Song Review: Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With”

For a “Memory I Don’t Mess With,” Lee Brice certainly whines enough about it.

I called Brice a “wildcard” the last time I talked about him, but he seems to have found a second wind after some stumbles in the mid-2010s, with “One Of Them Girls” eventually becoming his third consecutive No. 1 single despite the fact that it was complete garbage. Now, however, he seems to be aiming for the boring center of the genre, jumping on the recent trend of interchangeable love-lost songs with the follow-up single from Hey World, “Memory I Don’t With.” Even by the mediocre standards of these tracks, this one doesn’t measure up, as neither the sound, the singer, or the writing really capture the melancholy mood they’re aiming for, and only succeed in putting the listener the sleep.

I’m starting to think Nashville is going through a musician shortage right now, because there’s just no variety in the production anymore, and this track is no exception. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: You’ve got your slick electric guitar, barely-there acoustic strumming, and synthetic percussion to open the track, followed by a gradual addition of real drums and some spacious background keyboards in time for the first chorus, and…that’s it. It’s the same old guitar-and-drum mix everyone else is using right now, with its only distinguishing quality being an overly-slick feel to the production (especially the electric guitars) that interface with the emotion of the track and keep it from feeling all that sad or raw (the echoey effects slathered on top of everything don’t help either). The usual dark instrument tones, minor chords, and methodical tempo are all here, but the whole arrangement just seems to run together and offers nothing interesting or movingthe only tears shed by the listener during this track are tears of boredom.

Listening to Brice here is like trying to have a conversation through a plexiglass wall: You can see the other person talking and that they’re feeling something, but you don’t hear or feel much yourself. From a technical standpoint, the performance is fine: Brice’s range and flow are barely tested, and he basically sleepwalks through the whole song. What’s striking is how even-keel the performance soundsthere’s no ramp-up or extra oomph on the chorus, and even when Brice reaches for another gear on a few lines, he doesn’t add any extra vocal power or volume when he does, and he fails to broadcast his emotion to the audience as a result. Worst of all, when the lyrics start to get a little whiny (we’ll get to that), Brice is unable to elevate them to a tolerable level (or even a less-annoying one), and he leaves the narrator felling less sympathetic than they should be. I don’t want to place all the blame on Brice here, but given how poorly he has sold his last few singles (heck, I wasn’t even thrilled with “Boy”), it’s time for him to step up his game.

The writing here tells the story of a heartbroken narrator who can’t bear to “mess with” the memories of a failed relationship. This describes nearly every song I’ve reviewed in the last month or two, so what makes this one so mediocre? There are a couple of issues here:

  • The scenes we get as the narrator cycles through their memories (the beach, the snow, the backseat) are short, disjoint, and jarring, making the verses feel like a laundry list with no common thread.
  • The hook is a lie: The narrator claims that this is a “memory I don’t mess with,” despite the fact that they spend the entire rest of the song doing just that, rehashing the memories in fast-forward during both verses. It makes them feel incredibly disingenuous and hurts their credibility (although it does prove their point that “I’d fall right back with one slip”: That line should be in the present tense, not the past.)
  • Lines like “girl, you just don’t get it” and “don’t hate me, I can’t help it” come across as surprisingly whiny, as if the narrator thinks the other person could never understand why they feel the way they do. Add in the “obsessed” line, and it starts to paint a picture of an unhealthy relationship, and leads the audience to speculate that it was the narrator that caused the relationship’s collapse. (Given that the end of the pairing is never discussed, this shows the danger of leaving so much detail for the listener to fill inthey don’t always fill that hole with what you expect.)

Put it all together, and there’s just no reason to listen to the narrator or care about this story.

The only good thing I can say about “Memory I Don’t Mess With” is that it finally inspired me to come up with a label for this uninspired moment in country music: We’re officially in the “Blandemic” era, and this song is a pretty good poster child for the movement: Lifeless, cookie-cutter production, writing that inspires more apathy than sympathy, and a poor sales job from Lee Brice. It’s as if the entire genre (except Ashley McBryde) has completely run out of ideas, and has devolved into a couple of guys with guitars sniffling about long-lost romances that no one else can be convinced to care about. (We’ve, uh, kinda-sorta got bigger problems right now.) This might actually be a step back from the Cobronavirus era, as these current releases bring none of the energy and don’t contain enough real substance to make up the difference. It’s a depressing time to be a country music fan, and I don’t see a ton of hope on the horizon this year.

Rating: 4/10. Don’t bother messing with this song.

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