Song Review: Old Dominion, “Never Be Sorry”

This is one of those moments when I really get irritated with country music.

Back in March, Old Dominion released “Some People Do,” a heartfelt declaration of maturation and pleas for understanding that I labeled as one of the best songs I’d heard all year. Country music, however, got caught up in the carefree nihilism of the Cobronavirus movement, and the song withered and died on the vine with only a mediocre #28 peak to show for it. The response of OD and RCA Nashville has been swift: “Never Be Sorry” has now been released as the fourth single from the band’s self-titled album, and the contrast couldn’t be more striking: Both this and “Some People Do” feature a broken relationship, but instead of a slow, emotional statement to try again and do better, “Never Be Sorry” kicks up the tempo, drains out much of the feeling, and takes a glass-half-full approach by celebrating the good times and ignoring the fact that they’re over. It’s not a terrible approach, but it’s definitely a few steps back from the band’s previous single. Unfortunately, if the radio won’t reward quality, I suppose you gotta do what you gotta do.

Back when I talked about Diamond Rio’s career, I noted how their distinct sound made them stand out from other acts on the radio. Old Dominion’s sound, however, isn’t nearly as distinct, and the conventional pop-tinged arrangement they bring to the table here is a prime example. You’ve got your usual slick electric guitar carrying the melody, some keyboards providing some background riffs, and a mix of real and synthetic percussion keeping time (I’ll give you three guesses as to whether or not a snap track appears, and the first two don’t count). The faster tempo and brighter instrument tones work to create a happy vibe with a lot of energy and even a catchy groove, but I’m really not sure it fits the subject matter that well. Reflecting on a failed relationship, even if you choose to remember the good times, requires a delicate balance of light and darkness to give listeners a full picture of the situation: You may never forget the good times, but the fact that they (and the relationship) are over has to hurt at least a little, right? Not here: The sound is unrelentingly positive, making it seems like the narrator isn’t that sorry about anything, not even the relationship ending. Looking on the bright side of things is all well and good, but I slapping a wannabe dance track on a song that runs the gamut on emotions doesn’t feel quite right.

Lead singer Matthew Ramsey suffers from the same problem as the sound: He chooses to focus on the positive and declare that he has no regrets for the relationship taking place, but he sticks to the positive party line so much that the listener starts to wonder how invested the narrator was in the relationship in the first place. Technically speaking, this is a solid performance: Ramsey has enough flow to handle the rapid-fire portions of the track without an problem, the range demands are minimal and keep him within him comfort zone, and he brings enough power to the table to deliver his line with conviction. Charisma-wise, however, this is a disappointment: When he says he’s sorry that the relationship ended, he doesn’t sound sorry about allin fact, he comes across as if he’s at peace with the whole thing, which makes you question how he could move on so quickly from a relationship he so clearly enjoyed. Furthermore, the ease with which I could imagine other artists doing this song (seriously, give this to Thomas Rhett and it would sound the exact same) and the return of the “decent-if-indistinguishable harmonies” I noted in my “Some People Do” review make the song feel more generic than it should, as if anyone could be behind the mic right now. It’s not a bad performance, but it’s not terribly good either, and it’s a step backwards for a group that’s been on the upswing recently.

Lyrically, the narrator finds themselves at the end of a good relationship gone bad, and while they’re sad its over, they will “never be sorry” for taking a chance on love. I at least appreciate that the writers at least the performers a chance to actually feel some remorse (“sorry the sky fell down, sorry I don’t know why all we do is apologize”), despite the fact that Ramsey and the producer completely flub the lines. However, the premise of the song just feels a bit awkward to me: I’m sure that there are good memories and good lessons to learn from the experience, but to express the narrator’s feelings in this way makes the relationship feel transactional, as if it were no more than a one-night stand (and the track’s focus on the physical expressions of love doesn’t help matters). I’m a bit torn on the turns of phrase as well: The hook is so-so at best, and for every line like”sometimes forever gets away from you no matter how hard you grip it,” you get a strange line like “we swung our feet off of the edge of the moon” (huh?). Bringing up a pair of shoes the narrator bought for the other person once seems like an odd choice of memories as wellmaybe they were super expensive? You just never get the sense that there was anything terribly serious between the two parties here, and when you pair it with the way the sound and singer make walking away sound a little bit too easy, the audience is left feeling ambivalent about the whole mess.

What really burns me up about “Never Be Sorry” is how radio-friendly the whole thing is, making it come off as a direct response to the cold shoulder that “Some People Do” got. It’s catchy, uptempo feel and soundalike production will slide easily between the Boyfriend and Cobronavirus tracks dominating the airwaves right now, and while I’d call this marginally better than those trends, it’s a far cry from “Some People Do” or even “One Man Band.” For a group like Old Dominion that has been steadily raising the bar over the lase few years, this isn’t the sort of song I was hoping to hear, and while they may “Never Be Sorry” about the situation, I will always be sorry that country music pushed them in this direction.

Rating: 5/10. Stick with “Some People Do” instead.