Song Review: Bailey Smith, “Fall On You”

Good grief, didn’t I already write this post? So much for ending this trend “quickly before it spreads”…

Let’s start by setting the context. A few days ago, our colleague and collaborator Zack Kephart of The Musical Divide observed that it had been 5 years since Brad Paisley had released a new album, which begged the question: Why? I discussed some of the possibilities back in my Paisley deep dive of 2019, but given the current state of the world and the musical trend we’re about to discuss, one of my theories has risen above the rest: The hope and optimism of the late 2000s gave way to the anger and cynicism of the late 2010s, and Paisley’s generally positive and inclusive messages no longer resonated with the audience. (As late as 2020 Paisley was still preaching that “we’re all in this together,” in “No I In Beer,” but the politicization of the pandemic indicated that people felt otherwise.)

This anger and cynicism has only gotten stronger in the early 2020s (to the point where a certain former president tried to burn the whole place down last year), and these feelings have been manifesting in country music in a couple of ways, most notably as:

That second point covers the two singles that we’ll be covering today, which serve as the radio debuts for a pair of aspiring artists: “Fall In Love” from Illinois native Bailey Zimmerman (who leveraged his TikTok virality to score a record deal) and “Whiskey On You” from California native Nate Smith (who’s taking his second shot at Nashville after his post-Camp Fire tribute song garnered him a lot of media coverage). In both cases, we have an overly-aggrieved narrator spewing vitriol over the loss of an ex and unconvincingly claiming they were blameless in the matter, and while one song is notably better than the other (we’ll discuss which one later), neither one is an interesting or enjoyable listen, and the fact that these songs and their predecessors exist speaks only to deeper issues in the world that we need to take more seriously.

First, let’s start with the production, where unsurprisingly the two songs have a lot in common. As far as the arrangement, it will surprise no one to hear that both songs lean heavily on Nashville’s stock guitar-and-drum arrangement, with an acoustic guitar getting the call on the verses, some harder-edge electric axes driving home their points on the chorus, and a drum set relegated to keeping time with a basic line in the background. Smith’s producer calls it a day here, and while Zimmerman tosses a few more instruments into the mix, the additions (a token banjo, a background keyboard) really don’t add a whole lot of anything to the sound. (The one thing Zimmerman’s track has going for it is how much clear it sounds; given how badly everything runs together on Smith’s song, adding extra instruments wouldn’t have made any difference.) With their darker, rougher instrument tones, both tracks create as ominous, foreboding atmosphere (Zimmerman’s in particular sounds really ominous) that makes the listener take a step back and wonder what the narrator’s is capable of doing instead of building any sympathy for their cause. These mixes work really hard to get you to feel the speaker’s anger, but the songs really don’t do anything to justify said rage, leaving the listener mostly confused and concerned by the time they’re finished.

As far as the vocal performances…look, Smith isn’t a great singer by any stretch, but he’s by far the better of the two artists here. His voice isn’t quite as gravelly and you can hear hints of both Luke Combs and Dylan Scott in his delivery, and he seems to stay more in control and not push his voice into uncomfortable/ear-splitting territory as much. Zimmerman, in contrast, might be the worst vocalist I’ve heard since Walker Hayes; he’s got an absolute cheese-grater of a voice with no tone to back it up, and ends up just screaming at the listener every time to tries to make a point. (It’s as if someone heard Kip Moore and thought “What if we made him sound worse is every way?”) What’s worse is how over-the-top both men with their vocal performances, as both narrators have anger and frustration shooting out of every pore, but neither one gives us a good reason for this—they just resort to ‘proof by volume’ and only try to make their arguments believable by making them louder (spoiler alert: It doesn’t work). In the end, both artists come across as unsympathetic, unconvincing, and even a little unbalanced (especially in Zimmerman’s case), which sends a strong signal to the audience that a) these guys have a problem, and b) said problem is probably why said relationships have ended. They’re just frustrated people telling stories that aren’t worth hearing, making sitting through these songs a less-than-pleasant experience.

