Song Review: Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”

I was really hoping the future of country music would sound a lot better than this.

Radio has long been the dominant force in country music, but the balance of power has shifted over the last two decades with the rise of streaming services and social media platforms, allowing artists to circumvent the traditional gatekeepers, connect more directly with listeners, and find new paths to success within the genre. Some artists (most notably Kane Brown) have used this momentum to push radio to get on board their hype trains, and the latest artist to attempt the trick is Walker Hayes, a half-decent writer and terrible vocalist who used massive streaming numbers and a viral TikTok dance craze to crack the Top 50 on Mediabase with his latest single “Fancy Like” before the song was officially released to radio. (The song charted on the Hot 100 several weeks ago, making it the rare country song that Mark Grondin reviewed before I did.) Unfortunately, there’s no correlation between quality and popularity, and while this is slightly better than, say, “You Broke Up With Me,” the track is a weak, poorly-executed effort that doesn’t stand up against even mediocre competition.

The production is pretty much you’d expect from a Walker Hayes song, which means it’s a generic mix that doesn’t fit with its subject matter at all. At its core, this is nothing more than the same old guitar-and-drum arrangement that everyone in Nashville depends, and…yeah, that’s pretty much it. The instruments themselves have a different feel than Hayes’s prior work, but it’s not a change for the better: The electric guitar has a rougher feel the slick axes he usually leans on, but it winds up giving the song a raunchy, overly-sexual feel that doesn’t fit the song well at all, and the percussion (which doesn’t sound at blatantly synthetic as it usually does, although the low beats on the chorus feel out of place and Grady Smith’s favorite clap track makes an appearance) lacks any punch and only serves to fill space between the lyrics. For everything that’s here (there’s an acoustic guitar and a bunch of repetitive background shouts tossed in as well), the mix’s biggest failure is that it doesn’t establish much of a presence in the song as a whole—outside of the slimy electric guitar riffs, the instruments are barely noticeable and never register in the listener’s mind. This, in turn, puts all the focus on Hayes and the lyrics, which is probably the worst thing a producer could do when neither stand up against scrutiny (more on this later). If ever there was a time to overproduce a song, this was it, and standing by and letting Hayes go unchecked on this track was a serious dereliction of duty.

If I could give Hayes any advice, I would counsel him to take a vow of silence and focus on his songwriting, because the man is absolutely horrible behind the mic. Let’s set aside his technical issues for a moment (seriously, the man has zero tone or range with his voice) and focus on his biggest faux pas: The attitude with which he approaches this song. The lyrics try to sing the praises of a woman with simple tastes and pleasures, and any respectable artist would join the chorus by displaying their awe and admiration for this person. Hayes, unfortunately, comes across as both sleazy and self-satisfied in his delivery, shifting the focus to his own luck/happiness and reducing the woman to a sex object that “wanna dip me like them fries in her Frosty” (as the quote suggests, the lyrics deserve their shame of the blame too). I don’t know if this is the product of malice or incompetence, but the result is that Hayes sounds like an unlikable meatheaded Bro who isn’t remotely pleasant to listen to, and the audience tunes him out before he reaches the second chorus.

I’ve both praised and disparaged Hayes’s writing up to this point, so where does this song fall? Frankly, this is far from his best work, as his story about a partner who isn’t into the trappings of luxury lacks a point and a punch line. The hook is nothing more than a dad joke: The narrator claims that sometimes he’s “gotta spoil my baby with an upgrade” that’s “fancy like”…something that’s not actually any fancier than what he described (and in the case of Applebee’s over Wendy’s, is something I would personally consider a downgrade). The second verse tries to expand on the concept with some generic comparisons (houses, cars), but the repeat of the original chorus then feels awkward and out of place, and should have been modified to match the verse (maybe a Jeep ride to a log cabin?). Lines like “bougie like Natty in the styrofoam” sound like they’re trying a little too hard to be casual (“how do you do, fellow kids?”), and lines like the “dip me like them fries” don’t do anything by amp up the song’s sleaze factor. The whole thing feels like it could have used a few more drafts being heading to the studio, because it just sounds like a narrator gloating to the listener over their low-maintenance partner, and it winds up being more annoying than amusing.

“Fancy Like” is a failure at nearly every level, from its disappearing soundalike production to its rambling, pointless writing to Walker Hayes’s atrocious vocals. Its only redeeming trait is that it’s not quite as aggravating as some of Hayes’s previous releases or some of the worst tracks we’ve heard this year, and that doesn’t make it any less painful to sit through. I’m all for opening new channels for people to discover music and giving artists more and different paths to success, but a bad song is a bad song no matter how viral it is, and no amount of silly dancing on social media can change that. Hayes either needs to step up his game or step away from the game, because you can only torment your audience like this for so long before you get tossed out of the genre for good.

