Song Review: Billy Currington, “Wake Me Up”

Yawn. Do me a solid and “Wake Me Up” when this song is over, would you?

Billy Currington is one of those mid-tier artists that has been forced to ride the trendy waves washing over the country genre in order to survive, and while he’s proven to be a pretty good surfer (his last single “Do I Make You Wanna” became his seventh No. 1 hit of the decade and eleventh of his career), it’s left him without much of a musical legacy. (I can only name two or three songs of his off the top of my head, none of which were released after 2009.) His latest single “Wake Me Up,” the fifth release off of his Summer Forever album, does nothing to help his cause, as it’s a generic, forgettable track that’s basically Luke Bryan’s “Light It Up” without (almost) all of the phone references.

The production here is a bit more restrained than Bryan’s song: The melody here is passed between acoustic and electric guitars instead of being exclusively electric-driven, and the percussion (both real and synthetic) are not as hard-hitting or in-your-face as much here. (Heck, there are even some random steel guitar stabs tossed into the background.) However, the riffs here don’t stand out as much as they do on Bryan’s track, and despite the reliance on minor chords, this song’s tone never rises above general seriousness, and is nowhere near as unsettling or haunting as Bryan’s was. (Even the guitar solo on Currington’s song seems bland by comparison.) In short, the mix here feels like a diluted, less-impactful version of “Light Me Up” that gives the listener nothing to grab hold of and remember.

Currington is a decent enough singer, and he’s certainly got enough charisma to come across as believable in the role of a pining narrator, but something feels a bit off in the vocals tracks. Most of this seems to stem from the harmony vocals: They don’t blend very well with Currington’s delivery, and make him sound a bit washed-out on the choruses. His range is fine and his flow on the faster sections is surprisingly good, but beyond that…meh. It’s okay, but it lacks that something extra that it needs to catch the listener’s attention.

The lyrics here describe a narrator pleading with a lost love, begging them to reach out to him anytime without worrying if they will interfere with his life (he’s already waiting, so a call won’t “wake [him] up”). Again, while it’s not as explicitly phone-centered as “Light It Up,” the two are essentially the same song, and neither one is terribly interesting. The imagery here is pretty boilerplate stuff (night driving, drinking at a bar…heck, even blowing up phones is blasé now), and there aren’t any clever turns of phrase to hook the listener. To be fair, there’s nothing offensive or misogynistic about the writing, but that’s because there’s nothing here period. To be honest, I would call “Light It Up” a better song than “Wake Me Up” on all counts, as the former at least had decent production and used the sheer brute force of repetition to stick in peoples’ heads (even if what stuck was “why won’t this guy stop talking about his stupid phone already?”) Currington’s song, on the other hand, just flows in one ear and out the other without leaving a trace.

Overall, “Wake Me Up” is a lightweight song that can’t even measure up to its mediocre competition. It’s a step back from “Do I Make You Wanna,” and at best it’s generic radio filler that will take up space until something more interesting comes along. If it’s all the same to Mr. Currington, I’d rather stay sleep until then.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.

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My Thoughts On Nintendo’s 9/13 Direct

As the world watched with bated breath, Nintendo spent three quarters of an hour laying out the game lineups for the Switch and 3DS for the rest of the year and slightly into 2018. The biggest surprise was that there was no big surprise (at least from Nintendo; we’ll get to that), but overall I’d say the company did a solid job outlining the remainder of their 2017 plans. My thoughts for each individual game are as follows:

  • Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon: I nailed the trailer prediction, but Nintendo did me one better by introducing new Ultra Beasts rather than just showing Alolan forms of existing Pokémon. What they didn’t do, however, was flesh out the world enough to distinguish it from its predecessors Sun and Moon. Sure, Necrozma possesses Solgaleo and Lunala, but how has the Island Challenge changed? What are the roles of Team Skull and the Aether Foundation? Does Looker show up in the main campaign this time? I’m concerned because the older I get, the less time I have for gaming, and I’m really not up for playing a game that’s 90% unchanged from the original version. Nintendo needs to flesh out the new version of Alola, and do it quickly.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions: The above argument also applies here: I played through this several times on the Game Boy Advance, and have no interest in doing it again (especially since I bought Dream Team eight months ago and still haven’t gotten around to playing that). The Minion gameplay doesn’t seem all that interesting, and the Stamp Sheets feel like a bolted-on afterthought. Pass.
  • Kirby Battle Royale: This looks kind of interesting, but I get a strong Triforce Heroes vibe when I watch it. Even though it has online play and a single-player campaign, it doesn’t seem worth buying unless you have a group of friends nearby who can play.
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters: I like the fact that they’re treating this as an update for the original Y-K 2 versions, and the option to upload existing save data from those games is pretty cool. I’m not personally interested in it, but it’s a nice Pokémon alternative for those of you who are looking for that sort of thing, and letting existing players obtain the new content for free feels like the right approach.
  • Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy: I’ve never played a Layton game, but this looks like a solid entry in the series. Puzzle adventure fans might want to give this game a look.
  • Minecraft on 3DS: This is fricking genius! The 3DS is a cheaper handheld that is the perfect ‘gateway drug’ for younger gamers, and Minecraft is a hugely-popular franchise among this demographic. I’m kind of surprised this didn’t happen sooner.
  • Mario Party: The Top 100: Nintendo botched the messaging here, and later had to clarify that yes, this isn’t just a minigame collection and the game boards are returning. I think it’s a great idea, and while a lot of folks are clamoring for this game to be on the Switch, I think Nintendo will wait for Mario Party 11 before making that leap.
  • Metroid: Samus Returns: As expected, we got one last trailer before the game’s 9/15 release date. I was surprised, however, that the Metroid 3DS didn’t get a plug similar to the Poké Ball 2DS. Perhaps Nintendo feared the higher New 3DS price tag would scare people away?
  • The Altus RPGs: They all kind of blended together for me (which might have been why they were all crunched into a single headline), but they further solidify the 3DS as the ultimate RPG platform.
  • Apollo Justice/Fire Emblem Warriors: Again, there’s nothing much to see here. I’m really not sure the Warriors series is well-suited to the 3DS, but it’s at least an opportunity for 3DS-only households to try out some solid games.
  • The Orange 2DS: It’s nice to know we’re getting more 2DS variety here in the States. It’s apparent that Nintendo is not ready to give up on their older handheld (a decision I agree with 100%), and that the console remains a core pillar of their business strategy.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: The deep dive into this title caught me a bit off guard, but we now know what this game is all about (and when it’s being released!). While some have said that Nintendo spent too long focusing on this game, I disagree: Nintendo knows this is a B/C tier franchise that very few people would tune in for specifically, so they had to make a hard sell here while it had the gaming world’s full attention. Honestly, I think they did a nice job.
  • Splatoon 2: The return of Kelp Dome was a surprise (it seemed like Nintendo had been shying away from its larger maps), but it’s probably been changed enough to make it a Reef/Art Academy experience. Also, holy cow that new Brella is huge.
  • Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch): To be honest, I forgot this series existed until I saw the 3DS trailer. I’m sure the new character will make FE fans happy, but I just don’t care about this game enough to be excited.
  • Snipperclips Plus: I’m glad to see this series is getting more love, as it was a well-received launch title that was too quickly overshadowed by first-party releases. It’s definitely worth checking out.
  • Morphemes Law: …I have no words for this one. There’s a kinda-sorta Splatoon vibe here, but the growth/shrinking mechanics just seem bizarre and unnatural. I’m really not feeling this one.
  • Rocket League: I completely forgot about this title too, but it’s still pretty popular and a big get for the Switch. The Metroid car looks like the best of the Nintendo bunch.
  • Arena of Valor: I’m getting major Dota vibes from this title, but will a Switch-based MOBA really fly? I see this as a high-risk/high-reward game for Nintendo, and while I’m interested in seeing how people respond, I’m not really interested in it myself.
  • Skyrim: Hey, we finally got a release date! Beyond that, though, there was nothing new to see here.
  • Doom/Wolfenstein: Whoa, I did not see this coming. I’m not a fan of either series, but the fact that they’re here speaks volumes about the potential of third-party Switch support.
  • Flip Wars: Meh. Moving on.
  • Nintendo Arcade Titles: Okay, now I’m starting to think that every game ever released is going to get a Switch port. Do we have a release date for Monkey Island on Switch yet?
  • Zelda Amiibos: These are nice and all, but where are the details on Breath of the Wild DLC Pack 2? I’m starting to think Nintendo isn’t sure what to include in this thing…
  • Sports Games: YESSSSSS. NBA 2K18 and FIFA 18 look great (and the former also has all of the content that other platforms do). WWE 2K18 is also coming (not that I care), and…oh yeah, add Pokkén Tournament DX to the list of games I forgot about. I’m kind of sad that I have to wait an extra month to get a physical release of NBA 2K18, but I’m definitely getting it. I want to signal that sports games have a home on Nintendo hardware, in hopes of getting Madden and NHL 19 next year (and maybe even a baseball title on the level of The Show too).
  • Octopath Traveler: I’m afraid that this game’s going to take some undeserved heat because it ended up being the “big surprise” instead of Animal Crossing, Super Smash Bros., etc. As an RPG, it’s in the same popularity conundrum as Xenoblade Chronicles 2, so it was likely spotlighted for the same reason. Personally, I like what I’m seeing: It’s got gorgeous visuals, an intriguing story concept, and some interesting mechanics that make the game feel a bit more open-world. The question is, do enough people care?
  • ARMS: Lola Pop is cool, and the control customizing is a godsend for a lot of players. This still feels like a dead game walking to me, though, thanks to Splatoon 2 stealing all of its thunder.
  • Dragon Quest Builders: I watched a Gamexplain livestream of this game on PS4 long ago, and absolutely loved it. It’s basically Minecraft with better visuals and a better story.
  • Kirby Star Allies: They didn’t show off anything new here, but what they did show off looked fun (I’m all for cool ability combinations). That shot of Whispy Woods looking bruised and battered was really disturbing, though.
  • The Rest of the Headlines: I’m surprised Lost Sphear and Sonic Forces got relegated to a small ending slot, but at least we have firm release dates for both. Resident Evil, L.A. Noire…again, everything seems to be coming to the Switch!
  • Super Mario Odyssey: The presentation was excellent. Every time they show us something new, the game gets better. Special photo modes? Cool new costumes? More Power Moons than you’d ever expect? I am really excited for this one. On the other hand, however, I was sold on this game months ago, so Nintendo didn’t really have to show me all this. I mean, I want to to discover at least a little bit of the game on my own! (Also, the image of a shirtless Mario was more jarring than I expected.) Still, this game is a lock for GOAT consideration right out of the gate (wait, didn’t we just say that about Zelda: Breath of the Wild?)

