Now this is the sort of artist evolution I can support.
It’s safe to say that I was not a fan of Lainey Wilson’s official debut single “Dirty Looks”: I called it a “boring and pointless song,” and I didn’t “see it getting Wilson or BBR the radio traction they’re looking for.” The song wound up crashing and burning so badly that it a) didn’t make the Billboard chart at all, and b) torpedoed her momentum so severely she doesn’t appear to have released a single at all in 2020. She’s back now, however, with an upcoming full album slated for release next month and a “new” single (albeit one originally from her 2019 EP Redneck Hollywood) called “Things A Man Oughta Know.” To call this a stunning turnaround from her awful debut would be a understatement: The song is a thoughtful, heartfelt piece with some surprising emotional weight behind it, and a far cry from the makeout session narration we got two years ago, making me wonder why Broken Bow Records didn’t release this song first to begin with.
The production is an intriguing balance of light and darkness that allows the track to reflect on the narrator’s past sadness while also projecting a sense of hope for the future. Rather than the usual guitar-and-drum mix, the sound here is defined by the mandolin carrying the melody and the bright synth notes that back it up. Yes, the electric guitars become more prominent as the song goes along and an unremarkable drum set keeps time throughout, but but they don’t dominate the sound the way they do in many songs on the airwaves, and their gradual inclusion helps the song to build momentum over time. The mandolin’s bright tone is counterbalanced with regular (but not overwhelming) minor chords, a nicely-tailored blend that pays respect to the narrator’s rough romantic past while also giving the listener the sense that the right person who knows what they ought to will come along. It’s an interesting arrangement that enhances the subject matter while standing out from its peers, which is the approach I wish Wilson and BBR had taken in the first place.
Similarly, Wilson is much better suited to a mature, reasoned take on love than the slimy hookup track she gave us originally. The song present few technical challenges in terms of its range and flow (although Wilson sounds a little rough when forced to drop too low in her vocal range), and while she still doesn’t show a ton of emotion here, it projects an air of experience and quiet confidence rather than the uncaring vibe of “Dirty Looks”—this is a narrator who has been on the wrong end of a relationship, who knows what they want out of future pairing, and who is dead-set on finding a partner with the proper prerequisites. (It’s worth nothing that such matter-of-fact stoicism is often considered a masculine trait, which is yet another thing Wilson knows that “a man oughta know.”) It’s a performance that shows enough pain and vulnerability to generate sympathy from the audience, yet also assures the audience that they’re all right and still looking for the right person. Wilson is much better here than on “Dirty Looks,” and hopefully it encourages her team to find more mature material for her in the future.
The lyrics here tell the tale of a narrator who’s been hardened by subpar romantic experiences, and as a result has learned a lot of things about relationships that she demands her eventual partner understand as well (hence the hook “I know a few things a man oughta know”). The song starts by listing off some predictable “country boy” practices (shooting, fishing, etc.), but quickly pivots from physical to emotional maturity to discus relationship maintenance and emergency repair (“How to stay when it’s tough,” “how to fix [the relationship] ‘fore it’s too late,” “how to chase forever down a driveway,” etc.). While not every lesson here is a good one (repressing feelings and “how to keep it hidden when a heart gets broke” is something we should be discouraging, not encouraging), these are the sorts of mature takes on love that we haven’t gotten from the genre lately. I really like how some of the lines show the narrator’s pain rather than just telling us about it (the driveway line is one example, and “I can hang a picture same as I can take it down” indicates that she’s had to do both a few times in the past), although the narrator does get more direct on the “I know a boy who gave up and got it wrong” line. In short, the song gives us both a solid storyline and a lot to think about, another rarity in the shallow, party-hardy era we’ve been rehashing.
“Things A Man Oughta Know” is the debut song I wish Lainey Wilson had released two years ago, featuring the sort of musical and emotional heft that can really engage with listeners. The production sets the right mood and stands out from the crowd, the maturity of the writing stands in stark contrast to the shallow escapism and sticky-sweet love songs we’re constantly subjected to, and Wilson herself delivers a strong performance that encourages me more than “Dirty Looks” disheartened me. This isn’t just a message to the narrator’s future romantic partners, it’s a message to the male-dominated genre: Enough with the paper-thin, dime-a-dozen songs about love and heartbreak—instead, dig a little deeper and bring a little more hard-won wisdom to the writer’s table. To quote Trevor Noah, “if you don’t know, now you know.”
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.