Wait…did Thanos just copy off the Hot Country Knights?
I’ve generally been underwhelmed by Luke Combs’s work thus far, but aside from covering more-salient topics à la his pandemic release “Six Feet Apart,” the most-effective way for him to get my attention is to lean into the 90s nostalgia and deliver a rollicking good time as he did on “When It Rains It Pours.” However, after delivering his eighth consecutive #1 song with his Eric Church collab “Does To Me,” Combs decided to go back to the neotraditional well for his next release “Lovin’ On You.” Although the song itself is really nothing special, calling this “well-executed” would be an understatement, as Combs and his producer put together the best homage to the muscular neotraditional sound of the early 1990s since Dierks Bentley’s made-up throwback band, turning a run-of-the-mill love song into a fun time for all.
The production ramps up quickly, quickly expanding from Comb’s typical guitar-and-drum mix to include a piano and steel guitar, giving off strong vibes of a Brooks & Dunn or Travis Tritt single from the early 90s (and thus passing the sniff test when Combs professes his love for B&D B-sides in the first verse). The electric guitars are a bit rougher than you might expect, but they still manage to capture that rollicking vibe that defined the rock-infused side of the genre back in the day. (Still no fiddles, though…) While the mix gets dangerously close to ‘wall of noise’ territory, especially when the guitars ramp up on the chorus, the individual instruments are still clear and distinct enough to pick out during the chorus swells. The combination of the bright tones and higher volumes compensate for the relative lack of tempo (which is best described as ‘deliberate,’ but wouldn’t have been out of place during the 90s either), and provide a ton of energy from start to finish (it doesn’t generate momentum simply because the mix starts with all the momentum it needs). The result is a fun, celebratory atmosphere that complements the lyrics perfectly and make the track a good time for all.
You don’t reach Thanos’s exalted position in country music without some serious charm, but this is a strong vocal performance even by Combs’s standards. The song deserves some credit for setting him up for success: The range and flow demands are minimal, the power meter is easily filled, and the song asks Combs to be nothing more than a gool ol’ boy who loves his partner, which is basically his default setting. (If there’s anything I would knock him for, it’s the lack of vocal clarity that can make it hard to make out the words at points, particularly that “I’m a junkie for your midnight moves” line.) There’s an overwhelming sense of happiness in Combs’s delivery that tells the audience he’s having an absolute blast behind the mic, and you just can’t help but smile along with him. Combs’s enthusiasm goes a long way towards elevating the track and turning it into a memorable experience.
The lyrics…well, it’s a good thing the sound and singer are so on point, but the writing is a bit lackluster. The narrator spends most of their time reading off of the typical country checklist and saying they like all these things (fishing, drinking, hunting, smoking, hearing old country songs, wearing old cowboy boots, driving old cars, and even golfing), but they love “lovin’ on you.” It’s a weak hook that caps off a generic laundry list, punctuated by that “junkie for my midnight moves” line that’s honestly a bit more “eww” than “ooh.” Beyond that…well, there’s nothing beyond that, making the song feel a bit lazy and uninspired (did they really need four writers to put this together?). However, the lyrics accomplish two important tasks: They elevate the song above a Cobronavirus party track by giving the song a purpose that justifies its celebratory feel (even if it’s just another love song), and they’re lightweight enough that it’s easily elevated by a strong performance from everything around him, which is exactly the case here.
Ultimately, “Lovin’ On You” combines the principles of Russell Dickerson’s “Every Little Thing” and Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert’s “Drowns The Whiskey”: A song doesn’t have to be novel to be good—it just needs to be well-constructed and super fun. The lyrics are bland and a bit disappointing, but both Combs and his producer bring their A-games to the table, turning the track into a enjoyable 90s tribute with more than enough love to go around. This is the version of Thanos that I want to see rule the world of country music, someone who’s not afraid to go old-school to get their point across. (Wait, if neotraditional country is old-school, than that makes me just plain old. Curses…) Combs remains the clear king of country music right now, and while I’m not always happy with his output, it’s nice to hear him using his powers for good for a change.
Rating: 7/10. This one’s worth the price of admission.