As usual, it’s the writing where these tracks completely fall apart, as both narrators throw a tantrum, try to claim the title of ‘jilted lover,’ and look to pin the blame on somebody else instead of looking in the mirror and reflecting on the situation. “Fall In Love” is exceptionally bad in this regard: It claims that the ex “had a bed of roses” without giving us any indication that this was the case (given the speaker’s attitude, it sounds like it was nothing but thorns), and it tries to say that their ex’s new relationship isn’t deep or built to last because…the guy “put a rock on your finger” and “built a house right by the coast.” As in, the pair got married and settled down. As in, they went through the stereotypical rites of commitment that every other country singer talks about (heck, Jimmie Allen’s got a song like this on the charts right now!). How can you argue that a relationship isn’t going to last by pointing out that they’re doing the things that people who want lasting relationships do? Yes, he mentions money and insinuates that the ex is a gold digger, but it’s a throwaway line that comes across as sour grapes thanks to the speaker’s insufferable attitude; there’s no other evidence presented suggested that the ex had any ill intentions at all. It gets worse: The narrator whines that their ex “moved out to South Carolina just like you always said we would,” which means that the ex did fulfill the couple’s dream but as a different couple, which begs the question: If they wanted the same thing, why didn’t they marry and build a house in South Carolina together? Could it be that the other person found something lacking with the narrator (say, an attitude or anger management problem) and made a run for it? Given the evidence they’ve got, that’s the likely conclusion that the listener’s going to draw. Finally, we have the song’s message, which is that all love is ephemeral (“a smoke ring wrapped around your finger,” which is the only decent line in the song) and that “you don’t wanna fall in love.” It’s not only a weaksauce hook, but it’s a loooooong jump to a poor conclusion (your heart gets broke once and you’re declaring the whole thing a worthless farce?). This isn’t a heartbreak song, it’s an incel origin story, and one that I’m not interested in hearing. (…Wait, I’m not done yet: Trying to drag the other person’s mother in the fray? That felt like a low blow, and not a great move from a narrator with no credibility to start with.)

Now, let’s look away from that tire fire and consider Smith’s take on the subject. This one isn’t nearly as bad, mostly because the anger here is more self-directed. Sure, the narrator isn’t happy because their ex left and quickly moved on, but they’re mostly upset with themselves for wasting so much time mourning a failed relationship that wasn’t that strong to begin with. Still, there are some hints of pettiness that bubble up (the speaker says “you didn’t waste any time finding somebody new,” implying that it was the other person’s fault for the breakup but never expanding on this thought—in fact, we never hear anything about the relationship at all), and using the ex’s quick turnaround as an excuse to give up whatever self-reflection was going on feels a bit short-sighted to me. The anger might be turned inward, but it still feels unnecessary: “There’s no use crying over spilled perfume,” and lamenting whatever tears and beers were wasted aren’t going to help you moving forward. In the end, it still feels like a tale that isn’t worth telling, and one that you won’t remember five minutes after it ends.

Let’s circle back to our original question: Why is Brad Paisley making Nationwide commercials instead of country singles? It’s because the atmosphere of hope and optimism that Paisley flourished in has been replaced with its polar opposite, giving us artists like Bailey Zimmerman and Nate Smith instead. Hope has given way to pessimism, understanding has been replaced by resentment, and instead of extending a helping hand, we all try to land the last punch. (As an aside, the “fun” song that Paisley was always a master of has been replaced by the “party” song, selling us nihilistic numbing through heavy drinking as recreation.) Neither “Fall In Love” nor “Whiskey On You” are even remotely interesting or memorable (in particular, “Fall In Love” should be immediately shoved to the bottom of the nearest trash can), but Music City wouldn’t keep stuffing this drivel in our ears if they didn’t think it would resonate. The truth is there’s a lot of anger in this country right now over a lot of different things, and people don’t seem to be inclined to extend any sort of kindness or understanding beyond themselves and the people they agree with.

These aren’t good songs, and they indicate that we aren’t in a good place right now. As much as I think Nashville is broken right now, there are a few more fundamental things we need to fix first.

Smith’s Rating: 5/10. Meh.

Zimmerman’s Rating: 2/10. Yuck.