Song Review: Brett Young, “Not Yet”

Do we have any idea what Brett Young’s standing in country music is? “Not Yet.”

By the numbers, Young’s career is off to an incredible start, with all seven of his single releases reaching #1 (although “Sleep Without You” was a Mediabase-only chart-topper). What that actually means, however, is a different story: #1 songs are not that hard to come by (especially for products off of Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line), and Young’s tracks haven’t exactly steamrolled their competition (“Catch” took about 10 months to top Billboard’s airplay chart, “Lady” took nearly a year, and Young has never topped the Hot Country Singles chart, as “In Case You Didn’t Know” was eclipsed by the Summer of Sam Hunt). I’ve generally liked Young’s work, but I wouldn’t call him one of the genre’s leading stars, and my concern has grown as his style has drifted away from its “Cali-ville” roots towards the more-generic Boyfriend movement over time. “Not Yet,” however, is a slight step back from the edge (at least in its presentation), and while the writing is nothing to write home about, the song feels like an ever-so-slight attempt to reposition Young in the current landscape, trying to find a niche in the middle in a sea of mediocrity.

The production here feels more reminiscent of Brett Young than Ticket To L.A. or “Lady,” for two reasons:

  • The basic elements of the arrangement are nothing special (it’s the same guitar-drum-keyboard setup everyone else is using), but the focus seems to be more on the acoustic elements The acoustic guitar is much more prominent on the verses, and Young’s usual drum machine is completely replaced by a real drum set (which goes sticks-only for the first verse!). Yes, the mix returns to more-conventional territory on the choruses, but even then…
  • Rather the the hyper-polished feel of “Lady,” this mix has a rougher feel: The audio effects are removed, the electric guitars has some actual texture, and the both the guitars and drums seem a bit louder and more in-your-face than usual. The overall feel is one of raw, unrestrained exuberance, as if the producer decided to take a step back and let the session players turn it loose.

The result is a song that really captures the enjoyment and anticipation of being together with someone you love: The moment may pass, but it hasn’t passed yet, and the mix gives you the sense that the narrator and their partner are going to enjoy this time to the fullest while they have it. There’s an energetic vibe here that calls back to “Sleep Without You,” and overall it does a great job supporting the subject matter and driving home Young’s message.

Young is a charismatic presence who’s at his best singing happy love songs like this one, and he delivers a predictably solid performance here. The song presents few technical challenges, but it demands that the artist be up on the mic at times, delivering the necessary enthusiasm and optimism to sell the story to the audience. These demands, however, pose no issue for Young: He is a ball of excitement here, barely dwelling on the negatives and delivering the choruses with gusto. (There’s a bit of effective strain in the vocals to indicate the effort Young’s putting in, which enhances rather than detracts from the message.) He is all in on the narrator’s role, and he brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the part that the listener can’t help but believe him. What really sets Young apart from his competition is his easy (perhaps even excessive) charm: Where lesser artists would have dropped the ball and come across as a shallow meathead looking for a cheap thrill, there’s something about Young’s delivery that convinces you he’s in this for the long haul, and truly committed to the person he’s with. There’s a reason Young is 7-for-7 on #1 singles, and the way he delivers the goods here means there’s a good chance he goes 8for-8.

If there’s anything that’s holding Young back, it’s the mediocre-to-awful writing he keeps getting stuck with, and while he’s gotten pretty good at elevating such songs (there is no reason for “Catch” to work as well as it did), it a sign that he might want to stop relying on his co-writers and find more outside material for his albums going forward. The premise here is that the narrator and their partner are spending a romantic evening together, and while the narrator knows that it won’t last forever, they’re determined to make the most of the time they had (it’ll end eventually, “but not yet, no, not yet”). It’s a fairly weak hook, and we spend most of the song going over all of the ways the eventual end will be marked (the moon will set, the alcohol will run out, they’re “gonna run out of excuses to not go to sleep”) and the many run-of-the-mill things the pair still has plenty of (kisses, times taking away the narrator’s breath or driving them wild, etc.). Instead of describing the scene and getting the audience wrapped up in the moment, we get an uninteresting list that’s just kind of there, making the song overly reliant on Young and the producer’s efforts to add the necessary feeling and energy. Young isn’t an A-lister yet, but spending some V-bucks to upgrade his material would go a long way towards getting him there.

“Not Yet” is a forgettable song that is elevated to the realm of “okay” through its execution—specifically, through a strong, emotive performance from Brett Young and an effervescent sound to back him. While the track will be a welcome upgrade to the airwaves, it also makes me frustrated with the way Nashville does business: Instead of, you know, investing in ways to help their artists improve and make them better, they invest in things that will inflate coveted-but-artificial metrics of success such as their chart-topping single count. Young is a talented artist that has the ability to break into the Bryan/Aldean/Rhett orbit of stardom (maybe not the Thanos orbit though; that dude remains on another level right now), but his team is not taking the right steps to get him there, and that’s a shame. Hopefully this changes, or someday Young and his audience may be left wondering what might have been.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins on the Victrola to see what you think.

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