Rating: 3/10. Ignore this drivel and listen to Darius Rucker sing Hayes under the table instead:

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: July 19, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
3. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
4. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
5. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
6. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
7. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
8. Luke Bryan, “Waves” -1 (4/10)
9. Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” +2 (7/10)
10. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
11. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
12. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
13. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
14. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
15. Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” -2 (3/10)
16. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
17. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
18. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
19. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
20. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
21. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
22. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
23. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
24. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
25. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
26. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
27. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
28. Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” -1 (4/10)
29. Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” 0 (5/10)
30. Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat” +1 (6/10)
31. Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave” 0 (5/10)
32. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
33. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
34. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
35. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
36. Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More” 0 (5/10)
37. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
38. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
39. Brett Young, “Not Yet” +1 (6/10)
40. Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” -1 (4/10)
41. Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” 0 (5/10)
42. Luke Combs, “Cold As You” 0 (5/10)
43. Brantley Gilbert ft. Toby Keith & HARDY, “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” -3 (2/10)
44. Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” +3 (8/10)
45. Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” +1 (6/10)
46. Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her” +1 (6/10)
47. Garth Brooks, “That’s What Cowboys Do” +2 (7/10)*
48. Larry Fleet, “Where I Find God” +2 (7/10)
49. Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” +1 (6/10)
50. Toby Keith, “Old School” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +3
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +8
Overall Pulse +11
Change From Last Week
+3 🙂

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “I’m Not For Everyone,” 8/10
Worst Song: “The Worst Country Song Of All Time,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Dierks Bentley, “Gone” (gone)
  • Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” (down to #52)
  • Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” (down to #54)

Leaving:

  • Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” (down from #1 to #3)
  • Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” (down from #15 to #23)

In Real Trouble:

  • Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” (down from #5 to #6, lost spins and gained only 193 points)
  • Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” (down from #9 to #10, lost its bullet with a 750+ point loss)
  • Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (holds at #35, but lost its bullet)
  • Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” (holds at #41, but lost its bullet)
  • Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her” (down from #45 to #46, lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Riley Green, “If It Wasnt For Trucks” (up from #42 to #40, but gained only thirty-four spins and ninety-eight points)
  • Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” (holds at #44, but gained only twenty-six spins and sixty-six points)
  • Larry Fleet, “Where I Find God” (down from #47 to #48, gained only twenty-one spins and sixty-three points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Garth Brooks, “That’s What Cowboys Do” (debuts at #47)
  • Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” (debuts at #49)
  • Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” (up from #19 to #15)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Cold As You” (debuts at #42 with a 2000+ point gain)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Jordan Davis ft. Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt”
  • Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”
  • Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO”

Overall Thoughts: This seems like a good time to revisit Randy Travis’s question from twenty-five years ago:

On the Mediabase front, the answer is a surprising “maybe not.” There’s still a lot of flotsam sitting just outside the gates (Nelly/FGL, Lane, Moon), but the songs that seem to be claiming the last few spots at the bottom (Fleet, Church, and now potentially Brooks) have been better then expected, and Thanos’s latest quest for world domination has at least avoided falling on the negative side of the Pulse. We also saw an interesting development with this week’s spin distribution: Spins were once again concentrated at the top of the charts, but many tracks were still able to post passable point gains, suggesting that a lot of high-quality spins were released by Young/Brown (and to a lesser extent Shelton and Davis). Time will tell if this is a blip or a trend (all that junk below the chart won’t stay down there forever), but for now we might as well enjoy what we’ve got.

On the coronavirus front, however, the answer is “YES!” in bright-red, 200-point font. Cases of COVID-19 are rising in every state in the country, overall new daily case averages are up almost 150% over the last two weeks, and the U.S. vaccination rate has dropped off so signficantly that Canada, despite that nation’s slow start, now has fully vaccinated a higher percentage of its population than America (Canada sits at “about 50%,” while the U.S. is at 48.7%). Local surges are wreaking havoc in places like Missouri, Arkansas, and Florida, and most of its toll is being exacted on the unvaccinated (“Over 97% of the people currently hospitalized for severe COVID-19 infections were unvaccinated, according to the CDC”). Mask mandates are beginning to return, schools are facing tough decisions about the fall, and I’ve been stuck in quarantine for the last week and a half due to a potential virus exposure. We’re staring a fourth coronavirus surge in the face, and we need to do everything we can to blunt its impact, both at a governmental level (making sure people have easy access to the vaccines, and not doing stupid things like halting vaccine outreach) and on a personal level (the vaccines are safe and effective, so get your shot already, and keep your mask on and your distance from other people until you’re fully protected). Nobody wants a repeat of 2020, so we all we need to do our part to keep the worst of the pandemic behind us.

Song Review: Eric Church, “Heart On Fire”

If you’re going to drag us down memory lane, you should at least make it an enjoyable trip.

Eric Church has earned his fair share of critical acclaim and built up a passionate fanbase over the years, but for some reason radio has never really accepted him, and his chart track record is inconsistent at best. (Then again, given that Church is one of the few people who has directly challenged the genre with songs like “Stick That In Your Country Song,” perhaps the reasons for him being kept at arm’s length by country music aren’t that much of a mystery.) He hasn’t had back-to-back #1 songs in nearly a decade, and despite winning Entertainer of the Year of the 2020 CMAs, he had two songs fail to reach the Top Ten (“Monsters” and “Stick That…”) before reaching the top with surprisingly-boring “Hell Of A View.” His latest attempt to break his lack-of-back-to-back is “Heart On Fire,” the third single from his Heart & Soul album triumvirate, and while it’s one of those nostalgic tracks that I’m not really a fan of, at this least this one does enough with its sound and vocals to make it semi-tolerable.