However, while Nintendo covered a lot of games is its presentation, there were still some surprising omissions:

  • Breath of the Wild DLC Pack 2: I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth noting that we’re only a few months away from the holiday season and still know next to nothing about what’s coming.
  • Paid Online Services: I figured we’d either get some service details or a delay announcement, but…nothing? I get the feeling that not even Nintendo has any idea what this service should be, and I’m leaning towards them just extending the free trail period into 2018 (and frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if they scrapped the idea altogether…)
  • Yoshi: With Kirby getting an increased focus thanks to his 25th anniversary, something had to give, and it looks like it was Yoshi. It’s not a marquee franchise, however, so pushing this back to late spring or early summer 2018 won’t break too many hearts.
  • Animal Crossing/Super Smash Bros./Pokémon/etc.: Despite the fact that the presentation ended on a strong Super Mario Odyssey trailer, the lack of a surprise first-party announcement made the ending feel pretty abrupt. I know fans of these franchises woke up a bit sad this morning, but honestly, the Switch’s existing game lineup feels so stacked right now that Nintendo can afford to keep its tent pole franchises in its quiver for now, and take their time to deliver a superior product in the future. I still think that Smash Bros. is a holiday ’18 title, and that Animal Crossing, Pokémon Switch, and Metroid Prime 4 are on the way in 2019. (Star Fox for 2020?)

Again, this was a solid Direct that did exactly what it needed to do. The main takeaways were that the 3DS still has a lot of life left in it, and that the Switch is a hot platform that everyone and their mother wants to develop games for. Coming off the lean years of the Wii U, these are conclusions I will happily accept.

Song Review: Blake Shelton, “I’ll Name The Dogs”

Well, well…the traditional country sound has gone so mainstream that even Mr. Play-It-Safe himself is ready to (carefully) jump on board.

