Song Review: Conner Smith, “Take It Slow”

I dunno man, I think these AI deepfakes still have a ways to go before we think they’re real.

I can’t find the link now, but a while ago our colleague Zack Kephart talked about how 1986 saw the release of Randy Travis’s Storms Of Life, Steve Earle’s Guitar Town, and Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., and how each album was a critical and commercial success despite each one sounding vastly different than the others. Such a feat would be unheard of today, as Music City seems to enforce a bland homogeneity in its output via adherence to a strict meta, issuing commandments like “Thou shalt use the same three instruments and same ten buzzwords in every song.”

Conner Smith is one of the latest product of this cookie-cutter approach, but he’s certainly not one of its success stories: His debut single “Learn From It” was picked apart by me and completely ignored by the radio, limping to a #38 peak on Billboard’s airplay chart. I complained about how unoriginal and soundalike the song was, but apparently he didn’t learn anything from it, because his follow-up single “Take It Slow” is even worse. This thing is so by-the-book that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was the result of someone asking ChatGPT “Create a modern country song,” and there’s simply nothing here to recommend this track to anyone.

Let’s start with the production, and hey, we’ve spotted our first difference:It’s not an acoustic guitar carrying the melody alone this time! …Except that it’s being assisted by an amplified banjo that’s only slightly livelier than the token efforts we got during the Bro-Country era. (Also, if you guessed that it was Ilya Toshinskiy playing the guitar and banjo for this mix…congrats I guess? Seriously, is this guy the only string session player in Music City, and is Nir Z the only drummer?) The electric guitars are really only noticeable on the bridge solo, and the percussion jumps in late and doesn’t pack that much punch, but the main problem is that some amorphous background elements (honestly, I can’t tell if they’re guitars, synthesizers, backing vocals, or some combination of the three) are cranked up so much that they overwhelm everything else, causing all the sounds to run together to create (say it with me now) an impenetrable wall of noise, one that really grates on the ears. I have no idea what vibe the producer was going for here—the deliberate cadence and banjo prominence suggest a Bro-Country-esque party atmosphere but and the regular minor chords suggest that they were trying to signal the depth/seriousness of the narrator’s feelings…all I know is that when I listen to this, the dominant feeling I get is no feeling at all. Its the sort of sound you expect to hear from the radio today, but it’s exceptionally aimless this time around, trying to be everything and winding up as nothing as a result.

I called Smith a hoarse Jake Owen in my last review, but this time I hear a weird mix of Sam Hunt and Russell Dickerson in his voice (which isn’t a stellar starting point either), and frankly, you could probably tell me that any one of Nashville’s faceless male singers is behind the mic and I would believe you. It’s about as indistinguishable (and undistinguished) a performance as you could find these days, but the main component that’s missing is actual emotion. Smith comes across as incredibly neutral and nonchalant as he tells the story, making it seem like he really doesn’t care all that much about it. The song could be twisted in any direction (the couple could stay together forever, break up immediately, or do anything in between) and the ending would be plausible thanks to Smith’s poker face. (Spoiler alert: The song doesn’t get twisted in any direction at all, but we’ll talk about that later.) When you’ve got all the personality of wet cardboard and don’t bother to put any real feeling behind your delivery, you’re left with an aggressively bland performance that’s a real grind to sit through from beginning to end.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the lyrics feel so incomplete, and manage to say everything and nothing at the same time. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A pair meets for an amorous evening, hops in a Chevy, drives to a field, and cuddles for the rest of the night (hence the weak “take it slow” hook). Even if we set aside the fact that the story is so stock that it’s probably copyrighted by Getty Images, the way the story is framed is absolutely terrible. The narrator consistently uses the past tense when speaking (and the tale is exactly what you’d get if you googled “teenage first date”), so it sets the story up for some sort of payoff (it could be an old couple reminiscing about their first night together, a heartbroken individual reliving the highlights of a long-lost romance)…except that we get nothing: The couple takes it slow by cuddling to the radio, the screen fades to black, and we have no idea what happens next. I’ve gotten after songs for “not putting the punch line first,” but this song doesn’t have a punch line at all! It makes listening to the song feel like a completely wasted effort, and the track’s only saving grace is that the story was so boring in the first place that no one was paying attention anyway.

Songs like “Take It Slow” are what have made reviewing radio singles so painful over the last few years, and the most withering criticism I can level against this track is that it took me forever to write this piece because I kept looking for something, anything I could do to procrastinate. (Seriously, you have no idea how many 3-inning Conquest games I’ve played in MLB The Show 22 today—Pablo Lopez is now 10-0 and I never want him to pitch for my team ever again). Nothing about this track, be it the ear-splitting production, the half-finished cookie-cutter writing, or Conner Smith’s forgettable, monotonic delivery, is even remotely pleasant to hear, and the whole mess feels like a microcosm of nearly everything that ails Nashville right now. It’s a colossal-but-unsurprising disappointment that leaves me more sad than angry, and while I’m not sure what Music City should do going forward, we can at least point to this song and say “Don’t do that.”

Rating: 4/10. Take it away. Please.

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