So why am I so high on the production here? In “Hell Of A View,” I declared that “They tried to generate a sonic throwback to artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty, but the mix lacks the punch that it needs to really emulate the style.” For this song, they took the exact same approach, but actually stuck the landing by using brighter instrument tones, kicking up tempo, and (most importantly) not blurring all the instruments together into a wall of noise. All the same pieces are here (for what it’s worth, the keyboard is a bit more prominent here than in the prior single), but they each sound a bit clearer and more distinct, allowing each one to help deliver a shot of momentum to the mix. The result is a retro sound that crackles with youthful energy, giving the listener a sense of how it felt to cruise down Roosevelt Road with the narrator, and in turn helping them understand why Church looks back on the time so fondly. Trying to mimic an older musical style is all well and good, but it’s the support it provides to the subject matter that really makes it work here, and I’d honestly call it the main reason for listening to the song.

Similarly, Church has stepped up from his game from his mediocre performance on “Hell Of A View.” He handles the moderate range demands well (with a huge assist to his backup singer, who deserves a pay raise after their work on this track and “Stick That In Your Country Song”), and unlike his “surprisingly subdued” attitude from before, Church puts the necessary power behind his words this time. His delivery may not sound easy or effortless, but this works in his favor here because the audience can hear the strain when he tries to drive a point home and gets the sense that he’s 100% emotionally invested in what he’s saying. (His “outlaw-esque” image also gives him a boost, making him more believable as a narrator because of course he’s the guy who drove too fast and didn’t play by the rules in his wilder days.) Church allows his audience to share in the feeling of the track much like the producer does, and while I wouldn’t call the performance particularly memorable, he makes it an enjoyable listen.

The writing is where things start to fall a bit flat, starting with the fact that the song falls along the same nostalgic lines that “Hell Of A View” does (thankfully, this track is an improvement over that one). I’ve never been keen on tracks that lament the times gone by and pine for them to return, and that’s exactly what happens here as the narrator reminisces about the wild times they shared with a special someone (whose current whereabouts are unknown). The second verse is pretty explicit about the whole thing, with the narrator declaring that “I don’t have a single second thought that doesn’t have you in it,” and that “I ‘d go back in a New York minute,” sentiments that always make me roll my eyes and think “Let it go already.” What makes this song different, however, is that it’s framed less like a lament and more of a celebration of the good times, and it includes some interesting details and comparisons—for example, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone compare a truck to Elvis Presley, but it works so well you can practically feel the washboards in the road. (However, the “dancing on the bow of your daddy’s old boat” line comes across as an unintentional flexing of privilege—I don’t know too many people who own a boat at all, let along one big enough for someone to dance on without tipping it over.) In the end, the writing’s saving grace is that it’s malleable enough to be overridden by the sound and singer, letting them put their own spin on what would otherwise be an uninteresting song.

I get that reminiscent tracks are a big part of the genre landscape, but if we have to put up with them, “Heart On Fire” is an example is how to celebrate what used to be. Despite what the lyrics say, the past should be the past, and Eric Church and his production team do a solid job shaping the track in a way that minimizes its wistfulness and emphasizes its excitement, so much so that a less-attentive listener might miss the second verse entirely and never even notice the longing hidden behind the fun. I still wouldn’t call it a good song, but it’s a step up from “Hell Of A View,” and if it proves anything, it proves that Church was a worthy choice for Entertainer of the Year (you have to be good to make a curmudgeon like me enjoy a song like this). Still, we’ve seen what Church is capable of when he gets his hands on stronger material, and hopefully he finds some better cuts to release off of Heart & Soul to bring out next. Such material may not be radio-friendly, but hey, those are the kinds of tracks where Church is at his best.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two to see how it strikes you.

Song Review: Luke Combs, “Cold As You”

Is it time for Thanos to find another Infinity Gauntlet?

Regardless of what Marty Stuart may say about Leroy Troy, Luke Combs is the most popular man in country music, and his power over the genre only seems to be growing: After “Better Together” spent five weeks atop Billboard’ country airplay chart and reached #15 on the Hot 100, he managed to better both numbers with “Forever After All,” which spent six weeks atop the country charts and nearly did the impossible by debuting at #2 on the Hot 100! I’d like to be happier about this (and honestly, I’d choose Combs over a lot of artists in Nashville right now), but the man has also taken another less-prestigious title, stealing Blake Shelton’s crown as “the safest artist in country music” by leaning heavily on boring, uninspired ballads to the point where “Better Together” and “Forever After All” were pretty much the exact same song. It’s time for Thanos to pull a few more tricks from his sleeve, so naturally his latest offering “Cold As You”…is a carbon-copy of his 2019 song “Beer Never Broke My Heart” (wow, was that really six singles ago?) Much like with “Forever After All,” the copy is not as good as the original, as it’s missing even the minimal moments of levity that made the 2019 single kinda-sorta work.