Shelton’s musical output has gotten less and less interesting as his career has progressed, with his unorthodox-but-memorable material like “Ol’ Red” and “Some Beach” getting pushed aside in favor of forgettable-but-high-charting tunes like “Sangria,” “Gonna,” and “A Guy With A Girl.” His last single “Every Time I Hear That Song” was a very small step out of his boring comfort zone, but he quickly retreated back into his bubble for the leadoff single for his next album, the ready-made wedding song “I’ll Name The Dogs.” Thankfully, however, the definition of what is “safe” in country music has shifted in the last year or so, and the result is a song that sounds better than anything from his If I’m Honest album.

Neotraditional production is back is fashion in country music, and Shelton (mostly) embraces it wholeheartedly on this track. The melody is carried primarily by an acoustic guitar, with a restrained electric guitar, steel guitar, and even a fiddle (gasp!) also featured prominently in the mix. (The Paisley-esque guitar solo delivered by Diamond Rio’s Jimmy Olander is a nice touch.) Yes, the song uses a drum machine for no apparent reason (it’s quiet and doesn’t get in the way, but it’s quickly drowned out by real drums and doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose), and yes, the “ahh-oh-wahhs” that open the song and pop up intermittently are more annoying than anything else, but even with these issues, the song has a warm, organic feel that surpasses most everything else on the radio right now, and it fits the subject matter perfectly. Call it safe, call it retro, call it whatever you want, but I’d call it pretty good.

The song’s safety lies mostly in the writing, as “let’s be together forever” wedding songs are a dime a dozen. It’s hard to stand out in a field with so many heavyweights (George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart,” Randy Travis’s “Forever And Ever, Amen,” and Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On,” just to name a few), but “I’ll Name The Dogs” makes a concerted effort to stand through its unique imagery: picking out paint colors, hanging pictures, and of course, naming the dogs. (However, the phrase “Still lovin’ on you when the rooster crows/Watching way more than the garden grow” is juvenile innuendo that feels out of place amongst the other more-mature activities.) For the most part, though, the song sticks the classical, overdone romantic themes, and thus require a strong delivery from the performer to make them stand out.

Thankfully, Shelton’s five CMA Vocalist of the Year awards weren’t completely undeserved, and he provides an earnest, emotional delivery to provide the weight the writing requires. The song isn’t very taxing technically (neither Shelton’s range nor his flow are tested much here), but the nature of the subject matter requires an honest, believable performance from the singer to properly sell the song. Shelton is up to the challenge, however, as the narrator’s direct-yet-heartfelt tone dovetails neatly with Shelton’s public persona, and he is able to deliver the tune with the proper tone and reverence. (His budding romance with fellow singer Gwen Stefani only adds to the believability quotient.) In truth, Shelton is the perfect person at the perfect time to perform a song like this, and he nails it.

Overall, “I’ll Name The Dogs” is still a safe song, but it’s also a good song that features excellent production, a well-executed delivery, and suitably-sappy lyrics that are occasionally unique. Perhaps we’ve found the secret to success with Blake Shelton: Rather than move him out of his comfort zone, just move the entire comfort zone to a suitable spot within the genre, and let him do his thing.

Rating: 7/10. If this is setting the sonic and thematic tone for Shelton’s next album, then consider me intrigued.

What Can We Expect From Tomorrow’s Nintendo Direct?

Image From Nintendo Enthusiast

Nintendo has announced a massive 45-minute Direct presentation for tommorow at 3 PM PST/6 PM EST time, but has only confirmed that Super Mario Odyssey will be a part of the presentation, sending the Internet into a frenzy of hype and speculation. With a presentation this large, Nintendo is likely going to lay out its entire plan for the rest of the year (and perhaps some of 2018 as well), but there’s certainly enough room for a big surprise announcement or two, and fans are salivating over the possibility of seeing Animal Crossing or Super Smash Bros. or <insert your preferred neglected Nintendo franchise here> appearing on the Switch.

Predictions can be a fool’s game sometimes, but I’m admittedly one of the biggest fools around, and there’s nothing wrong with dreaming a little about what might appear during tomorrow’s show. Let’s jump on board the hype train!

