…So what’s the big deal again?
Zach Bryan is an Oklahoma native who’s been a darling of the independent country scene for a few years, finding success on social media with “Heading South” in 2019 and self-releasing a pair of albums and an EP to notable acclaim despite not having any major label support behind them. Needless to say, said labels took notice, and Bryan is now a Warner Records employee with an official radio single “Something In The Orange” (which is already in the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100). I was curious to hear what sort of flavor Bryan would add to the airwaves, but was disappointed to discover that “Something In The Orange” is completely vanilla: It’s a generic brokenhearted lament that does nothing to engage the listener or distinguish itself through its execution. It screams of yet another botched radio debut from Music City, and makes me wonder if Nashville even cares about what it puts on the airwaves at all.
There isn’t a lot to the production here, but it does a decent enough job setting the tone here that I’d call it the best part of the song. You’ve got an acoustic guitar carrying the melody, an electric guitar adding accents to the verses and taking the lead on the choruses and bridge solo, some thunder-clap-sounding percussion that sounds off during the louder parts of the song, and that’s pretty much all you’ve got. However, it’s the tone the arrangement sets that matters here, and this mix isn’t afraid to go dark, leaning heavily on minor chords to create an immersive-but-unsettling atmosphere that helps the listener feel the depths of the narrator’s despair and frustration. While I kind of wish there were a few more moving parts here (the risk of overproducing a song like this seems minimal, as long as the writing warrants it), the mix does a nice job with what it’s got, and ultimately it’s this ominous sound that makes the best case for staying tuned into the song at all. It’s a shame that none of the other parties involved hop up their part of the bargain.
Vocally, Bryan is essentially Jason Isbell with a bit more power in his delivery, but he’s still one of the weaker singers I’ve heard this year. While his sound certainly stands out among his mainstream counterparts, he occasionally has trouble enunciating his lines (I had to look up the opening line of the lyrics to figure out what the heck he was saying), and his voice is generally thin and doesn’t have much tone to it. This isn’t a deal breaker by itself, but he doesn’t show off much charm or charisma in his performance either, and while the frustration stemming from his powerlessness in his current situation is apparent, he’s unable to make the song feel personal or even all that sad. He simply can’t bring the listener in to care about a run-of-the-mill tale of woe, especially when the genre’s been drowning in such tracks lately, and it’s one of those moments where putting any other artist behind the mic would get you pretty much the same outcome. I expected better from Bryan given how highly he’d been touted, and I don’t know if the issue is him or his material…
…because let’s be honest, this material is nothing to write home about. The narrator has either lost or all but lost their partner, and they’re broken up because they sense the inevitability of the end (hence the “something in the orange tells me you’re never coming home” hook). I’m really surprised at just how awkward some of the phrasing is in this, starting with the hook itself (“something in the orange” just rarely sounds right, like it’s too far away from the “orange” it’s referring to or it takes too long to set up the punch line). Phrases like “bulb light” and “between my collar and jaw” are unwieldy and probably should have been cut, and the sentence “take me back to us dancing, this wood used to creak” sounds like it’s backwards and was reversed only to make the rhyming scheme work. The overall level of detail seems a bit sparse (the wood-creaking line is one of the few tidbits we get), and while the narrator sounds clear-eyed about the whole situation (he knows his feelings aren’t reciprocated and has no ideas on how to change that), it makes the song feel a bit pointless (what’s the point of dwelling on something they can’t change?). It needs more support from the artist to get the audience to share in their pain and invest in the story, and without it it’s just another sob story that we don’t have the time or inclination to care about.
“Something In The Orange” is merely a thing that exists, which feels like a massive wasted opportunity for Zach Bryan and his team. The production does its darnedest to set the proper mood, but a problematic writing and a subpar performance from Bryan keeps the listener from caring about the story while it’s being told (to say nothing about remembering it after it’s over). The fact that we keep getting these lukewarm lost-love tracks on the radio (especially as debut singles) makes me wonder just what kind of data the suits in Nashville are looking at (especially given that different songs are pushed at different times through different channels) Do people really want more of this drivel on the airwaves? I mean, Bryan’s dropped “Burn, Burn, Burn” and “Starved” since his American Heartbreak album dropped, both of which would better single choices than “Something In The Orange”…so why weren’t they chosen for release? I don’t get it, and “Something In The Orange” tells me I never will.
Rating: 5/10. Pass.