“Cold As You” may have been added as a bonus track for the deluxe release of What You See Is/Ain’t Always What You Get, but you can’t tell me it wasn’t recorded at the same time as “Beer Never Broke My Heart.” The arrangements and approaches are exactly the same: The “hard-rock axes,” “prominent drum set, and slow-rolling, almost-token banjo” are all stuck in the same roles as before (while I didn’t mention it in the earlier review, there’s an organ-like keyboard providing background chords in both tracks as well), and it’s got the same “deliberate tempo” that harkens back to the Bro-Country party anthems of the 2010s. The one noticeable difference is that despite the lack of minor chords, the sound comes across as overly dark and attitude-laden, making the mix feel too serious for the subject matter (to the point where it feels like an overreaction—the response it provokes isn’t sympathy, but “okay, we get it, you’re sad”). The whole thing feels like an awkward fit for the song, and it fares poorly on the context test as well (it’s the sort of hard-edged track that you would never hear in the sort of beer joint that the track celebrates). Overall, this is a case of copy-paste production gone wrong, and I really wish the producer had gone in a different direction for this song.

Combs may be the heir apparent to Garth Brooks, but even he can overdo things sometimes, and that’s what happens on “Cold As You.” While there are no technical issues with his performance, he comes across a bit awkwardly trying to go up and down on the “guys like me lose girls like you” line, and he brings his forceful chorus approach from “Beer Never Broke My Heart” back here when it really doesn’t fit the song. (Does he really need to scream at us that the bar has a dance floor, a broken clock, and a jukebox with Willie Nelson? It makes me think of an enthusiastic realtor showing someone a house: We got granite countertops, new appliances, and marker-resistant paint on the walls!) There’s no hint of fun or self-awareness to be found—in fact, there’s no emotion in Combs’s delivery at all, making him sound extremely bitter but not actually sad about what happened, which in turn limits the amount of sympathy he garners from the audience. It’s like he’s trying to ride the trend of defiantly angry tracks like “Old School’s In” without fully embracing it, and as a result his performance feels over-the-top and unnecessary. It’s not a great look for Combs, and it lacks any of the charm and personality that at least made “Beer Never Broke My Heart” tolerable.

The lyrics, which paint of picture of a classic country bar where folks drink away their heartache, are a mixed bag at best. On one hand, they do a decent job providing details that allow us to visualize the place, and I even found the “beer almost as cold as you” hook to be kind of clever. On the other hand, describing the place is pretty much all the song does—in particular, there’s no talk about what actually happened to the narrator (all we know is that the walls aren’t “as dirty as you done me,” which isn’t enough to let us in on the story). The whole thing feels incredibly generic (you’ve got your beer, your trucks, and your neon) and comes dangerously close to laundry-list territory, and while it at least elaborates on the items it mentions, it doesn’t help bring the location to life (seriously, the phrase “cinder block walls” make the place sound more like a prison than a beer joint). Compared to a song like Merle Haggard’s “Swinging Doors” or even Jon Pardi’s “Heartache Medication,” the writing here feels devoid of emotion (you could say it’s as cold as it’s title), and while part of this is Combs’s fault for his ill-fitting vocals, the lyrics don’t give him a whole lot to work with. Detail is all well and good, but it shouldn’t the the only thing you include, and I think Combs and his co-writers should have struck a better balance here.

“Cold As You” is not a bad song, but it’s not a good song either. It’s a halfhearted attempt to keep the Luke Combs gravy train rolling, featuring awkward and plagiarized production, vocals that try (and fail) to replace emotion with attitude, and lyrics that could have probably used a few more drafts. I understand why Combs and Columbia Nashville are releasing this track (this dude is one of the biggest names in all of music; why mess with a formula that’s working this well?), but I’m still disappointed with the decision. With his clout and popularity, Combs is the guy in Nashville who could shape the genre however he wanted (different sounds, different topics, etc.), and instead he seems to be settling for letting the genre shape him. His work feels incredibly stale right now, and after seven singles I think it’s time for Combs to get out of his comfort zone, close the book on What You See Is What You Get, and try something different.

Rating: 5/10. You might as well stick with “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: July 12, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
3. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
4. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
5. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
6. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
7. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
8. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
9. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
10. Luke Bryan, “Waves” -1 (4/10)
11. Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” +2 (7/10)
12. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
13. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
14. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
15. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
16. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
17. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
18. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
19. Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” -2 (3/10)
20. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
21. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
22. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
23. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
24. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
25. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
26. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
27. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
28. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
29. Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” -1 (4/10)
30. Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” 0 (5/10)
31. Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat” +1 (6/10)
32. Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave” 0 (5/10)
33. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
34. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
35. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
36. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
37. Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More” 0 (5/10)
38. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
39. Brett Young, “Not Yet” +1 (6/10)
40. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
41. Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” 0 (5/10)
42. Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” -1 (4/10)
43. Brantley Gilbert ft. Toby Keith & HARDY, “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” -3 (2/10)
44. Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” +3 (8/10)
45. Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her” +1 (6/10)
46. Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” +1 (6/10)
47. Larry Fleet, “Where I Find God” +2 (7/10)
48. Toby Keith, “Old School” 0 (5/10)
49. Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” -1 (4/10)
50. Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” 0 (5/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +3
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +5
Overall Pulse +8
Change From Last Week
-2 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “I’m Not For Everyone,” 8/10
Worst Song: “The Worst Country Song Of All Time,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (recurrent)
  • Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” (recurrent)
  • Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” (likely recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Dierks Bentley, “Gone” (down from #6 to #7)
  • Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” (down from #5 to #15)

In Real Trouble:

  • Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” (up from #7 to #5, but is much weaker than its peers and likely won’t last much longer)
  • Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” (down from #12 to #13, gained only ninety-three spins and 393 points, and has looked weak for a while; it’s in the same boat as “Settling Down”)
  • Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her” (up from #49 to #48, but gained only twenty-five spins and 109 points)
  • Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” (up from #47 to #46, but lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” (up from #10 to #9, but gained only fifty-two spins and 234, and is surrounded by songs posting four-digit point gains. This isn’t the first time it’s popped up here, so I question whether this one has enough punch left to reach #1)
  • Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (up from #36 to #35, but gained only seventeen spins and lost points)
  • Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her” (up from #48 to #45, but gained only seven spins and twenty-one points)
  • Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” (enters the chart at #49, but gained only thirty-two spins and ninety points)
  • Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” (debuts at #50, but gained only thirteen spins and fifty-seven points, and took a long time just to reach this point)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Luke Bryan, “Waves” (up from #15 to #10)
  • Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” (up from #8 to #4)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Cold As You” (impacts next week, probably a #1 on the radio and at the box office by Labor Day)

Bubbling Under 50:

  • None are listed because they got they crowded out of Country Aircheck this week.

On The Way:

  • Eric Church, “Heart On Fire”
  • Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like” (somehow this already hit the Hot 100?)

Overall Thoughts: This week was a tale of three charts. We saw some substantial movement at the extreme ends of the Top 50, with several recurrents and big surges by Rice/FGL and Bryan dominating the top and a substantial shuffling of the flotsam at the very bottom (was anyone really clamoring for Keith or Lane to come back?). The rest of the chart, however, was stuck on the escalator, with many tracks staying in line and gaining one or no spots. Point gains were a bit more spread out this time around, with a sizeable spin drop from Bentley and a complete collapse from Davis ensuring that there were spins aplenty for everyone, even despite “Forever After All” consuming over 28,000 points worth of airtime (if the rules let it stay on the chart, it would still be at #4). I expect a similar situation next week, with Davis and Bentley moving over for new arrivals, Young/Brown conceding the summit, and the chart otherwise returning to normal operations.

Unfortunately, the “two Americas” mentioned last week appear to be converging, as the Delta variant of the coronavirus is driving surges in local areas (for example, in Missouri and Arkansas) that are large enough to move the needle nationally (daily new case averages are up 20% over the last two weeks). Daily death averages have remained low so far, but an increase in cases generally means that an uptick in fatalities will follow, although the vaccines (just over 48% of the country is now fully vaccinated) should help blunt the variant’s impact. With “nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now…in people who weren’t vaccinated,” the path forward is clear: If you haven’t been vaccinated, you need to get your shot (and take precautions such as wearing a mask and staying away from others in the meantime), and we need to do all we can to make it easy for people to get those shots. This pandemic isn’t over by a long shot, and it will continue to linger and torment us unless we all act now to protect ourselves and the people we care about.

Song Review: Larry Fleet, “Where I Find God”

Could country music finally be on the rebound?

Larry Fleet is a Tennessee native who, despite signing with Big Loud in 2019, dropping a debut album Workin’ Hard late that year, and then releasing this track late last year, is only now starting to find traction on mainstream radio. After a few listens, it’s not hard to see why: Fleet is a bit of a Chris Stapleton knock-off from the voice to the beard (and Stapleton’s chart history has been a bit spotty himself), and the song doesn’t strike me all that radio-friendly in an era of Cobronavirus retreads and love songs that double as Ambien substitutes. Still, it’s radio’s loss if they don’t see the value of a song like this, but it’s the sort of reflective, thought-provoking track that we could really use a few more of on the airwaves, one that’s easy to listen to but also inspires the listener to reflect and ruminate on the places where they find peace.

The production does a nice job supporting the track’s reflective nature simply by being the sort of relaxed track that actually invites reflection. Instead of the in-your-face electric guitars and drums that have dominated the genre lately, the primary instrument here is a restrained acoustic guitar, which is complemented by a bright mandolin, backed by some lo-fi dobro and electric guitars in the background, and perfectly blended together with an atmospheric organ (which is honestly the most important part of the arrangement—its subdued tones gives the mix not only its reflective quality, but it combines with a background choir to give the song its spiritual feel as well). The result is a sound that not only supports the lyrics without getting in the way of their message, but also helps invite the listener to ruminate on what’s being said (as opposed to many of its contemporaries, which try to get you to ignore the lyrics entirely). I often use “background noise” as a derogatory term when talking about songs, but here I think it’s a good thing because the mix sets a suitable mood and promotes a more thoughtful relationship with the subject matter. This song shows that you don’t have to get in peoples’ faces to make a point; instead, you can invite them to consider your points simply by setting the right tone.

Fleet doesn’t demonstrate anything close to Stapleton’s vocal power on this track, but he’s got the same warm, weathered tone to his voice, one that can effectively convey hard-earned wisdom or inexperience. The song is not a technical challenge by any measure (its slower tempo and limited range demands make it relatively easy to sing), but the key is to convince the audience that you take the time to stop and seek out/appreciate the quiet moments in life. Fleet aces this challenge with a heartfelt, emotional delivery that matches the understated approach of the production and lets him easily and effectively fill the narrator’s shoes. It’s a performance that feels intensely personal and mature, which helps Fleet draw listeners in and convince them to think about what’s being said. (He also benefits from having no chart history beyond this single to contradict his persona. If someone whose track record was a bit more complex or rough-edged tried to perform this song—think Dustin Lynch or Brantley Gilbert—this song wouldn’t sound nearly as believable.) While this isn’t officially Fleet’s “debut” single, it serves the same purpose as his first radio breakthrough, and it winds up being a much better introduction than many new artists manage to put together.