What we will see: With 45 minutes to burn, I imagine that everything we already know about will get a moment in the spotlight. That includes:

  • Super Mario Odyssey (more kingdoms)
  • Metroid: Samus Returns (one last blowout trailer before the release, plus a good look at the new Metroid-themed 3DS)
  • Mario + Luigi: Bowser’s Minions (ditto Metroid, with an emphasis on the Bowser’s Minions gameplay since that’s the only new part)
  • Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon (I see a few new Pokémon forms, plus an epic trailer involving Necrozma’s fusing with Solgaleo and Lunala)
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (trailer + a firm release date)
  • The SNES Classic
  • The NES Classic (it’s coming back next year!)
  • The yet-to-be-named 3DS Kirby title (this will be fully fleshed out, right down to the release date)
  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild DLC Pack 2 (we’ll get a full account of what this actually includes)
  • ARMS v3.0 (a focus on Lola Pop gameplay)
  • Splatoon 2 additions (I’m sure we’ll see something, but I have no idea what that will be. New weapons? New stages? New game modes? Playable Octolings?)
  • Nintendo’s paid online services (they’ll either actually give us some details or extend the free trial into 2018)
  • Kirby and Yoshi Switch titles (trailers that build off of the gameplay shown at E3 and show a bit more of the story)

What we probably will see: Nintendo will want to showcase some of its third-party partners, so we could get some gameplay clips from:

  • NBA 2K18
  • L.A. Noire
  • Skyrim (we should finally get a release date for this)
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters
  • Culdcept Revolt
  • Sonic Forces
  • Monopoly
  • Sine Mora Ex
  • Battle Chasers: Nightwar
  • Payday 2

The Surprises: There’s more than enough content above to fill the whole presentation, but there’s no way Nintendo’s putting this out without a surprise reveal at the end. What about…

  • Animal Crossing? I doubt it. While Nintendo had ruled out talking about mobile games during this Direct, today’s Apple event could have potentially brought up some Nintendo IPs just as the company did with Super Mario Run. An announcement about the Animal Crossing mobile game at Apple’s event would have foreshadowed a Switch game announcement at the Direct, but I haven’t seen any reports of AC coming up at the Apple event, so I’m leaning towards no new AC information here.
  • Super Smash Bros.? Honestly, I don’t feel this one either. I still see Super Smash Bros. as an anchor for the 2018 holiday season, and with Kirby and Yoshi already announced as (probable) early 2018 releases, I think we won’t see SSB until next year’s E3.
  • Pikmin 4? Hey! Pikmin disappeared from the scene pretty quickly, so I don’t think this series has the juice to warrant a big surprise reveal. I’m leaning towards a no here.
  • Metroid Prime 4? The game may be alluded too, but I don’t think we’ll learn anything knew about it here. We got nothing but a logo at E3, so that suggests this thing is still really early in development.
  • Pokémon on the Switch? This one’s still early in development as well…but I have a different feeling about it. If I had to go bold, this is where I would do it: I would show nothing more than a pair of Pokémon (Pikachu and something else that’s popular) standing in a grassy field similar to that fanmade Unreal engine demo we saw a while ago. A few face zoom-ins, some pyrotechnics, they attack, a placeholder logo pops up for a few seconds, and the presentation moves on. If a Metroid logo set the Internet on fire, a Switch Pokémon demo would reduce the darn thing to ashes. My only concern is that giving people a taste of what’s likely to be a 2019 title might come back to bite Nintendo before its over.

So those are my thoughts on what we’ll see during Nintendo’s upcoming Direct. I foresee a rapid-fire setup similar to the Direct we got an April, but I wouldn’t complain about a few deep dives as well. Let’s see just how wrong I am tomorrow!

Song Review: Drew Baldridge, “Guns & Roses”

The Country Aircheck ads for this song promised “a brand new Drew.” After hearing this song, my question is: Can we have the old Drew back?

Baldridge has been in “throw things at the wall and see what sticks” mode for some time now, but neither the disco-tinged “Dance With Ya” nor the Emily Weisband collaboration “Rebound” managed to find any traction on country radio. Now, Baldridge has decided to play the Bro-Country card with his latest single “Guns & Roses,” and frankly, his throw doesn’t even reach the wall this time. This song is easily his worst single to date.

