So apparently even Thanos is running out of ideas now…
If you ignore the murder hornets, the Greek-lettered hurricanes, and the coronavirus pandemic, life is going pretty well for Luke Combs right now. He’s released nine official singles so far, and not only have all nine reached #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart (and almost all of this have sat there for multiple weeks), but they’ve also all cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100, further confirming that Combs is the king of country music and powerful enough to snap half of the genre out of existence any time he pleases. As a critic, however, I’ve been a bit lukewarm (pardon the pun) on Combs’s single choices, and while I liked his last offering “Lovin’ On You,” I’m less enthused with his latest single “Better Together,” the fifth from his What You See Is What You Get album. It’s a watered-down version of “Beautiful Crazy,” and while there’s enough heartfelt feeling involved to keep Combs’s winning streak alive, it’s a song that feels like it should have stayed an album cut.
The production here is…a piano. Seriously, that’s all you get here—no guitars, no percussion, no token banjo or steel guitar, nothing. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (some of my favorites songs have been primarily piano-driven, such as Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl”), when you’re literally the only instrument in the room, you need to bring way more presence and volume than the weaksauce melody we get here. (The producer also botches the volume balance badly here, as Combs’s vocals are so loud that they drown out the piano for most of the track.) While it does manage to set a suitably serious tone for the track, there’s little buildup to give the song any momentum, and it’s Combs that ends up doing most of the work creating the atmosphere. (Honestly, he could have done this whole song acapella, and you wouldn’t notice the difference.) Less can be more sometimes, but in this case less is basically nothing, and that’s exactly with this production adds to the song.
Combs may be the Garth Brooks of our time with his everyman charm and charisma, but getting left with no backup as he is here is something that should only be attempted by the strongest of strong voices, like Brett Eldredge or Chris Stapleton. Instead, Combs gets hung out to dry, and his limitations become painfully apparent: He’s not terribly smooth as a vocalist (his flow can be choppy and occasionally cuts out abruptly), and you can really feel him strain to apply power as the song progresses. Luckily, that everyman charm and charisma didn’t go anywhere, and Combs still does a nice job injecting some sincerity and feeling into the narrator’s role. (Like Aaron Watson, Combs turns his not-so-effortless style into a strength, using that audible straining to signal the intensity of his feelings.) You can tell that the narrator is definitely smitten with their partner, and the audience still kinda-sorta feels it themselves despite the deck being so stacked against the singer. The song is a testament to Combs’s skills as an artist, but it’s also a painful reminder of how much better he is with proper production support.
Speaking of support, Combs could have used a bit more help from the writing as well. The narrator tries to convey that they and their partner are, like many pairings in life, are “better together,” but the comparison just boils down to a laundry list of items that range from the moderately novel (“Your license in my wallet when we go out downtown”) to the painfully generic (most of the first verse, and the “good ol’ boys and beer” line on the chorus). The reliance on old tropes keeps the song from feeling personal, and saying “The way you say ‘I love you too’ is like rain on an old tin roof” doesn’t strike me as all that flattering. The marriage-proposal twist is a nice touch à la Dierks Bentley’s “My Last Name,” but on the whole this is nothing more than a cheesy, run-of-the-mill love song, a topic that Combs did a much better job covering with “Beautiful Crazy,” and the lyrics do nothing to help Combs’s sentiment resonate with the audience.
The biggest indictment I can make of “Better Together” is how many times I took a break while writing this review to listen to something better. This song, with its non-existent sound and its cookie-cutter writing, just doesn’t stack up against Luke Combs’s past work, and only rises to the level of radio filler. Combs is much more comfortable on the fun side of country music (“When It Rains It Pours,” “Lovin’ On You”), and while he’s got the chops to deliver a decent love song, he never seems to have the sound or the lyrics to match up. Of all the pairs that are “Better Together,” Combs and this song aren’t one of them.
Rating: 5/10. Stick with “Beautiful Crazy” instead.