What impresses me the most about the lyrics is how is takes a bunch of standard country clichés (bars, churches, deer stands, and even religion itself) and spins them into an inclusive, meaningful story that invites people to experience the “country” lifestyle for themselves. While the writing leans a bit too much on laundry-list construction (especially on the chorus), it emphasizes the narrator’s connection to them and how they make him feel at peace with the world. (In truth, the song is less about organized religion and more about spirituality in general; call it gospel music for people who aren’t into Bible-thumping.) Where many country songs are reliant on action and filled with noise, this one emphasizes the quiet moments in nature through the fishing and the crickets and the “sound of her heart beatin’,” giving the narrator the time and space to think deep thoughts about the world around them. While the opening scene about getting sent home from a bar by an anonymous helper feels a little out of place, it still highlights the softer side of “country” by demonstrating values like kindness and altruism. It’s a side of the genre that’s often pushed aside in favor or beer, bonfires, and drawing lines in the sand, but it’s there, and by talking about the places that the narrator finds peace, it makes the listener wonder if they might find peace there too.

“Where I Find God” is a standout song in a year that’s felt fairly weak overall, featuring an inviting message backed with soothing production and a solid vocal performance from Larry Fleet. After the choatic year or so that we’ve all been through, the song is a call to find a place where you feel centered and tranquil, and an invitation to come and find that place within country music. As a genre, we need to shift from declaring what we are to declaring what we offer, and tracks like this are a good first step in that direction. The song may have taken a while to find its footing, but it’s a good introduction for Fleet at a time when so many artists are stumbling with their debuts, and when people check out country to find their happy place, perhaps they’ll be moved to check out more of Fleet’s work as well.

Rating: 7/10. This one is worth finding.

Kyle’s Favorite Songs Of 2021 So Far

As I mentioned on Monday, 2021 has felt like a relatively weak year in mainstream country music, as artists have gravitated towards the predictable, the steretypical, and the flat out boring. Still, there are a few needles hidden in this haystack in you look hard enough, and the common thread between the best of these tracks is the confidence to walk a different path: Longer stories at a time when no one pays attention the lyrics, varied instruments at a time when everyone seems to be sharing the same guitars and drum sets, and even the simple act of standing up to Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line and declaring that they belong in the genre and that they’re comfortable in their own skin. It’s true that some of these songs wouldn’t make the cut if they were released in previous years, but the best of this class would stand out in any era, and it’s high time we celebrate them.

I present to you my favorite song that have been released in 2021 thus far.

Honorable Mentions:

#10: Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” (6/10)

#9: Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” (6/10)

#8: Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” (6/10)

#7: Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” (7/10)

#6: Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (7/10)

#5: Dillon Carmichael, “Hot Beer” (7/10)

#4: Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” (7/10)

#3: Taylor Swift, “no body, no crime” (8/10)

#2: Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” (8/10)

#1: Chapel Hart, “I Will Follow” (8/10)

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: July 6, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
2. Luke Combs, “Forever After All” 0 (5/10)
3. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
4. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
5. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
6. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
7. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
8. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
9. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
10. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
11. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
12. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
13. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
14. Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” +2 (7/10)
15. Luke Bryan, “Waves” -1 (4/10)
16. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
17. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
18. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
19. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
20. Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” -2 (3/10)
21. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
22. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
23. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
24. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
25. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
26. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
27. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
28. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
29. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
30. Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” -1 (4/10)
31. Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” 0 (5/10)
32. Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave” 0 (5/10)
33. Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat” +1 (6/10)
34. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
35. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
36. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
37. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
38. Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More” 0 (5/10)
39. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
40. Brett Young, “Not Yet” +1 (6/10)
41. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
42. Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” 0 (5/10)
43. Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” -1 (4/10)
44. Brantley Gilbert ft. Toby Keith & HARDY, “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” -3 (2/10)
45. Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” +3 (8/10)
46. Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” +1 (6/10)
47. Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” +1 (6/10)
48. Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her” +1 (6/10)
49. Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” 0 (5/10)
50. Larry Fleet, “Where I Find God” +2 (7/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +3
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +7
Overall Pulse +10
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “I’m Not For Everyone,” 8/10
Worst Song: “The Worst Country Song Of All Time,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” (recurrent)
  • Kane Brown, “Worship You” (recurrent)
  • Toby Keith, “Old School” (dropped below #50)

Leaving:

  • Dierks Bentley, “Gone” (down from #1 to #6)
  • Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” (holds at #7, but bullet-less for a second consecutive week)
  • Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” (down from #15 to #16 with a 800+ point loss; I think it’s toast)
  • Garth Brooks & Trusha Yearwood, “Shallow” (down from #24 to #46)

In Real Trouble:

  • Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” (holds at #12, but gained only thirty spins and fifty-three points)
  • Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More” (up from #42 to #38, gained only fifteen spins and lost points)
  • Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her” (up from #49 to #48, but gained only twenty-five spins and 109 points)
  • Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” (up from #50 to #49, but bullet-less for a second consecutive week)