When I reviewed “Rebound,” I was very critical of the percussion, and thought it should have been turned down and made a less-dominant part of the mix. “Guns & Roses,” however, goes in the opposite direction: This song is basically all percussion, and it’s once again dominated by an in-your-face (yet incredibly generic) drum machine. There’s a slick electric guitar here as well, but outside of an Eddie Van Halen-esque solo near the bridge, it’s mostly shoved into the background and ignored. (Note to the producers: Forcing your bass guitar to try to carry the melody is generally a bad idea.) The song tries to generate energy by cranking up the noise on the choruses, but it’s only partially successful, and the carefree, summer-like tone the mix sets would have made a lot more sense three months ago, but not for a song that’s going to reach its peak in the middle of winter. In short, the production is bland and uninteresting, and doesn’t compel the listener to pay attention.

Vocally, Baldridge actually pulls off a nice Eric Church impression on this track, right down to the unnecessary audio filters that make the recording sound older than it is. However, while Baldridge can reach a little deeper than Church with his lower range (and actually sounds pretty decent when doing so), the choruses push him into his higher range, where he lacks Church’s vocal tone and texture and just doesn’t sound as good. (In my “Rebound” review, I said Baldridge “would better off with a song that pushed him into his upper ranges more often.” I was wrong.) Baldridge’s biggest issue is that his voice lacks a unique quality to make him stand out from his radio competition—I’m forever comparing him to other singers, but there’s nothing here that makes you say “Hey, it’s a Drew Baldridge song!” His performance here is okay, but ultimately it’s forgettable.

The writing here, in a word, is lazy:

  • The song is unusually short, featuring one-and-a-half verses and a two-line bridge.
  • The topic of how the narrator and his significant other fit together despite their differences has been done to death in country music. (For example, Alan Jackson’s “Blue Blooded Woman” is a better song than this one on nearly every level.)
  • The imagery here consists of a single shot of someone waiting by the side of the road to be picked up. How unique!
  • The chorus is mostly a laundry list of pairs that either “fit” or “don’t fit” together, and some of these are truly bizarre: Do “dust and diamonds” really fit together? Is there any relationship at all between a 12 gauge and a wildflower? (Seriously, he could have said “I’m a refrigerator; she’s a bowling ball,” and it would have made just as much sense.)

Overall, “Guns & Roses” is a weak song that features generic (not to mentioned outdated) production, uninspired lyrics, and a nondescript vocal delivery. It’s a major step backwards from “Rebound,” and makes me question whether Drew Baldridge has any future in this business at all. “Dance With Ya” was kind of fun, and “Rebound” was kind of thoughtful, but this is just annoying.

Rating: 4/10. As Mark from Spectrum Pulse would say, “Next!”

Has Nintendo Finally Turned a Corner On Third-Party Support?

Image from Nintendo Enthusiast

Roughly four months ago, I declared that the Nintendo Switch was destined to be stuck in third-party purgatory, and that it’s best hope was to be a first step towards getting back into the good graces of non-Nintendo developers in the future. It seems, however, that the future may have arrived more quickly than I expected.

While much of the Nintendo universe is focused on the 3DS’s new old 2D Metroid and prepping for the Super Mario Odyssey ramp-up, a few interesting news tidbits slipped in slightly under the radar:

Combine these headlines with the success Ubisoft is seeing with its crossover collaboration Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and it’s fair to wonder: Has Nintendo finally created a platform that other companies really want to be on?

Consider the following:

  • Switch sales got off to a strong start, and six months later the numbers keep getting stronger. The latest absurd numbers: In Japan, “Nintendo has been selling 10 to 14 times the number of Switch consoles that Sony is selling of PS4s.” (emphasis added) Future sales projections are rising, and seem to have reached the point where developers risk leaving some serious money on the table if they don’t support the console.
  • Nintendo has been dinged in the past for being hard for third-party studios to develop for, but the company made a significant effort to fix this problem on the Switch (see: its decision to support Unreal Engine 4). I declared that Nintendo’s historic hostility to third-party developers would haunt them in the short term, but Nintendo’s outreach efforts seem to have mitigated this issue, as Rockstar joins an already-long list of third-party supporters.

So today, Nintendo has a more popular console and a lower barrier of entry than it’s had in quite some time. Why wouldn’t non-Nintendo developers want a piece of this action?

