Song Review: Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”

Wait a minute…is the squeaky wheel finally getting some grease from Music City?

I’ve been doing a lot of complaining about the current state of mainstream country music (most recently in my state of the blog address), but things seem to have shifted in the last month: Since my lightning round post a month ago, I’ve only given out one score below a 6 in my reviews (way to wreck the trend, Parmalee), and that trend appears to be continuing with Scotty McCreery’s latest release “It Matters To Her.” Yes, we’re dealing with a small sample size here (thanks to Nintendo, I’ve only reviewed five songs in the last month), but there’s some common threads running between these songs that McCreery brings together in a solid, enjoyable effort.

…So after that last sentence about threads, let’s talk about the thing in which these songs have the least in common: the production. The sounds we’ve examined over the past month have been loud and soft, retro and modern, acoustic, electric, and even a little synthetic, and McCreery’s mix falls somewhere in the middle. Yes, this falls into the dreaded guitar-and-drum category, but the electric guitars (which are the primary drivers of the melody) have a decidedly 90s feel and tone (I think he stole them from Ty Herndon), and the simple drum line adds some punch to the mix while otherwise staying out of the way. (The steel guitar isn’t as front-and-center as it was on “Damn Strait,” but it’s the primary—okay, the only—instrument that adds any flavor or variety to the mix.) Combined with the slightly-slower tempo, this produces a relaxed, spacious atmosphere that invites the listener into the song without obscuring the message within the lyrics. (While I wouldn’t call the tone exceptionally bright, the vibe here is undeniably positive, which helps adds some weight to the words.) I’m a sucker for anything that sounds even remotely old-school (see: Midland), and this mix brings does a nice job capturing a retro sound while still providing ample support to the writing.

There’s a reason McCreery won American Idol all the way back in 2011 (good grief, has it been eleven years now?!): The man is one of the most talented vocalists in the genre, and the limited demands of the song lets him go on a maximum charm offensive as he tells the story. The narrator here needs to project an air of wisdom and experience, and while that might seem like an awkward fit for an artist that isn’t 30 yet, McCreery now has a decade-plus years of service in Nashville to go along with his precocious skills, so he’s been around the block enough times to speak credibly on a subject like this (his squeaky-clean image also helps in this department, “Southern Belle” notwithstanding). This isn’t really a love song (or even directed at anyone particular), but McCreery gives you the impression that he’s got someone in mind as he delivers his lines, and the audience gets a strong sense of the narrator’s emotion and devotion towards this unknown individual. It’s the sort of charismatic performance that typifies the tracks we’ve been reviewing lately, and it makes you wonder if this guy is ready to make the leap towards A-list status in country music. If so, it’s not a moment too soon.

In the Boyfriend country era, we’ve gotten buried in shallow, ephemeral love songs that don’t feel like they establish any connection between the participants beyond the moment. Lately, however, it’s the artists that have made that deeper, long-lasting connection (Eric Church, Kane Brown, and even Chris Stapleton) that have gotten my attention, and that’s the position of the writing here as well. In a way, this feels like an answer song to all the angry Ex-Boyfriend tracks clogging up the airwaves right now: The narrator provides a guiding principle and a detailed instruction booklet for people to make their partners feel needed, respected, and loved. I’m always criticizing songs for being too light on detail and too reliant on the listener to fill in the gaps with their own experience, but this track has a message and doesn’t mince words: If you make the extra effort and take care of the little things, “it matters to her” (a solid hook that doesn’t need to be witty and doesn’t try), and your relationship will remain rock-solid. It’s the kind of song that provokes thought and introspection, inviting everyone listening to question themselves: Am I doing the right things in my own relationship, and if not, how do I correct my course? It’s exactly the sort of song I want to hear on country radio (another phrase I repeat, albeit not as often as I’d like), and McCreery and his producer hit all the right notes to let the song hit home.

“It Matters To Her” is a solid song on all fronts, from its classic-yet-suitable sound to its thoughtful and thought-provoking writing to a charming performance from Scotty McCreery behind the mic. As critical as I’ve been of Nashville this year, we’ve seen a few bright spots emerge over the last month, and this is one of the brightest ones yet. (Don’t look now, but after the “Southern Belle” disaster, McCreery is riding a five-song #1 streak, and this song making it six wouldn’t surprise me at all.) For all the songs channeling the anger and frustrations of the moment, there aren’t many that are offering a way forward like this one is, and I hope other artists (*cough* Bailey Zimmerman *cough*) are taking notes. I’m looking forward to seeing how this track performs, and I’m hoping I have to do less complaining from here on out.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

Song Review: Midland ft. Jon Pardi, “Longneck Way To Go”

Midland hasn’t made a deal with the devil just yet, but they’re certainly deep in negotiations.

