*sigh* Et tu, Darius Rucker?
Rucker may have begun his musical journey at the frontman for Hootie and the Blowfish, but one could argue that he’s actually had more success as a solo country artist: The Blowfish’s peak only lasted for three years in the mid-90s and is mostly based on the strength of Cracked Rear View, whereas Rucker has scored eight No.1 hits across a decade in country music and has become the second-most-successful Black artist in the genre’s history (…well, in terms of official chart success—Charley Pride is the clear No. 1 by nearly every metric, but Ray Charles was mostly excluded from the country charts despite his acclaimed Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music albums, and there are many influential Black performers from the early days of the genre who’ve never gotten the credit they deserve). However, Rucker is 54 now, and his chart numbers have become less consistent over the last few years (after “If I Told You” and “For The First Time” reached #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart, “Straight To Hell” only made it to #40, and the Blowfish’s reunion single “Hold On” only rebounded to #30.) An aging artist starting to see their relevancy slip is a prime candidate for trend-hopping, and that’s what we get from “Beers And Sunshine,” the presumed leadoff single for Rucker’s next solo project. It’s a paint-by-numbers Cobronavirus track with the same old denial of reality that everyone else it pitching, and offers nothing but Rucker’s own personality as a reason to tune in.
Rather than puling directly from the loud, electronic Bro Country playbook, the production here takes a cue from Luke Bryan’s “One Margarita” and aims for something more acoustic and atmospheric. The song opens with a choppy acoustic guitar, a simple clap track, and some oddly-bent tones (maybe from a synthesizer? It’s hard to tell),creating an arrangement so sparse that you could argue that Rucker himself is carrying the melody with his vocals. The choruses sound a bit more conventional/generic with the addition of a prominent drum set, but rather than cranking up the volume with heavier guitars, the mix opts for some lighter tones with more texture, featuring ukelele chords and steel guitar stabs…and yes, a token slow-rolling banjo too. (Brad Paisley isn’t credited anywhere on this track, but the tone and riffs of the electric guitar solo are heavily reminiscent of his work.) The result is a relaxing, slightly-tropical vibe that feels springier than its slow tempo would lead you to believe, although its signal strength falls short of Bryan’s track. I wouldn’t call it a terribly memorable mix, but it won’t offend your sensibilities like other Cobronavirus arrangements.
There’s a reason Rucker has been able to successfully navigate multiple genres: He’s a darn good vocalist with disarming charisma and distinct tone. For all its limitations, “Beers And Sunshine” at least avoids putting him in any awkward positions (he covers the limited range and flow demands without breaking a sweat), and while the narrator here is as flat as Paper Mario (and nearly as predictable), Rucker infuses them with enough personality through his delivery to at least make them likeable, albeit not terribly interesting. What’s missing, however, is that extra something to make the song memorable: Rucker channels the relaxed feel of the song so well that is encourages the listener to pay less attention to the song rather than more, and keeps the track from really sticking in their mind. It’s the sort of performance that puts a smile on your face for a few seconds, but then gets washed away like an ocean sandcastle by the next song. (The harmony vocals are the opposite of the guitar solo: They’re credited to a certain group that can’t seem to get their name right, but they’re honestly pretty nondescript—you’d never know it was them.) For someone in Rucker’s position, it needs a lot more staying power.
As usual, the weak spot for tracks like this one is the writing: It’s the same old Cobronavirus song-and-dance we’ve heard a million times before, with the narrator trying to unplug from reality via the usual recipe of drinking, boating, and bonfires. (You really have to question the timing of this track: This is clearly a summer song, so why release it in August and put it on track to peak in the middle of winter?) The “only BS I need is beers and sunshine” hook is groan-inducing, and not only does does the song espouse the same old nihilistic, defeatist attitude towards the rest of the world, but the whole “get our friends and hit the lake” idea comes across as both unimaginative and a little irresponsible these days. (Come on guys, the pandemic’s been raging since at least March—the whole “it was written/recorded way before then” excuse doesn’t fly anymore.) There’s just nothing here for the listener to hold on to: No clever wordplay, no interesting observations, no reassurance that things will get better… The song offers nothing but shallow escapism, and there’s enough of that on the airwaves already.
“Beers And Sunshine” isn’t bad for a Cobronavirus track, but isn’t good for a country song either. The production tries to be a little more organic and Darius Rucker is the same charming vocalist that he always was, but at the end of the day this is just another “forget the world and drink yourself into oblivion” track, and gives the audience no reason to pay attention to it. Rucker’s at the age and point in his career where he needs to be careful: Nashville is going to start looking to put him out to pasture, and forgettable songs like this aren’t going to buy him any time.
Rating: 5/10. *double sigh*