So much for the career of Doug Douglason…
Dierks’s Bentley alter ego Douglason and the Hot Country Knights were intended to be a fun, bizarre, slightly-off-color tribute to the neotraditional sound of the 1990s, and looked like a shoo-in for the weirdest thing to happen all year. In 2020, however, they don’t even make the Top Twenty on the list of absurd occurrences for the year (heck, Old Dominion meowed their way through an entire album), and their official single with Travis Tritt “Pick Her Up” didn’t even crack the Top 40 on Billboard’s airplay chart. Now, Bentley has come back down from The Mountain to headline a single under his own name: “Gone,” a rumination on lost love and the presumed leadoff single for his next project. Unfortunately, Bentley seems to be stuck in the same malaise as the rest of Nashville these days: The song is a bland retread that simply fails to capture the listener’s attention.
The production is the first problem here: The deep, forceful piano on the opener piqued my interest, and the occasional dobro riffs were a nice touch, but for the most part this is a same standard guitar-and-drum mix that everybody else is using (most notably, there’s a slick feel to the arrangement that calls to mind Bentley’s Black album, not to mention the Metropolitan and Boyfriend country eras). The instrument tones and minor chords suggest a serious tone, and the guitars have some moderate texture in their lower range, but the vocals and percussion are a bit too loud in the mix, and the guitar stabs on the chorus aren’t sharp or emphatic enough to draw any attention (and yet the wall of noise that’s generated is just loud to push the dobro into the background and out of the way). It’s the sort of minimally-acceptable effort that establishes a melancholy mood for the track, but does so without providing any energy or momentum, and so the track just plods along from start to finish while the audience wonders “Is this it?” By the time it reached the bridge, I was already ready to jump ship and start working on my next review.
In terms of vocals, this is easily one of the weaker efforts I’ve heard Bentley put forth in quite some time. From a technical perspective, while he deserves props for hitting some impressive low notes on the verses without losing his tone (he quickly returns to his normal voice, but even a few judicious demonstrations are impressive), his flow gets stretched a bit too thin in both directions (it comes across as slightly choppy in the first verse when the lines are stretched out, and then he struggles to get the words out on the rapid-fire section of the chorus). The biggest issue, however, is the lack of emotion in Bentley’s delivery: He sounds more like a political commentator than a heartbroken fool, over-emphasizing his lines with a mix of frustration and determination without giving us any sense of the pain behind them. It’s the worst of both worlds: He cares too much and he sounds too forceful to really be “gone,” but he doesn’t show enough vulnerability to make the narrator feel sympathetic and or convince the listener to care about his plight. It’s a surprising stumble from a veteran performer like Bentley, and one that makes me a little nervous for that next album…
The writing here is a mixed bag: On one hand, it does a nice job providing details supporting the narrator’s claim that they’re “gone” à la William Michael Morgan since the relationship ended: isolation from friends and family, the images of undone chores and empty bottles on the bridge, and so on. The problem is that by doubling-down on this tack, we get no details about how the relationship ended—the narrator claims to be “overthinking” the events that led to their partner leaving, but they never let the audience in on their thought process, so we have no idea how or why things went south. (Sticking those random rapid-fire lines in the chorus feels like a bad and unnecessary decision as well, especially when the rest of the song is fairly slow.) Using places like “memory lane” and “hotel heartbreak” to detail a mental road trip on the second verse isn’t nearly as clever as the writers think, and back-loading all the details about an unkempt house on the bridge feels like too little too late (by then the listener has likely already checked out). It’s the sort of song that feels like it has potential, but needed a few more drafts to reach it.
The truth is that “Gone” is a forgettable lost-love lament, nothing more and nothing less. The production lacks inspiration, the writing only tells half the story, and Dierks Bentley’s passion on the mic feels misplaced (too much force, not enough feels). There’s something missing from this genre right now, and it’s feeling, as if the constant drumbeat of bad news had made country music numb to the emotional ups and downs of life. As much I’ve (generally) enjoyed Bentley past work and as much as I hate giving out all these fives, I’m going to keep doing it until someone in this genre steps up and moves the needle.
Rating: 5/10. No one would care if this song were here or “Gone.”