Is it time for Thanos to find another Infinity Gauntlet?
Regardless of what Marty Stuart may say about Leroy Troy, Luke Combs is the most popular man in country music, and his power over the genre only seems to be growing: After “Better Together” spent five weeks atop Billboard’ country airplay chart and reached #15 on the Hot 100, he managed to better both numbers with “Forever After All,” which spent six weeks atop the country charts and nearly did the impossible by debuting at #2 on the Hot 100! I’d like to be happier about this (and honestly, I’d choose Combs over a lot of artists in Nashville right now), but the man has also taken another less-prestigious title, stealing Blake Shelton’s crown as “the safest artist in country music” by leaning heavily on boring, uninspired ballads to the point where “Better Together” and “Forever After All” were pretty much the exact same song. It’s time for Thanos to pull a few more tricks from his sleeve, so naturally his latest offering “Cold As You”…is a carbon-copy of his 2019 song “Beer Never Broke My Heart” (wow, was that really six singles ago?) Much like with “Forever After All,” the copy is not as good as the original, as it’s missing even the minimal moments of levity that made the 2019 single kinda-sorta work.
“Cold As You” may have been added as a bonus track for the deluxe release of What You See Is/Ain’t Always What You Get, but you can’t tell me it wasn’t recorded at the same time as “Beer Never Broke My Heart.” The arrangements and approaches are exactly the same: The “hard-rock axes,” “prominent drum set, and slow-rolling, almost-token banjo” are all stuck in the same roles as before (while I didn’t mention it in the earlier review, there’s an organ-like keyboard providing background chords in both tracks as well), and it’s got the same “deliberate tempo” that harkens back to the Bro-Country party anthems of the 2010s. The one noticeable difference is that despite the lack of minor chords, the sound comes across as overly dark and attitude-laden, making the mix feel too serious for the subject matter (to the point where it feels like an overreaction—the response it provokes isn’t sympathy, but “okay, we get it, you’re sad”). The whole thing feels like an awkward fit for the song, and it fares poorly on the context test as well (it’s the sort of hard-edged track that you would never hear in the sort of beer joint that the track celebrates). Overall, this is a case of copy-paste production gone wrong, and I really wish the producer had gone in a different direction for this song.
Combs may be the heir apparent to Garth Brooks, but even he can overdo things sometimes, and that’s what happens on “Cold As You.” While there are no technical issues with his performance, he comes across a bit awkwardly trying to go up and down on the “guys like me lose girls like you” line, and he brings his forceful chorus approach from “Beer Never Broke My Heart” back here when it really doesn’t fit the song. (Does he really need to scream at us that the bar has a dance floor, a broken clock, and a jukebox with Willie Nelson? It makes me think of an enthusiastic realtor showing someone a house: We got granite countertops, new appliances, and marker-resistant paint on the walls!) There’s no hint of fun or self-awareness to be found—in fact, there’s no emotion in Combs’s delivery at all, making him sound extremely bitter but not actually sad about what happened, which in turn limits the amount of sympathy he garners from the audience. It’s like he’s trying to ride the trend of defiantly angry tracks like “Old School’s In” without fully embracing it, and as a result his performance feels over-the-top and unnecessary. It’s not a great look for Combs, and it lacks any of the charm and personality that at least made “Beer Never Broke My Heart” tolerable.
The lyrics, which paint of picture of a classic country bar where folks drink away their heartache, are a mixed bag at best. On one hand, they do a decent job providing details that allow us to visualize the place, and I even found the “beer almost as cold as you” hook to be kind of clever. On the other hand, describing the place is pretty much all the song does—in particular, there’s no talk about what actually happened to the narrator (all we know is that the walls aren’t “as dirty as you done me,” which isn’t enough to let us in on the story). The whole thing feels incredibly generic (you’ve got your beer, your trucks, and your neon) and comes dangerously close to laundry-list territory, and while it at least elaborates on the items it mentions, it doesn’t help bring the location to life (seriously, the phrase “cinder block walls” make the place sound more like a prison than a beer joint). Compared to a song like Merle Haggard’s “Swinging Doors” or even Jon Pardi’s “Heartache Medication,” the writing here feels devoid of emotion (you could say it’s as cold as it’s title), and while part of this is Combs’s fault for his ill-fitting vocals, the lyrics don’t give him a whole lot to work with. Detail is all well and good, but it shouldn’t the the only thing you include, and I think Combs and his co-writers should have struck a better balance here.
“Cold As You” is not a bad song, but it’s not a good song either. It’s a halfhearted attempt to keep the Luke Combs gravy train rolling, featuring awkward and plagiarized production, vocals that try (and fail) to replace emotion with attitude, and lyrics that could have probably used a few more drafts. I understand why Combs and Columbia Nashville are releasing this track (this dude is one of the biggest names in all of music; why mess with a formula that’s working this well?), but I’m still disappointed with the decision. With his clout and popularity, Combs is the guy in Nashville who could shape the genre however he wanted (different sounds, different topics, etc.), and instead he seems to be settling for letting the genre shape him. His work feels incredibly stale right now, and after seven singles I think it’s time for Combs to get out of his comfort zone, close the book on What You See Is What You Get, and try something different.
Rating: 5/10. You might as well stick with “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”