Song Review: Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads”

You can probably already guess where this review’s going…and you’d be 100% right.

Honestly, I’m tired of putting up with Jake Owen. This will be the seventh single of his that I’ve reviewed, and none of previous six have managed to score above a 5 out of ten. His work ranges from mind-numbingly mediocre (“Homemade,” “Made For You”) to outright offensive (“If He Ain’t Gonna Love You,” “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)”), and while Greetings From… Jake seemed to have turned around his chart fortunes, his recent slow crawls to the top (“Homemade” took nearly ten months to hit #1, and “Made For You” took nearly a year) suggest that the popular response to his work has been lukewarm at best. In the nearly five years that I’ve run this Korner, Owen has consistently failed to give me a reason to enjoy or care about anything he’s done, and unfortunately that trend continues with his first post-Greetings release, “Best Thing Since Backroads.” It’s an incredibly weak attempt to take a generic country trope and shoehorn it into a love song, and the result is neither romantic nor interesting, and only deepens my desire for Owen to take the nearest dirt road out of Nashville and never come back.

The production boils down to the same uninspired copy-paste guitar-and-drum mix that everyone in Nashville uses these days (seriously, can we get some new people behind the sound boards with some fresh ideas?). The producer tries to give a track a retro feel by opening with a electric guitar using a tone reminiscent of the late 70s/early 80s, but that vibe lasts about ten seconds before a stock acoustic axe jumps in to cover the verse, and it gets completely obliterated when the drums and more-conventional electric guitars arrive with the chorus. (The song tries to be ‘sexy by association’ through it sonic callback, but all it does is make me think of better songs that I’d rather be listening to.) The use of suspended and added chords gives the song an surprisingly unsettled and even ominous feel, and the song’s slow, deliberate tempo drains causes it to get bogged down and stuck like (wait for it) a truck on a muddy back road. The general atmosphere here is decidedly not romantic—in truth, it doesn’t really inspire any feelings at all, and the listener just sits there unmoved as the song plays. In short, this is a terrible mix for a love song, with its old-school guitar failing to distract you from the fact that there’s no feeling or emotion behind the sound.

After fifteen years on the radio, I’d expect Owen to have a much better idea of how to sell a love song than this. The range and flow demands of the track are moderate at best, but Owens’ performance suggests a limit to his power output: When he tries to add more volume and emphasis on the chorus, his voice loses whatever emotion it had on the verses (which wasn’t much to begin with, but he sure seemed smitten with those dirt roads). As a result, his delivery loses its feeling just when it’s needed most, and what we get is so measured and matter-of-fact that it leaves the audience with doubts about how much he really cares for the other person. (There’s also a noticeable odor of sliminess, especially when Owen delivers the more suggestive and stereotypical lines, that doesn’t help his case.) Tack on background vocals that make Owen sound slightly robotic, and all the audience sees is a typical Bro meathead disingenuously professing his love for someone they just want to make out with. It’s yet another disappointing performance that won’t melt even the softest of hearts, and while I think Owen should be better than this, he keeps on demonstrating that he isn’t.

The lyrics here find the narrator attempting to flatter someone by saying they’re “the best thing since back roads,” a comparison that feels very unflattering to me (and calling someone “hotter than a leather seat” isn’t any better). The whole song feels like nothing but a word salad filled with every “country” cliché and buzzword they could stuff into it: Creeks, coolers, crosses, red dirt, two-lanes, driving with the windows down…seriously, my bingo card was filled by the time I got to “rearview.” For as much as the narrator claims to place the person they’re singing to above back roads, much of the song is dedicated to extolling the virtues of said roads, to the point where the other person isn’t really mentioned as all. The writers would also like you to think that this relationship is deep and long-lasting, but the song doesn’t go beyond driving down a river and getting “a little moonlight mud on the tires, if you know what I mean” (we get it bro; Brad Paisley not only wrote the song, he wrote the song about the song). The whole mess feels like a cheap attempt to drop all the same rural references every other song has and make a halfhearted effort to market it as a love song, and the whole charade falls apart under the slightest hint of scrutiny.

“Best Thing Since Backroads” is a loveless love song and a mediocre effort that is probably all we can expect from Jake Owen at this point. What little is done to try to stand out (mostly the throwback guitar) is a token effort to disguise the track’s true lowest-common-denominator nature, as if the people behind this are saying “Hey folks, here’s a song that includes all the country stuff you loooove to hear, but with a paper-thin love story and a guitar that reminds you of other songs you like, so you’ve got to like this one!” It’s kind of sad, but after nearly five years of Owen dragging me over this metaphorical bed of coals, he’ll get no sympathy from me. It’s long past time to put this joker out to pasture.

Rating: 4/10. No thank you.