Song Review: Luke Bryan, “Up”

This song is what happens if you were to ask Siri or Alexa to write and produce a country song.

At the end of my last Luke Bryan review, I made the following statement: “My ‘Blandemic’ label never stuck the way Cobronavirus did, but we seem to be stuck in a very boring, uninspiring rut in country music right now, and ‘Waves’ is emblematic of that trend.” Unfortunately, whether through Capitol Nashville’s marketing muscle or an actual groundswell of support, Bryan keeps finding money in mediocrity, as “Waves” became his fifth consecutive Billboard #1 single (none of which have scored higher than a 5/10 here on the blog). He’s officially taken the “Safest Artist in Country Music” away from Blake Shelton, and the moment his latest single “Up” (the sixth from Born Here Live Here Die Here; that album needs to be thrown into the ocean) hit my ears, ‘Blandemic’ was the first word that popped into my mind. This is about as formulaic, unoriginal, and boring a song as you could possibly put together, and in a sea of songs that say the same darn thing, this one fails to justify its existence.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The production here is nothing but the same blasted guitar-and-drum mix that’s been putting us to sleep for a few years now. You’ve got your acoustic guitar mindlessly playing the same two-note riff throughout the whole song, a spacious electric axe meant to echo through stadiums providing some wistful atmospheric, a keyboard adding some accent notes to back up the electric guitar, and a lifeless drum set that jumps in late and contributes so little to the mix that they might as well have not included it all. Outside of a random flurry of activity from the electric guitar during the bridge solo, this sound is so mailed in that they have to put a stamp on the album case when you buy it. With the mix’s slow tempo, relatively-dark tone, and complete failure to generate any momentum as it goes along, this song is guaranteed to put you to sleep by the second verse, and its attempt to set a reverent and nostalgic mood for growing up in the country is so weak that the listener feels nothing at all while the song plays. In other words, it’s a three-minute slog through a generic mess that’s forgotten ten seconds after it’s over.

To borrow a line from my “Down To One” review, “Bryan is…here, I guess?” The song is about as undemanding as it can get from a technical perspective and Bryan breezes through it without breaking a sweat, but he dials back his performance so much while trying to walk the line between celebrating and mourning his upbringing that he just doesn’t put any feeling behind the words. He talks about working in the field and going on dates with all the enthusiasm of a guy reading his grocery list, and even when he does put some force and volume behind his delivery on the chorus, it’s a limp half-effort at best, and the audience is left unmoved as a result. (Honestly, if it was some new, unknown artist singing like this instead of a tenured known commodity like Bryan, the audience would call BS on the song outright.) Bryan is a talented, charismatic artist who has dropped some decent material in the past, so getting a performance like this from him makes me wonder if he’s any more interested in this song than we are.

Of course, why would anyone be interested in a song like this when it feels like it was written by a soulless algorithm rather than a human being? The song is supposed to be a remembrance to the way life was when the narrator was young (and you all know how much I love garbage like this), and nearly all the clichés and buzzwords are present: The “cold one,” the “pretty thing,” the “dirt road,” the “town nobody knows,” the “hand me down old pickup,” the fishing, the Friday night football, the God-praising, the corn fields…all that’s missing is a bonfire and a George Strait reference. It’s the same cursed drivel that you get from every other song on the radio these days, and tying it all together using the word “up” is neither clever nor interesting. The scenes are also ineffectively vague, as they’re fairly short and light on details (especially at the end of the track)—instead of painting a picture that the listener can visualize, they settle for throwing up some ink blots up like a Rorschach test and hope the audience sees what they want them to see. You’ve heard (and ignored) this song a million times before, and there’s no reason to do anything different now.

“Up” is nothing more than focus-tested background noise that checks all the boxes, uses all the right lingo, and leaves the listener wondering what the point of writing the song was in the first place. I mentioned in my Frank Ray review that “it just feels like everybody in country music is assembling the same five-piece puzzle like a preschooler,” and this song takes that to the extreme by taking absolutely no chances: Soundalike production, soundalike writing, and a weak effort from Luke Bryan that stoops to the level of his material. I’m tired of it, and I’m tired of Bryan’s copycat, trend-hopping act. I’d like to see him kick Born Here Live Here Die Here to the curb and come back with something different, something that takes a few chances and tries to add to the formula instead of simply conforming to one. Maybe there’s money in mediocrity, but the man’s got plenty of money by now—it’s time for a change, and the sooner the better.

Rating: 4/10. No.

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