In Some Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” (up from #29 to #27, but gained only fifty-three spins and forty-three points)
  • Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t (up from #44 to #42, but gained only one spin and fifty-four points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Brantley Gilbert ft. Toby Keith & HARDY, “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” (up from #52 to #44)
  • Zac Brown Bnd, “Same Boat” (up from #39 to #33)
  • Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” (up from #47 to #41)
  • Brett Young, “Not Yet” (up from #45 to #40)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (holds at #2, but the next single “Cold As You” has an impact date)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: This week was a tale of two charts:

  • At the top, Thanos’s continued lingering meant that movement was once again minimal, with the exception of McGraw/Hubbard finally getting the boot and Brooks/Yearwood’s sudden drop. However, with Thanos, Lambert, and potentially Bentley on the verge of recurrence, look for this to change in a big way next week.
  • At the bottom, the moving party has already started, with a number of songs jumping four or more positions. The return of “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” put a damper on the Pulse, but a surprisingly decent offering from Fleet helped mitigate the damge. However, with so much junk sitting just outside the Top 50 (darn it all, I thought we’d heard the last of Denning), look for the Pulse to take more of a hit next week.

Similarly, the coronavirus is a tale of “two Americas”: Life has mostly returned to normal for fully vaccinated individuals, but those who remain unvaccinated are at risk of contracting the virus’s Delta variant, which is now the dominant version of the virus in the country. New daily case averages are beginning to trend upwards again, and with vaccination levels varying widely between regions, the risk of another surge this fall or winter remains concernly high. I know I sound like a broken record, but we need to do more: We need to ensure that everyone has easy access to the vaccines, and those who already have such access need to take advantage of it and get the shot to protect themselves and the people around them (and until you do, keep your mask on and your distance from others). The power to contain this virus is in our hands—we just need to come together and decide to use it.

Kyle’s LEAST Favorite Songs Of 2021 So Far

Every time I think I’ve hit bottom, Nashville is all too happy to throw me a shovel.

Whenever I take stock of the genre for my mid-year and year-end lists, I find the usual bell curve of material: Some good songs, some bad songs, and a whole lot of forgettable stuff in the middle. 2021, however, has felt like an exceptionally weak year in mainstream country music, and the shape of this year’s curve bares that out:

  • On the higher end of the rating scale, the tail of the distribution is shorter and smaller. Where 2020 had a pair of 10’s and three 9’s by July, no song has scored higher than an eight so far this year.
  • On the lower end of the scale, the number of songs is about the same overall, but the scores are lower on average due to an increase of 3/10 ratings (I had one by this time last year, but I’ve got four this time around).

So what’s gone wrong for country music this year? In short, the genre has an attitude problem, with a number of artists coming across as too narrow-minded to admit their faults, too closed-minded to adapt to changing times, and occasionally too busy drinking and partying to care about anything at all. There’s also the persistent issue of being too quick to try and revive dying trends that should have been kicked to the curb a long time ago, but that’s a whole other story.

Frankly, I’m sick of talking or thinking about these songs, so I’m going to shut up and let them speak for themselves. These are the worst tracks I’ve heard in 2021 thus far.

Dishonorable Mentions:

#10: Niko Moon, “NO SAD SONGS” (4/10)

#9: Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” (4/10)

#8: Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” (4/10)

#7: Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” (4/10)

#6: Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” (3/10)

#5: Nelly ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Lil Bit” (3/10)

#4: Travis Denning, “ABBY” (3/10)

#3: Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” (3/10)

#2: Heath Sanders, “Old School’s In” (2/10)

#1: Brantley Gilbert ft. Toby Keith & HARDY, “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” (2/10)

Mario Golf: Super Rush: Is It Worth Buying?

Sports games have been a huge hole in Nintendo’s lineup for over a decade now. Electronic Arts has mostly avoided the company’s hardware since the Wii U era (Madden and NHL haven’t seen the light of day of Nintendo gear in forever), and we’ve been waiting since late 2019 for MLB The Show to arrive on the console, leaving limited-feature FIFA and 2K Sports’s basketball series as the only major sports titles on the console (with apologies to R.B.I. Baseball). This issue has left Nintendo to try and fill this hole itself, and to its credit it’s done a credible job with its various Mario sports franchises, including Golf, Tennis, Baseball, and Strikers (soccer).

The runaway success of the Switch hasn’t yet convinced the major players in this genre to support the console and fill this hole, so Nintendo is once again stepping into the void, first with Mario Tennis Aces and now with Mario Golf: Super Rush. The golf series has been missing from the world for a while (the last entry came in 2014 for the 3DS), but the series has charmed a number of fans over its lifespan for its ability to produce a fun, faithful golf experience while also sprinkling in the usual Mario charm (I’m still a big fan of Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour from the GameCube era). The question we aim to answer here: Does Super Rush follow in its predecessors’ footsteps and clear the bar they have set?

Truthfully, I look at Mario Golf: Super Rush the way I look at the more-recent entries in the Pokémon series: The game still captures the essence of the series and in fun to play, but I’d call it a lateral move compared to Toadstool Tour: It’s not better or worse, just different. The game takes some chances to inject some energy and chaos into the series, but they often ran counter to the sort of game I was looking to play, and to me it didn’t really advance the series in any way. There’s something for both new players and veterans of the series to enjoy, but there are also some glaring omissions and decisions that leave you scratching your head. It’s a decent game, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been a lot better.

