If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. then Runaway June ought to be pretty flattered right now.
Justin Moore seems to have found a place in the post-Bro era of country music, but his status is closer to ‘tolerated’ than ‘appreciated.’ Sure, he can still make it to the top of the charts as he did with his latest single “Why We Drink,” but it takes him forever to pull it off (“Why We Drink” took eleven months, and “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” took thirteen), forcing him to burn through albums without getting a whole lot out of them. Late Nights And Longnecks is only a little over a year old, but Moore and Valory Music Group are moving on from the disc after a mere two singles, dropping a brand new track “We Didn’t Have Much” instead. The song is a prime example of both quality and plagiarism: This is a total rip-off of Runaway June’s “We Were Rich,” and while it’s still a decent nostalgia track that fits in with the looking-back theme the genre is rolling with right now, it falls short of its contemporary in a few notable ways.
Like “We Were Rich,” the production hits all the right notes to create a brisk, lighthearted track that stays mostly on the sunny side of the topic. The melody is primarily driven by an acoustic and some light-touch percussion, with some judicious electric guitar notes and steel guitar rides tossed in on the chorus and bridge solo for flavor. (In particular, using a deep-throated electric axe with some actual texture was a nice touch.) Instead of hitting the listener with a wall of noise, the arrangement is surprisingly restrained and quiet, giving each instrument plenty of room to shine, and the quicker tempo and light tones keep the song moving and the mood light (even despite the periodic minor chords). While the song itself isn’t as forward-thinking or regret-free as “We Were Rich,” the mix does a nice job of keeping the track from getting bogged down by bittersweet nostalgia, helping to keep the focus on remembering the good times instead of longing to return to a long-lost, rose-tinted past. I called Runaway June’s production “the perfect sound for the subject matter” with “more-traditional leanings [that] help it stand out from the rest of the mainstream crowd,” and I’d say the same description fits this mix as well.
I chided Moore for sounding “insecure” and unbelievable on “Why We Drink,” but he dials back the bravado and forcefulness this time around, which made for a much more enjoyable listening experience. There are no range or flow issues present, and Moore’s constant framing of himself as a down-home good-ol’ boy makes him a logical fit for a rural remembrance track like this, but it’s the lighter touch of his delivery and the ratcheting down of the intensity (much like the production’s understated approach) that really makes the difference. The narrator isn’t making a point so much as telling a story here, so pulling back on the reins and giving the writing some room helps make the narrator more sympathetic and believable. Moore’s tone isn’t quite as bright as that of the sound, but he stays on the sunny side enough to keep the track from becoming a whiny nostalgia trip. In other words, Moore does enough right to keep the song pointed in the right direction and not take away from its momentum.
If there’s a place where this track really falls short in comparison to “We Were Rich,” it’s in the writing, which rips off its predeccessor so badly it even copies the hook (“we didn’t have much” vs. “we were rich”). The issues I have are as follows:
- Both “We Were Rich” and “We Didn’t Have Much” can feel like laundry lists at times as they cycle through all the details of their respective narrator’s upbringing, but “We Were Rich” at least tries (and mostly succeeds) at weaving them into a consistent narrative and linking the details together. Here, the details are just as vivid (my favorite is the opening “Tonka trucks and G.I. Joes” line), but they’re not as tightly connected and the juxtaposition is a bit more striking. In other words, unlike “We Were Rich,” this song feels like a laundry list more often than it doesn’t.
- The details themselves aren’t quite as unique either, drawing more from the typical country tropes (church clothes and offering plates, “Sunday chicken and a NASCAR race,” etc.). There’s no equivalent to the KOA flashlight-tag moment from “We Were Rich,” and as a result the scenes feel more generic and dated, as if they were drawn from the distant past rather than the recent past (which really doesn’t fit, given that Moore isn’t even 40 yet).
- The obligatory line about how it “sure’d be nice to get back to that place,” but there’s no acknowledgement about the other side of that tradeoff: The narrator says that he left “chasing a girl, chasing a dime,” but never discusses if he found what he was looking for. There are legitimate reasons for leaving your hometown, and hearing about the results of those adventure, even if they weren’t ultimately successful, would make the song a bit more interesting and give it more of a message. Instead, the thesis boils down to “wasn’t it great back in the day?” which isn’t all that interesting.
In other words, the writers had the right inspiration—they just failed to build on it.
Despite my issues with the writing, however, I still think “We Didn’t Have Much” is a solid track (especially compared to the boring Blandemic stuff that’s been flooding the airwaves recently). Justin Moore and the producer do enough right to make this a reasonable (albeit still inferior) facsimile of Runaway June’s “We Were Rich,” and the result is a track that distinguishes itself from (and rises above) many of its peers. Moore can be a frustrating artist with his inconsistency, but he’s certainly capable of delivering a solid single like this one (although given how slowly “We Were Rich” has been climbing the chart, I don’t see Moore breaking his own slothful streak with this). At this point, given everything that’s gone on this year, I’ll take anything good that I can get.
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.