Is Bro-Country redeemable through spirituality? Your answer will likely predict your feelings about this track.
Michael “HARDY” Hardy has only been on the mainstream scene for a few years, but he’s hasn’t made a great impression so far. His debut single “REDNECKER” wound up as the worst song of 2019, and despite “One Beer” eventually becoming his first #1 single, it wasn’t much of an improvement in my book. For his third single (the second from his weirdly-titled debut album A Rock), HARDY is taking a more-conventional (read: generic) approach, mixing faith and death with his usual Bro talking points to give us “Give Heaven Some Hell.” While I wouldn’t call this a terribly good song, it’s a clear step up from his previous work thanks to the work of the producer and the artist.
By the numbers, the production here is nothing to write home about: It’s pretty much the same guitar-and-drum mix that’s dominating the airwaves these days, with some spacious backgrounds synths thrown in to give the track an arena-ready vibe. The guitars aren’t as in your face as you might expect, however, and the reverb added to the moderately-bright electric axe that opens the track and carries the melody gives the song a surprising reflective and weighty feel, combining with the synthesizer and typical “slow Bro” tempo to move the listener to ruminate on the lyrics (whether such rumination is worthwhile, however, is up for debate). The drums don’t have much punch, but they do enough to help push the song forward and keep it from bogging down or feeling lifeless. There are a lot of minor chords here, but the lighter, brighter touch of the arrangement keeps the song feeling serious without getting too dark or pessimistic. In short, it accentuates the feel of the lyrics rather than getting in their way, which is lot better than the sonic messes we’ve been getting from HARDY up to now. It’s not great, but it gets the job done.
After his past performances ranged from lifeless to obnoxious, I didn’t expect much from HARDY’s vocals here, but I actually think he does a decent sales job on this track. Part of the reason for this is that the narrator here is essentially the same guy we heard on “REDNECKER,” albeit with a bit more decorum to meet the solemnity of the moment, and it’s a rough-edged persona HARDY has been cultivating over the last two years. There’s still a hint of defiance in his delivery, but it feels more relatable this time around: When someone passes on, we tend to tell ourselves that their spirit will survive and live on in some version of the afterlife. HARDY brings just enough believability to the table here to feel credible as a run-of-the-mill Bro shaken by the realization of life’s fragility, and while it’s still not the most likeable of characters, the audience can still understand where they’re coming from and sympathize with them. Again, he won’t be winning any Oscars for his performance, but we won’t be blowing raspberries at him for it either, and that’s a step in the right direction.
I’m not a fan of the lyrics here, because underneath all the song’s trappings of piety, both the narrator and the person that dies are just run-of-the-mill bros who want to do generic Bro-Country things: Play loud music, burn rubber in parking lots, go four-wheeling through mudholes, and drink potent alcoholic beverages. There’s detail here, but it’s the same old stuff that’s Nashville’s been shoveling at us for years, and while I get that everyone’s perception of what constitutes “heaven” is different, the activities here (not to mention the hook) seem to contradict the whole point of what such an afterlife is supposed to be. (In particular, that “hide your beer, hide your clear from the man upstairs” seems kind of dumb when said upstairs man supposedly “views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.”) The audience may feel for the departed and the narrator, but they’re not terribly interested in the story, and the production’s supplementary approach means that the writing’s shortcomings are on full display.
In the end, I view “Give Heaven Some Hell” roughly the same way I viewed Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard’s “Undivided”: The heart’s in the right place, but the execution leaves something to be desired, especially with lyrics like these that generate more questions than answers. It constitutes HARDY’s best work despite its flaws, but it also gives me the sense that his ceiling is relatively low: He’s a Bro-Country artist, and doesn’t seem likely to move on from that frame of reference for a while. There are better songs to celebrate the passing of a classic gool ol’ boy (may I suggest Joe Diffie’s “Prop Me Up (Beside The Jukebox If I Die)”?), but it’s not a terrible addition to the airwaves, and given the precarious state of the Pulse, we’ll take any good news we can get.
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth trying on for size to see what you think.