Song Review: Kolby Cooper, “Excuses”

A word of advice for Kolby Cooper: Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to.

The latest artist to roll off of Nashville’s faceless young male assembly line is Cooper, a Texas native who signed with the BBR Music Group back in June of last year. (In yet another sign of radio’s declining relevancy, his “debut” single became publicly available soon after his deal was signed, but was only officially released to radio less than three months ago.) “Excuses” is yet another entry in the Ex-Boyfriend era of country music, and while it’s a marginal improvement over most of the songs in this lane, it’s nowhere near enough to make the song worth listening to, and it fails to sell Cooper as an interesting artist in a genre that’s drowning in guys that sound (and whine) just like him.

The production feels a little weird to me on this track, because it strikes a very neutral tone rather than doing anything to support the writing. The song opens with some restrained piano and electric guitar, slowly ramps up the production in the first verse (first it’s just sticks that seem just a little too energetic for the subject, and than the bass drum kicks in), and finally morphs into the generic guitar-and-drum sound that we all knew was coming on the chorus (complete with a wall of noise that completely overwhelms the piano). There aren’t as many minor chords as you might expect from song with writing that’s this frustrated, and the mix pulls its punches a bit too much and only gives off the slightest hint of irritation in the face of a relationship’s sudden collapse. I normally rip songs too pieces for being too negative or angry, but I think the writing could have supported a bit more anger and intensity from the sound, and instead it gets left out on a limb by overly-safe production choices. In the end, this feels like an off-the-shelf mix that was dumped on a song that it doesn’t fit terribly well with, and the track suffers as a result.

Vocally, Cooper’s voice sits somewhere in between Luke Combs and Dillon Carmichael, but his tone is as restrained as the production and it hurts his credibility as the narrator. Even when dropping accusatory lines like “how can you stand there, look me in the eye lie and tell me you really care,” there’s so little emotion in Cooper’s delivery that the listener’s response is “Do you really care either?” The man just had his future plans knocked over and tossed back in his face, and he’s telling the story like he’s telling us what he bought at the supermarket. There’s just no forcefulness in his delivery, even when he drops a word like “bullshit” or when opening and closing the chorus with the title, and it makes it abundantly clear that he’s acting and that there’s nothing behind his performative speech. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you put any other of these Ex-Boyfriend country peddlers behind the mic (yes, even Bailey Zimmerman), I think the song wold actually improve because some anger might actually be justified here. Instead, Cooper’s performance is too even-keel to be believable, making me wonder if it’s part of the reason this took so long to get sent to radio.

I have mixed feelings about the writing, where we’ve got yet another narrator spewing outrage over a relationship that’s fallen apart. What I like about this track is that it makes a decent case for why the narrator is unhappy: We get to hear the other person’s lines about how “it ain’t you, it’s me” and “you deserve someone better” and how they “fеll too fast, too hard”…and you know what, the narrator’s right—these all sound like pretty lame excuses! You can sort of understand why the narrator is a little miffed that their partner couldn’t give it to them straight…but at the same time, the narrator is a little too quick to pin all the blame on their ex, and you get the sense that they aren’t looking for constructive feedback either. Instead of wanting to clear the air and figure out where he might of gone wrong, he immediately declares that there must not have been anything behind the relationship in the first place, and his preferred alternatives (“you coulda said you don’t love me no more, you coulda said nothin’ and just walked out the door,” etc.) feel too simple and reductionist. The other person could have also pointed out some of the narrator’s flaws that made such a relationship untenable, but by framing the breakup as a “you problem,” the speaker doesn’t appear to be ready to take any blame for it. In that way, you can sort of understand why the other person chose to make excuses: The narrator isn’t ready for a hard conversation, so their ex didn’t think it was worth having one. Neither party comes across as terribly sympathetic here, and that’s not a recipe for an enjoyable listen.

“Excuses” is yet another bungled attempt from Music City to break a new artist onto the radio, and yet another uninteresting song that just can’t convince the listener to care about it. The writing is far from perfect, but the real issue is that it was the one time an Ex-Boyfriend song had some leeway to show some frustration, and both the producer and Kolby Cooper left the bat on their shoulder and gave us a generic, unfeeling performance that the audience forgets about before the song is even over. This sort of debacle has happened too many times to be chalked up to mere incompetence: Nashville really doesn’t appear to care about the radio anymore, and is content to feed it mediocre material that conforms to a bland and boring meta while dumping everything else an artist has on streaming services. What this means for the careers of artists like Cooper is uncertain at this point, but I can’t imagine it’s doing them much of a service.

Rating: 5/10. No “Excuses” needed here—it’s just not worth your time.

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