The pandemic is winding down in America, so why is Old Dominion trying to bring the Cobronavirus trend back?
On some level, it’s hard to blame the band for dropping this turd of a single on us. 2020 was a rough year for Matthew Ramsey and the crew, with “Some People Do” (a thoughtful, heartfelt proclamation to be a better person) only reaching #28 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and “Never Be Sorry” (a lightweight, forgettable call to take a chance on love regardless of the eventual result) crashing and burning at #38. In response, the group closed the book on the Old Dominion album and tried to jump on the Cobronavirus trend a year too late by trotting out “I Was On A Boat” as the lead single for their upcoming fourth album. Let’s be frank: This track is a Seinfeldian nightmare, a party song so nihilistic that the narrator doesn’t even bother to party, let along tell us the story behind the whole mess. It highlights one of the major things I hate about contemporary country music: Acts may be capable of quality output, but if all you reward is pointless, derivative drinking songs, that’s what you’re going to get.
The apathy here starts with the production, which is so basic and boring that the entire mix sounds like it was made entirely out of GarageBand loops. 90% of the song is the same old acoustic guitar and drum set repeating the same old riff over the same old I-ii chord setup (except on the chorus, when the guitar gets lazy and just plays the chords instead). The only other instrument of note here is an accordion, but while it’s a constant presence that helps give the track a relaxed atmosphere, it only accentuates the uncaring nature of the track, and it’s relegated to background chord duty (if you’re looking for a Cajun flair to the sound, you won’t find it here). The constant major/minor chord flip-flopping puts the mix in an awkward spot where it’s neither fun nor serious, adding to the listener’s confusion over how exactly to feel about the song, and the deliberate tempo ends up limiting the amount of energy that the song can create. Overall, this is a bland sound that is so phoned in that Travis Tritt should ask for his quarter back, and I’m convinced that I could make a better, more-appropriate mix on my decade-old MacBook.
Speaking of phoned-in: This is easily lead singer Matthew Ramsey’s worst performance since “Break Up With Him.” While the lyrics admittedly don’t give him a lot to work with, Ramsey ends up pulling a Jake Owen and dives so deep into an unlikable character that he actually sounds drunk at points (that half-coherent “one, two, three” opening was an ominous sign). There’s no hint of joy or sorrow in Ramsey’s performance—instead, it’s permeated by a laissez-faire, devil-may-care attitude so strong that even Luke Bryan would say “Dude, there’s more to life than this.” The narrator simply does not care about the story they’re telling, and this approach effectively renders the rest of the song meaningless: For example, the questions that lead off the chorus sound disingenuous, and are asked in such bad faith that the narrator might as well be Tucker Carlson. (For their part, the band is pretty much invisible here: If the production sounds like it came from a laptop and only Ramsey and Brad Tursi are credited as background vocalists, what’s the point of keeping all these people on the payroll?) The result is that the listener tunes the song out before it reaches the second chorus (if the storyteller can’t be bothered to care about the story, why should the audience care?), and it’s flushed from their memory the moment the next song starts playing.
Based on the lyrics, this is a Cobronavirus song so perfect that it could have been written by Steve Goodman, and that’s not a good thing. Even the most nihilistic of party songs from last year at least cared about having a good time, but the narrator here cares about nothing but maintaining his blood alcohol levels, watching as their partner leaves them without so much as a shrug about it. The nautical setting suggests the narrator is going for a party atmosphere, but if so, they have a strange definition of fun: We find them alone just “letting the sun and the rum just do what it does,” and the boat really isn’t much of a factor into the story at all (put the narrator in a lawn chair in Decatur, and the song barely changes). There are no crazy antics, no kiss-off proclamations, and no chill vibes; the goal is simply to be “drunk as a skunk eating lunch with a cross-eyed bear.” A narrator this blasé just begs to be put into context, but nothing of the sort is provided: We have no idea why the woman left (besides, you know, the narrator being an uncaring drunk), and the narrator expresses no emotions (happy, sad, or otherwise) over the apparent breakup. (They didn’t even care enough to note whether their now-ex was laughing or crying when they left, which is an awfully hard thing to miss if you even kinda-sorta pay attention.) The whole thing frames the narrator as an unsympathetic jerk who doesn’t deserve your pity, and the listener can’t be bothered to care any more about the tale than the narrator does. Did it really take seven people to write this drivel?
The only thing that makes sense about “I Was On A Boat That Day” is how utterly lifeless it is, given that the song is a Cobronavirus zombie brought back from the dead. With lazy production, careless writing, and a performance from Old Dominion that’s completely devoid of emotion, this is the exact opposite of what I want out of a song: I want music to move me, not tracks that can barely move themselves. Unfortunately, deep sentiment doesn’t sell these days, and after back-to-back bombs, Old Dominion is in full ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks’ mode, hoping to get their career back on track by giving Nashville the lightweight, booze-soaked rubbish the genre so desperately wants. The ploy may well work, but if so, the band will find themselves asking:
Rating: 3/10. No.