Song Review: Cole Swindell, “Drinkaby”

*sigh* I thought the reason I gave up the Pulse was to avoid junk like this.

I used to be a fan of Cole Swindell’s output, but I found his work to be scattershot and unfocused, as if he and his team couldn’t quite figure what sort of artist they wanted him to be. I even wrote the man an open letter imploring him to settle on a musical direction so that he could move forward in his career. Well, it seems that he’s made his decision, and like the legion of Splatoon 3 players that make up the Splash-o-matic army, Swindell will be following the meta to the letter to maximize his success.

Whether this was a good or bad decision depends on the metrics you’re concerned about. There’s no denying that commercially Swindell is have more success than ever, with songs like “Single Saturday Night,” “Never Say Never,” and “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” going as far as cracking the Top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Quality-wise, however, Swindell’s releases have never been worse, trading in the sevens and eights he was getting for fives and fours, and his latest single “Drinkaby” might well be the worst one yet. It pretty much combines everything I hate about modern country music (bland soundalike production, sound/writing mismatches, overdone tropes, nihilistic attitudes, laundry-list buzzword-laden lyrics, etc.) into a single track, and the results aren’t pretty.

Let’s start with the production, which goes all out in a party-hardy direction that feels inappropriate for what the song’s actually taking about. The instruments are exactly what you’d expect, and nothing more: Some rough-toned hard-rock guitars, an in-your-face drum set, a keyboard or two floating around in the background, and that’s it. (The good news is that while the mix would be a prime candidate for creating an impenetrable wall of noise with those guitars, it doesn’t because there’s literally nothing else here to bleed together.) Even if we set aside how badly this thing fails the context test (the lyrics talk about how the tale is “sadder than a steel in a country song”…but there’s no steel, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, or even an acoustic guitar anywhere to be found), this is yet another example of a song that just flips a long, stiff middle finger at the writing and cranks up the noise and energy to create an bouncy, positive atmosphere regardless of whether or not the song warrants it, and this song definitely doesn’t. The narrator is supposed to be putting on a brave face to escape the pain of a breakup, but the party vibes are so strong here that you get the sense that the narrator is actually glad that the relationship is over so that they can go out and drink and hook up. It just feels like a series or bad decisions, and as a result we’re left with a forceful-but-bland sound that works against the track instead of working with it.

Swindell is stuck in a similar spot: I still think he’s a good enough performer that he could credibly thread the needle between the pain and pleasure that the song really calls for, but instead he simply follows the producer’s cue and goes all-in on the party vibe. There’s no emotion in his voice that suggests any concern or sadness over the relationship ending, but he sure sounds excited to drink himself onto the floor and score with the hottie he just met! He paints himself in a terrible light here, as his lack of concern for the breakup and his enthusiasm for activities well-known for causing breakups make him the clear villain of the story despite no such implication in the writing, and he becomes a much less likeable or sympathetic character as a result. I also think that there’s nothing truly distinguishing about this performance—it’s certainly not an exceptional sales job, and if you put any other product of Nashville’s faceless young male assembly line behind the mic, very little would change. It’s just not a good look for Swindell, and it’s frustrating to hear because you know he can be better than this.

Then we get to the lyrics, and to start, who the heck thought the word/hook “Drinkaby” was a good idea? It’s the dumbest made-up word I’ve heard in a country song since “REDNECKER,” and trying to use it as a verb just sounds awful. The plot is about as basic and predictable as you can imagine: The narrator’s former partner has left (that’s all we know; the breakup only gets about two lines of total airtime), and in response the narrator has resolved to drink their face off and “get lucky…with a 10 from Mississippi.” The song feels really poorly-constructed at points: The attempt to shoehorn “Kentucky” into the song for a rhyme is beyond forced, the opening “I got a song, and I’m bout to sing it” feels like a placeholder that was never replaced, and of course the laundry list of liquors that make up the pre-chorus opener (side note: Every lyric site I see says it’s “Kilo Kai apple pie,” but it sounds like “‘quila lime apple pie” to me). The low point of the track has to be the attempt to mimic “Hush Little Baby, Don’t Say A Word” on the bridge, as parodying a classic lullaby with alcohol-related lyrics make it feel both super sketchy and super cringe. Basically, I hate everything about the writing on this track, and the four lunkheads that wrote this drivel (yep, you guessed it: HARDY’s fingerprints are all over this thing) need to have their pens taken away until further notice.

“Drinkaby” is quite simply a colossal failure on every level, from its ill-fitting one-note production to Cole Swindell’s sunny-yet-sleazy turn behind the mic to writing that goes out of its way to make every mistake in the book. That said, none of this was done without intention: This is the kind of song that people want from country radio these days, and despite Swindell having the talent to rise above this sort of tire fire, he’d rather get burned in hopes of getting to cash big checks. It’s a sad state of affairs, one that pushes good artists to make bad decisions to make bank, and while I can’t blame them for their decisions, I can’t say I respect those decisions much either.

Cole Swindell made his choice. He chose poorly.

Rating: 3/10. Get that garbage outta here!


One thought on “Song Review: Cole Swindell, “Drinkaby”

  1. I don’t really know what any of you guys problem is honestly… Sad that you have to think that way about him he’s an amazing singer/writer and regardless if he made a bad choice or not he’s only human.. And as far as I knew humans make mistakes that’s what makes us human.. Correct?! Sounds to be like a bunch of not human people(or possible haters) that have been setting back and dieing and praying for this moment just so you all could do just as you all have done.. He’s one of the best out there nd you all talk down on thee guy like his committed a crime…… HE MADE A BAD CHOICE!! Let it be a lesson learned not a free strike to bash his name or persons!!!!


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