worlds, and fails to give the audience any reason to pay attention or even justify its existence.
In a word, “Single Saturday Night” is a nothingburger: The sound is neither fun nor emotional, the writing is neither clever nor meaningful, and Cole Swindell turns in an uncompelling performance that fails to sell the track to the audience. I don’t know if this song will be a harbinger of Swindell’s future direction (as a creation of the Bro-Country era, he’ll always have a portion of his fanbase screaming for stuff like “Flatliner”), but if it is, it doesn’t strike me as a very promising one. This thing is nothing but radio filler, and if Swindell wants to reclaim his momentum in country music, he’ll have to do better than this.
Rating: 5/10. Definitely not his best work.