My detailed thoughts on the game are as follows:

  • After going through the technical issues of Bravely Default II, Mario Golf: Super Rush has a much cleaner and crisper presentation. While there are some moments where it takes a strangely-long amount of time before the game will allow button presses to register, load times are generally reasonable, and transitions and animations during a match are fairly smooth (even during online play, which features a few stutters and frame drops but nothing that would disrupt the game). The presentation features the typical Nintendo polish, and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the game.
  • Speaking of the game: There are four main modes here, including Standard Golf, Speed Golf, Battle Golf, and Golf Adventure. Standard Golf is the classic golf experience: You try to complete holes with the fewest number of shots or most points, either by yourself or competing with 1-3 other players. What’s missing, however, is the ability to play courses as a tournament against a large number of virtual players, which was honestly my favorite mode from Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. Playing with a handful of players can approximate the same experience, but be sure to choose to let people play ‘all at once,’ as letting people take turns means you’re sitting through a bunch of shots that really don’t concern you.

Speed Golf and Battle Golf shake up the traditional golf formula by injecting a bit more…well, speed into the game. Speed Golf makes you run after your ball after you hit it, forcing you to navigate the course while avoiding hazards, while also giving you the opportunity to interfere with your opponents as they chase down their own shots. Battle Golf raises the stakes considerably: The courses are smaller, all the holes are in play simultaneously (the first person to claim three wins), and there are even Bob-ombs you can hit like golf balls to thwart your opponents’ progress. In practice, however, the additions don’t add a whole lot to the game: With each shot adding thirty seconds to your time, the impact of being a few seconds slower than your opponent is negligible, and you can generally grab enough stamina hearts to spam your special dash across the course. Battle Golf turns up the chaos meter considerably, but it seemed you either got caught up in Mario Party-esque random events or would up on a completely different path and played the whole game by yourself. As someone who prefers to take their time to line up the perfect shot, I found Standard Golf to be the best of these three modes, and the new modes really didn’t measure up by comparison.

  • Previous Golf titles included role-playing elements that allowed you to build your own character and learn the game through a single-player campaign, and Super Rush brings this mode back to the series in the form of Golf Adventure, where your Mii character becomes a feared golfer and you get to learn some of the more technical aspects of the game. The best part about Golf Adventure were the practice challenges, which forced you to think long and hard about the wind, the terrain, the clubs, and the ball spin to find a way to get the ball to the required location. Other parts of the mode, however, were a bit lackluster: Your fellow rookies mostly disappeared after the first tournament, the pacing was very inconsistent (you didn’t face a boss battle until the fifth course, and then suddenly you had to face two almost back-to-back), and XC Golf was less fun and more of a headache to play than Speed or Battle Golf. The player progression was a bit unorthodox as well: Instead of continually progressing, your speed, control, and spin will regress if you don’t keep sinking points into those attributes. It’s an awkward balancing mechanism that feels like it could have been handled differently. Overall, the mode is fine, but it really didn’t add a whole lot to the game.
  • Hitting the ball is a relatively straightforward process, but I found the tools you’re given to gauge and measure your shots to be a downgrade from what we had on the GameCube. Setting the shot power and determining roughly where it will land is easy enough, but Toadstool Tour also allowed you to see the expected flight of the ball to help you avoid trees and other obstacles, and the range and elevation finder seem clunky and not as useful as the tools from Toadstool Tour. (I also prefer having the limited power shots that could be conserved with perfect execution over having to charge a special shot and only being able to use it every few holes. I understand that the old system may have unbalanced online play, but I’d still rather have it available.) Overall, I found the game a bit harder to control and a bit less satisfying to play than its predecessors,
  • As someone who’s gotten used to the online limitations of Splatoon 2, there’s a lot to like about what Super Rush offers for network play. There are no random lobbies to speak of; players have to either establish a lobby or search for one that’s already available. Rooms can be located via ID or searched for by a number of parameters (game mode, hole amount, rule choices, shot or character restrictions, etc.) and can be password-protected for further control. While I only tried out Standard Golf online, the mode works very well for network play because each player operates mostly as an independent entity (without special shots, you don’t interact with the other players at all). You may encounter more issues with Speed/Battle Golf since you come into direct contact with the competition, but the glitches I saw during Standard Golf were minimal enough that I think these two modes wouldn’t suffer too much.

So should you drop $60 on Mario Golf: Super Rush? I would say the game is only worth it if you’re a fan of the standard golf gameplay, because it’s still satisfying to execute the perfect shot and online play adds a new dimension of competitiveness. If you’re looking for something more from golf, however, this game won’t give it to you: Speed and Battle Golf are minimal diversions that get old quickly, and Golf Adventure is mostly useful as an extended tutorial. The game definitely had its moments, but it felt surprisingly limited and didn’t quite offer the level of excitement I expected. Nintendo announced that there would be online updates to the game in the future, but if you’re on the fence about Super Rush, I would wait to see exactly what you get (characters, courses, maybe another game mode or two?) before investing in the game. As it is, the game is merely okay, and if you’re not already a fan of the game or the series, you may want to find another game that resonates more with you.