It’s been almost five years since my Texas tenure ended, and so little stands out about the experience that I sometimes question whether I was ever actually there. One thing I’ll always remember, however, is hearing Midland’s debut smash “Drinkin’ Problem” a week before its official add date and thinking “These guys are good; they could be going places.” At the time, it seemed like a safe bet: Music City seemed to be leaning in a more-traditional direction, and despite questions about their “authenticity,” the group has stuck to its guns and its sound through three albums now, and by daring to reach back beyond the usual neotraditional roots and striving for something older and more classic, they’ve kept their shtick fresh and fun for five years.

Nashville, however, pivoted to everything but classic country in the years following Midland’s debut, and staying this far outside the genre’s mainstream sound has caused them to struggle to find traction on mainstream radio. “Sunrise Tells The Story” failed to crack the top forty on Billboard’s airplay chart, and two months after its release date, the band’s latest single “Longneck Way To Go” has only made it to #60 (at least according to Wikipedia; the Pulse Music Boards say it debuted at #59). An examination of the song raises a lot of red flags: This is the closest Midland has ever gotten to conforming to mainstream trends (they even brought in Jon Pardi because everyone loves a good collaboration, right?), and if this can’t find an audience, the trio will be facing a tough choice: Make even more changes to their formula, or risk slipping into obscurity forever.

From the instrument list, you’d think the production here was just another Nashville guitar-and-drum mix, and given that these are the instruments that define the mix, you’d wouldn’t be wrong. So what sets this arrangement apart from, say, Parker McCollum’s “Handle On You”? Well, both have a steel guitar in their back pocket to fill some space, but this song also brings in a banjo in to deliver some energy and flavor (and not one of those slow-rolling token banjos from the Bro-Country era; this one blazes along the way Benjamin Franklin and Earl Scruggs intended). The biggest difference, however, is the polish (or lack thereof, in this case) that can be heard in the mix. McCollum’s mix has been buffed until you could see your reflection in it (which helps it capture that 90s neotraditional feel), but Midland’s mix is rawer and more spacious, making it feel a bit more lively and all-encompassing. Yes, this is one of those “happy sad” songs that I’ve been less than thrilled with lately (supposedly they’re drinking to forget, but it sounds like they’ve always forgotten), but at least this mix sounds fun and upbeat (as opposed to, say, Dustin Lynch’s lifeless “Party Mode”), so if they’re going to do the wrong job, at least they do it right. It’s a decent sound overall, but I wish it was in service of a better cause.

I’m already on record calling Pardi “one of the worst vocalists in country music,” but he’s the guy people call when they want to sing a good-time country song (Thomas Rhett shared the mic, Dillon Carmichael stuck him in the music video), but his voice actually blends pretty well with the Midland trio, which is a tribute to Jess Cameron and Cameron Duddy’s harmony work more than anything else. Mark Wystrach, in comparison, is one of my favorite vocalists in the genre, and if his previous stint as “Mr. Lonely” didn’t prove his chops as a party-hardy narrator, this one will: For as much as he claims to be drowning a heartache, that heartache sounds like it was drowned a looooong time ago. He has a knack for letting the listener in on his state of mind, and he makes this track a good time, even if it doesn’t seem like it should be. Wystrach and Pardi share and trade lead duties with nary a hitch (the way they weave in and out of the bridge is pretty impressive, and Duddy and Cameron keep everything tied together on the back end—in other words, it’s the same sort of charming, charismatic performance from the trio that we’ve come to expect (hey, if you make Pardi sound passable, you can do anything), and one that I wish would gather a lot more attention on the radio.

Of course, the weak point on this track is the lyrics: They don’t have much to say, and what they do have to say we’ve already heard a hundred million times. The narrator is trying to drink away the memory of a lost love, they’re struggling to do so…and that’s it. There are some interesting moments of repetition in the writing (“it’s closing in on closing time and I ain’t even close”), but the hook is nowhere near as clever as the writers think (in truth, it’s one of the weakest ones I’ve heard in this lane), and we get a solid nothing about the story: Nothing about the other person, nothing about the relationship, nothing about the bar or the good time they’re trying to have…it’s just a guy getting fed a bunch of beers that aren’t serving any purpose. (Side note: If the beer isn’t helping, why do you keep drinking it? At some point, don’t you reach some sort of critical mass where the alcohol is going to do what it’s going to do, and if it doesn’t do it you’re sunk?) The whole exercise feels pointless to me, and with so many people on the radio doing the same thing right now, you need to find a way to stand out, and the writing doesn’t cut the mustard here.

