This song is a microcosm of the genre right now…but sadly, it’s also still a Dustin Lynch song.
The revelations in Country Aircheck two weeks ago sent shock waves through the industry: 2021 was the worst year for country radio since they started keeping PPM records. Everyone and their mother had a reason for why things appeared to be circling the drain, and many of them were things we’d discussed at length on the blog: Soundalike songs, zombie tracks, chart shenanigans, and so on. If country music was to find its way out of the fog, it needed to find a way to connect with audience again, and be more than the background noise that it had become.
Lynch has been a significant part of the problem over the last few years, as he’s dropped some real clunkers on our heads (“Small Town Boy,” “I’d Be Jealous Too,” “Ridin’ Roads”) and has only ever managed to rise to the level of forgettable mediocrity (“Good Girl,” his latest single with MacKenzie Porter “Thinking ‘Bout You”). There’s a reason the artist with the worst showing on my year-end lists gets an award that was named after this guy, and if country music is ever going to change for the better, figuring out what to do with this joker is about as good a place to start as any. “Party Mode,” the second single from Lynch’s recently-released album Blue In The Sky, is a sign of what Lynch and his team thinks will sell, and frankly, it’s not good. You can tell that some of the criticism of today’s music has reached the ear of someone important, but it’s can’t overcome the facts that a) modern songwriting has become incredibly watered down, and b) Lynch has all the personality of a coat rack.
The place were progress seems to be happening is in the production, as this is as close as Lynch has ever come to a conventional/classical arrangement (at least in his radio singles). Yes, the guitars and drums are still dominant players here, but the guitars have a bit more texture and a tone that invokes the sound of the 2000s, and the drums are both real and a bit rougher-sounding. Most notably, however, is the fact that the producer stole Carly Pearce’s dobro and gave it a surprisingly-prominent position in the fact, to the point where you could argue that it’s the defining instrument in the mix. There’s also a pedal steel and fiddle (!) present here, and while they’re given given any room to breathe and are mostly buried in the background, the fact that they’re here at all (especially the fiddle) is a step in the right direction. (The Topic video on YouTube doesn’t credit a keyboard, but there’s an organ-sounding one hidden here as well.) Unfortunately, despite the interesting pieces and the dobro’s near-leading role, there’s still something off with this mix: It’s caught in the awkward space being a party song and a heartbreak song, and it vibe it creates doesn’t make the song feel like either one. The regular minor chords keep the song from being any fun or energetic, but the generally-brighter tones don’t really reflect the supposed melancholy in the narrator’s breakup, and as a result the atmosphere feels mostly neutral and muted. Had the producer picked a mood and leaned into it, this might have been a workable song no matter the direction they picked, but as it is the sound provides little support (or even much of a connection) to the subject matter, and all of the intriguing pieces it brings together mostly go to waste.
Of course, when you’re dealing with a soulless singer like Lynch, most any song is probably doomed before it even gets to the starting gate. There aren’t any technical issues with Lynch’s performance, but there isn’t any emotion behind it either, and as a result he sounds completely disingenuous in the role of a heartbroken narrator using “party mode” as a coping mechanism. (Seriously, every time I hear that line “I sure do miss her and what we had,” I roll my eyes and think “Yeah, right,” like it’s a reflex.) In truth: he suffers from the same problem as the sound: He doesn’t sound the least bit regretful that the relationship is over, but he also doesn’t sound like he’s having any fun on the party circuit either, leaving the listener confused as to how to feel about the situation. Truthfully, it’s a moot point, as Lynch simply fails to convince the audience to even care enough to be confused, and comes across as the same “meatheaded dudebro” that he does in every single he releases. The fact that this untalented stiff has lasted for over ten years in mainstream country music tells you everything you need to know about the current state of the genre.
And then we get to the lyrics:
Party mode, party mode, party mode
That’s how it goes, how it goes, how it goes
Neon lights, honky-tonks ’til they close
Party mode, party mode, party mode
…Yeah. Sheer poetry.
When I hear this, I can’t help but think of Charli XCX’s comments about writing songs for the streaming era, or Hasan Minhaj’s comments about just how repetitive Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” is. This is a song that feel overly-optimized for Spotify (although he takes 44 seconds to reach the chorus; that’s an eternity these days), and while it’s catchy, it’s also vapid and pointless. The song is supposedly about how the narrator self-medicates with booze and wild times to get over a breakup, but the narrator doesn’t actually seem to care about the lost love, even going as far as to say “I hope she comes back, but if she don’t, I’ll be [partying my ears off].” I mean, I give artists a hard time for dwelling on the past and not moving on, but this guy gets back into “party mode, party mode, party mode” so fast that it’s hard to believe he loved the other person at all. This is as unapologetically shallow and nihilistic as any song from the height of the Cobronavirus movement, and as far as the listener is concerned, if the speaker doesn’t care about their own story, why should anyone else?
“Party Mode” is a depressingly-accurate barometer of where country music stands in 2022. It knows it has to do something, and it’s taking some baby steps in its production (heck, the sound is all that ERNEST’s “Flower Shops” has going for it, and it’s been enough to post some decent weeks on Mediabase), but it continues to be weighed down by fundamental issues like mindless, meaningless writing and artists like Dustin Lynch who couldn’t sell Gatorade to someone that’s dying of thirst. This song is part of the problem rather than the solution, and if Lynch, Broken Bow, and Nashville at large want to get themselves out of the rut they’ve fallen into, they’re going to have to try a little harder than this.
Rating: 4/10. No.