Of course, the concerns I raised back in April haven’t really gone anywhere:

  • Hardware limitations appear to be forcing NBA 2K18 to run at 30 frames per second instead of the standard 60.
  • The use of cartridges has led some developers to impose a “Switch Tax,” and Rockstar is no exception (L.A. Noire physical copies for the Switch will be $10 more expensive than for other consoles).
  • Much like Skyrim, L.A. Noire is a last-gen game that was originally released in 2011. (Also keep in mind that it’s L.A. Noire that’s coming over, and not Grand Theft Auto.)
  • 2K and Rockstar are independent publishers, and franchises associated with other hardware makers (Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn) aren’t any closer to appearing on the Switch.

Still, the outlook for third-party games on the Switch is much rosier than it was in April. The hardware limitations can be worked around (Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle only runs at 30fps, and I haven’t noticed or cared), and past history can be countered by the promise of a bright future. The last remaining question is whether or not these games will sell well enough to justify their costs and entice other companies to get in on the fun. If L.A. NoireNBA 2K18, and the rest of the early pioneers succeed, the Switch might find its way out of third-party purgatory after all.

Song Review: Cole Swindell, “Stay Downtown”

Wait…a country singer gets a booty call from someone, and they reject it? It’s one thing when a relative unknown like Drew Baldridge does it, but when a mainstream star (and one of the biggest acts of the Bro-Country era) makes this move, it deserves your attention.

Cole Swindell made his name (and likely earned a large chunk of his fanbase) as an unrepentant Bro champion, which means that we’re always going to get occasional “retro-Bro” tracks from him like his previous single “Flatliner.” Songs like this, however, were the exception rather than the rule on Swindell’s latest album You Should Be Here, and the single choices have featured interesting (and melancholy) twists on the typical Bro tropes: The life of the party is gone on “You Should Be Here,” and the girl leaves him on “Middle Of A Memory.” “Stay Downtown,” the fourth single off of You Should Be Here, follows a similar pattern, as the narrator isn’t quite sure he wants the night of raunchy lovemaking he’s being offered.

The production is surprisingly minimal, with only an electric guitar and some occasional piano chords to carry the melody (and “carry” might be too strong a word: The two are mostly reduced to rhythm instruments, with the guitar only getting to stretch its legs on the bridge solo). There’s a drum machine here to start, but it’s ditched in favor of real drums by the start of the first chorus, which makes you wonder why it’s even there in the first place. Despite its simple structure, however, the song does a nice job establishing an haunting, uncomfortable atmosphere through its darker tones and use of minor chords, and carefully builds energy during the verses/bridge to release with a bang on the choruses. It’s a well-crafted mix that perfectly suits the mood of the song.

Vocally, the song doesn’t test Swindell’s limits much, although his range and flow are pretty decent here (he seems slightly more comfortable in his upper ranges, though). What the song does require, on the other hand, is the ability to deliver a nuanced performance in which the narrator wants to be with this woman on some level, but knows it will only lead to bad things in the future, and thus has to overrule his desires and strongly discourage her to come over without sounding disingenuous. It’s a tough task, but Swindell pulls it off, coming across as earnest and believable in his protestations while also acknowledging that he is powerless to stop her if she forces the issue. Between this song, “Flatliner,” and “You Should Be Here,” Swindell makes a strong argument for being the most flexible performer in the genre today.

I wouldn’t call the writing here groundbreaking or overly clever, but it strikes a nice balance between the defiance of Drew Baldridge’s “Rebound” and the inevitability of Easton Corbin’s “Clockwork” when discussing the narrator’s relationship with the object of his affection. Unlike other songs that lean on explicit (and shallow) ‘love-as-a-drug’ references, this relationship actually feels like an addiction, where the narrator knows a relapse is inevitable if the woman comes over and pleads with her to make the decision he isn’t strong enough to make. (I have a similar conversation with my Nintendo Switch every day.) I complain a lot about singers being held back by weak material, but the opposite is true here: The way the lyrics capture the totality of the relationship makes it a lot easier for Swindell to sound convincing in this role.

Overall, “Stay Downtown” is a well-executed song with good production, writing, and vocals, and serves as another positive step in Cole Swindell’s evolution as an artist. While we’ll probably have to deal with at least one Bro-Country single like “Flatliner” per album cycle, let’s hope that Swindell’s pivot back towards the mainstream is part of a long-term strategy, because he actually seems to have the chops to make it work.

Rating: 7/10. You Should Be Here was my top-ranked album of 2016, so I’d encourage you to check out the entire disc if you enjoy this song.