For as long as this pandemic has dragged on, I think most people are looking for a fast-forward button rather than slowing things down.
While I still consider myself a Thomas Rhett fan, I’ve been a bit disappointed with his output over the last few years. He’s at his best when he’s slightly out of step with the country music crowd, whether it’s ruminating on his own experience (see “Sixteen,” “Life Changes,” and even “Die A Happy Man” before he’d done the “I love my wife so much!” shtick to death) or bringing some surprises into the arrangement (see the back-to-basics “Country Again” or the completely-off-the-wall “Crash And Burn”). Sadly, he’s been falling into the Blandemic trap more often lately, with forgettable soundalike duds like “What’s Your Country Song,” “Look What God Gave Her,” and even “Beer Can’t Fix” (it was a decent Cobronavirus track, but that’s a low bar to clear). You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get from Rhett these days, and his latest single “Slow Down Summer,” the leadoff single for his upcoming Where We Started album (Country Again: Side B has been pushed back to next year) unfortunately falls into the latter category. It’s a track that fails to distinguish itself through its sound, singer, or subject matter (seriously, didn’t Luke Bryan hit us with this same freaking track not that long ago? Although 2018 admittedly feels like a previous century…), leans on all the same tropes that have oversaturated the genre, and just isn’t that interesting to listen to.
The production here tries its darnedest to convince you that this story is both epic and tragic, but it goes way overboard and ultimately doesn’t justify the hype. Foundationally this is the same old guitar-and-drum mix that everybody else uses (and the drums are noticeably more synthetic this time around), but there are a few minor tweaks to the formula: A piano gets lead billing on the verses, a mandolin adds a few occasional notes, and a string section is brought in to inject some drama and momentum over time. (The video credits a steel guitar, but good luck finding it in this mix.) The added pieces aren’t enough to make this sound stand out, however, and with its spacious-yet-serious feel (nothing says “serious song” like a piano and a bunch of minor chords), the whole thing feels more overproduced than anything else. It tries to walk the line between celebrating and mourning a garden-variety summer fling in a desperate attempt to induce a reaction, and the result is a bunch of empty sonic calories that occasionally cross into ‘indistinguishable wall of noise’ territory and leaves the listener unimpressed in the end. The whole thing comes across as much ado about nothing, and I feel like a less-ambitious approach might have been more effective.
Rhett remains as charming and capable as ever, but I get the sense he’s trying a bit too hard here as well. There aren’t any technical issues to speak of, and for someone who’s never been a power vocalist Rhett does a nice job reaching for some extra oomph when he needs it here, but while he’s able to show how much he cares about the story, he isn’t able to transmit those feeling to his audience. His delivery here is heartfelt but feels empty, as it tries to ascribe deeper meaning to a story that really doesn’t have any. Truthfully, Rhett just isn’t the right singer for this sort of song: He’s a father of three in a high-profile relationship with his childhood sweetheart (which he’s talked about a lot), so hearing him pine over a long-lost love seems more than a little awkward in this context. It’s a serious mismatch between the song and the artist, and while Rhett’s got enough charisma to not feel disingenuous in the narrator’s role, but he isn’t able to elevate the track either: Stick anyone else behind the mic, and the song doesn’t change at all. In the end, Rhett is just kind of here, despite being capable of so much more.
*sigh* You know what’s coming, right? The writing is bland, formulaic, and honestly a bit tired, part of a larger songwriting trend that I’m planning to address in a larger post soon. The nostalgic look back on a long-lost love or a summer fling is a common trope in country music (and not one that I’m particularly fond of, especially when I feel like the narrator should have moved on a long time ago), and and it’s so boilerplate that you know exactly what’s coming by the time the first verse ends. In addition, we’ve got our usual heaping helping of predictable buzzwords, which are either stock details for the story (the jackets, the leaves, etc.) or the usual crop of junk that’s contractually obligated to be here (the trucks, the drives, the “one-lane town,” the implied makeout sessions, the Friday night lights, etc.) It’s not quite as bad as Bryan’s “Up” (against all odds, there’s not a sip of alcohol to be found here) but it’s in the same ballpark, and it makes the track feel uninspired and not worth paying attention to. The “slow down summer” hook is mediocre at best, and despite all the buzzwords there’s very little for the listener to visualize (the only scene that’s even kinda-sorta described here is the cab of the truck). It’s a song and an idea that’s been done (and done better) a million times before, and it doesn’t give you a good reason to tune in.
“Slow Down Summer” is a forgettable, paint-by-numbers track that offers nothing for the listener to recommend it. It’s just another way-back-when love song, featuring an ill-fitting performance from Thomas Rhett and production that falls flat in its attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill. Rhett may be one of the better artists in Nashville, but when faced with a song this bland and uninteresting, there’s not a whole lot he can do to elevate it. As someone who liked “Country Again,” I’m a little concerned with what seems to be the direction of Where We Started based on this single. After all, just because we started somewhere doesn’t mean we have to finish there too.
Rating: 5/10. *yawn*