Retro Review: Clint Black, “One More Payment”

It’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and turn a critical eye towards one of my favorite artists.

Tell people you’re a Randy Travis fan, and you’ll get a lot of nods of agreement. Tell people you’re a Clint Black fan, however, and the reaction is a bit more mixed: Despite a fast start out of the gate, Black was eventually pushed aside in favor of some of his fellow Class of ’89 members (Try this: Tell someone you’re a Clint fan, and see if they know who you’re talking about. You’ll have no such trouble with, say, “Garth” or “Alan”). Why this happened is hard to say, but Clint Black insisted on writing or co-writing all of his own material back in the day (a rarity at the time, although everyone does it know), and while he was masterful as turning a phrase, he could sometimes get himself in trouble by trying to be too clever by half and muddling his message in the process.

The song under the microscope today is “One More Payment,” which was released in 1991 as the third single from his Put Yourself In My Shoes album, and at #7 on Billboard’s airplay chart, it actually wound up being his worst-performing single until his 1997 collab with Martina McBride “Still Holding On.” The song is a bit of a mishmash of conflicting ideas, an attempt at a working man’s lament that doesn’t quite capture the laugh-to-keep-from-crying atmosphere of, say, Travis Tritt’s “Lord Have Mercy On The Working Man” (another Class of ’89 member, btw). It’s one of Black’s weaker singles, and not a must-hear if you’re working through his discography.

The production here is pretty standard fare for the neotraditional meta of the early 1990s: Guitars and drums forming the foundation (in fact, the acoustic axe is used like a percussion instrument during the verses, only providing choppy strums on the second and fourth beats), with a fiddle, steel guitar, and slick electric guitar filling in any space not covered by the lyrics (the pedal steel appears to be the first option, but it splits the bridge solo with the fiddle). With its bright instrument tones and brisk tempo, there’s a real bounce to the sound here, giving the song a serious Western swing feel that was less common for the era. The problem, however, is that the mix goes all in on the positivity, which doesn’t fit terribly well with the subject matter. At its core, the narrator is lamenting their bad luck regarding…well, everything, and having such an upbeat and cheery mix behind them hurts their credibility (are they really broken up about all this?). It just doesn’t feel like the right mood for a song like this, and when combined with the ambiguity of the message, the listener really isn’t sure how to feel when the song ends. I like a good Bob Wills throwback as much as anyone, but I don’t think this was the right track to try it on.

Black runs into the same problem with the vocals: He just sounds so darn happy talking about his roof caving in and his mortgage being foreclosed on, and it just makes things feel a bit off. I’ve always found him to have a lot of charm and charisma (although perhaps not on the same level as Garth), but it feels misplaced here. His openness and interest in commiserating gives him the air of a glad-handing politician, but much like some elected officials you really don’t get the sense that he actually shares in the pain that he talks about. I’d prefer to see a bit more seriousness in this performance, to give the audience the sense that for all the merriment in the song, these are real problems that cause him some real heartburn. Instead, the listener isn’t able to connect with Black over the song, and don’t engage as much with the song as a result. It just feels like a case of clashing motivations: Black wants to get you moving like you’re in an old-school dance hall, but he also wants to connect with his audience on a deeper level over the problems they’re facing, and he only gets half way (up) there on this song.

Then we get to lyrics, and honestly, for as much as Black’s clever witticisms shine through (“that banker’s bound to foreclose, at this rate I’ll lose my interest in this town” is just sublime), the song not only doesn’t seem to have much to say, but also seems a little confused as to what it’s trying to say at all. It starts with crumbling cars and houses and the rising costs of life in general, but then pivots to proclaim that he’s on top of everything and that “I’ve got one more payment and it’s mine,” which suggests some weird feeling of pride tied into it all (“It’s a piece of junk, but it’s my piece of junk, darn it!”), and then awkwardly pivots again to try and tie romantic relationships into the whole mess (which honestly doesn’t make any sense at all), and it leaves the listener wondering what the heck the point of this whole exercise was. Black’s tracks often have something deeper or meaningful to say (and if they don’t, at least they make it clear from the start), and this song feels very scattershot by comparison, trying to tie together a few vaguely-related ideas and hope that the witty lines earn the performers a pass from the audience. To some degree they do (and they certainly did back when I first discovered the song), but if I’m putting my critic’s hat on here, this song simply falls short of its goal.

“One More Payment” isn’t a bad song, but when you’re looking into Clint Black’s discography, it doesn’t distinguish itself as a must-hear tune. Black certainly does his best to convince you to have a good time, and the Western swing vibe of the sound doesn’t hurt matters, but a good time isn’t really the reason you listen to one of Black’s songs or albums. If you’re looking for some serious poetry with a little something extra behind it, this track won’t quite get you there. Great wordplay can only get you so far, and if you don’t have a clear destination in mind, your audience is eventually going to wander off and fins their own path.

Rating: 5/10. There are lots of Clint Black songs you should hear…but this isn’t one of them.

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