Song Review: Lady A, “What A Song Can Do”

“Yeah, it’s crazy what a song can do,” but it’s not surprising when it doesn’t do anything.

Little Big Town may be the biggest boom-or-bust group in the genre, but Lady A has been riding a sinusoidal wave for the last few years, jumping from respectable hit to mediocre showing and back again. Their latest oscillation ended up spanning two whole years, going from 2020’s #1 “Champagne Night” to 2021’s #13 “Like A Lady” (which took roughly eight months just to get there), and the group managed to squander whatever leadoff-single buzz they had in the process. They’re back now with the second single and title track from their What A Song Can Do EP, and while it extols the motivational power of a good song, by itself it doesn’t really motivate you to do anything. It’s a meta song that doesn’t do enough to connect with its audience, and only pushes you to remember better tracks and forget this one.

The production here has some flair at times, but it doesn’t do much to move its audience. The song opens with some spacious keyboards and electric guitars, drops in an acoustic guitar and some synthetic-sounding percussion for the first verse, and then the whole mess devolves into an indistinguishable wall of noise on the choruses. The overall instrument tones are bright and there’s a little energy behind the tempo, but the whole thing feels a bit aimless, as if the producer isn’t sure what to do with the song (should it be inspiring, nostalgic, chill, or just mindless fun?). It’s got this generic, soundalike vibe that makes it sound like everything else you’ve heard in the past year, and its volume can interfere with the vocals at times (especially on the chorus, where they occasionally seem to run together). In the end, this mix is just empty sonic calories that are searching for a purpose, and don’t do anything to support the subject matter or draw in listeners.

Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott remain strong, capable vocalists, but I wouldn’t call this song their best performance, especially for Kelley (his vocals are surprisingly fuzzy and unclear—I keep hearing “put your ladder up” instead of “put your lighter up”). Things are fine besides the fuzziness (and that might be a bad vocal filter rather than Kelley’s fault), but the main issue is that just like the production, they seem uncertain about what this song is supposed to do. There are hints of inspirational tones in the vocals, especially when both singers climb the ladder (that Kelley put up) and crank up the volume on the chorus, but there’s no real payoff because there’s no direction provided, making the effort feel wasted and the track feel a bit over-sung. The more-relaxed moments on the chorus and the bridge introduce more confusion: Should we be amped up or mellowed out? There’s certainly passion behind the delivery of both artists’ deliveries, but the audience is left confused as to what to make of it, and thus they can’t find a reason to make use of it.

Songs about songs pop up from time to time in the genre (Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When,” Clint Black’s “State Of Mind,” Kenny Chesney’s “I Go Back,” and so on), but this one takes a slightly different approach: Instead of focusing on the associations people have between songs and moments in their life, the writing here talks about what a song can push people to do (it’s closer to Thomas Rhett’s “I Learned It From The Radio” than the three songs above). However, I think the switch actually makes the song weaker: Instead of setting the scene and inviting the listener to share in the narrator’s feelings, the song is completely dependent on the listener drawing on their own experience to think about what songs have made them do over the years, and there’s a good chance it isn’t much. (Looking back, I can’t think of a song moving me to do more than…call my parents, I guess? Although a few songs over the last few years have moved me to smash my head against my keyboard…) As I talked about a few weeks ago, songs are potent touchstones that make us think about where and who we were when we heard them, but I don’t find them as effective at motivating people to take risks or change their ways, Throw in the issues that the details we get are pretty boilerplate (the drive, the concert, the church) and the lyrics lack a clear focus that the singers and producer can latch on to, and the song doesn’t connect with its audience quite as well as its predecessors did.

For a song that talks about “What A Song Can Do,” this song does very little by comparison. It lauds all the things that music has moved people to do, but it isn’t quite sure what it wants to move people to do itself, and its cookie-cutter sound, foundationless writing, and ambiguous vocal performances fail to make the kind of impression that was push someone to do anything at all. The sine wave indicates that Lady A is in line for another hit, but I’m just not sure this is going to resonate with enough people to make it happen. Why listen to a song that tells you “what a song can do” when you could listen to a song that actually does it?

Rating: 5/10. Pass.

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