“Longneck Way To Go” is easily Midland’s weakest single release to date, but while I wouldn’t call it good, it’s not that far away from good either. The key pieces are still present here (a distinct, retro sound that dares to sound different, and a solid trio of vocalists who know how to deliver a line and can even cover for a guy like Jon Pardi), but they’re undercut by generic, uninteresting subject matter, even if it’s a clear attempt to find their long-lost traction on the radio. They’re playing the game by playing to the crowd, and while I can respect that, I really wish that they had been able to maintain their 2017 momentum and make music more on their own terms. (Worse still, the fact that this hasn’t popped up on the Pulse yet tells me that the gambit isn’t working…) The future looks rough for Midland right now, but if they proved anything with “Drinkin’ Problem” back in the day, it’s that success is only a song away.

Rating: 6/10. It’s good for what it is, but it leaves you longing for what it isn’t.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 26, 2022

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!

SongScore
1. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”+1 (6/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”-1 (4/10)
3. Morgan Wallen, “You Proof”-1 (4/10)
4. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”-1 (4/10)
5. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”0 (5/10)
6. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You”0 (5/10)
7. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story”0 (5/10)
8. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”+1 (6/10)
9. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”0 (5/10)
10. Luke Bryan, “Country On”-2 (3/10)
11. Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love”-3 (2/10)
12. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner”+2 (7/10)
13. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”0 (5/10)
14. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home”0 (5/10)
15. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”0 (5/10)
16. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode”-1 (4/10)
17. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”-1 (4/10)
18. Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does”0 (5/10)
19. Lee Brice, “Soul”0 (5/10)
20. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It”-1 (4/10)
21. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST”0 (5/10)
22. Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You”0 (5/10)
23. Brett Young, “You Didn’t”+1 (6/10)
24. Priscilla Block, “My Bar”0 (5/10)
25. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”0 (5/10)
26. Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”-1 (4/10)
27. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”+1 (6/10)
38. Dierks Bentley, “Gold”+1 (6/10)
29. Blake Shelton, “No Body”-1 (4/10)
30. Michael Ray, “Holy Water”+2 (7/10)
31. Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”+1 (6/10)
32. HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”+3 (8/10)
33. Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank You”+1 (6/10)
34. Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby”-1 (4/10)
35. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”0 (5/10)
36. Cody Johnson, “Human”0 (5/10)
37. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”0 (5/10)
38. Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life”-3 (2/10)
49. Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”0 (5/10)
40. Dan + Shay, “You”0 (5/10)
41. Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”0 (5/10)
42. Randy Houser, “Note To Self”+2 (7/10)
43. Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”0 (5/10)
44. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”+1 (6/10)
45. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”0 (5/10)
46. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”0 (5/10)
47. Matt Stell, “Man Made”0 (5/10)
48. Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me”+1 (6/10)
49. Parmalee, “Girl In Mine”-1 (4/10)
50. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25)-5
Future Pulse (#26—#50)+5
Overall Pulse0
Change From Last Week-1 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Wait In The Truck,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Fall In Love,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” (down from #4 to #6)
  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (down from #22 to #37)
  • Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” (down from #27 to #44)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (holds at #16 with a “meh” week)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (up from #46 to #45, but gained only seventeen spins and sixty-five points)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (down from #48 to #50 with a nearly 350-point loss, so this one might finally be dead)

In Real Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (up from #26 to #24, but gained only twenty-three spins and lost points)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (up from #33 to #30, but lost its bullet)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (up from #47 to #46, but gained only twelve spins and twenty-eight points. This one’s a candidate for the zombie list soon)

In Some Trouble:

  • Lee Brice, “Soul” (holds at #19, but gained only fifty-six spins and eighty points)
  • Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge” (up from #28 to #26, but gained only twenty-one spins and fifty-five points)
  • Dan + Shay, “You” (down from #39 to #40, barely keeps its bullet by losing spins and breaking even on points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank You” (up from #45 to #33)
  • Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck” (up from #29 to #25)
  • Dierks Bentley, “Gold” (up from #32 to #28)
  • Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends” (up from #43 to #39)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (spends a second week at #1, but it denied a Billboard #1))

Bubbling Under 50:

  • Hailey Whitters, “Everything She Ain’t”
  • Ashley Cooke & Brett Young, “Never ‘Til Now”
  • Ryan Griffin, “Salt, Lime And Tequila” (5/10)
  • Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Strange”

On The Way:

  • Jake Owen, “Up There Down Here”
  • Maren Morris, “I Can’t Love You Anymore”

Overall Thoughts: Did I say spins would be a bit harder to find this week? They wound up being a lot harder to gather, thanks to a logjam at the top of the chart (Wallen made a big move, while Thanos and Swindell mostly held serve at #1 at #2) and a few 1000+ points gains below them (most notably Brown & Brown gaining over 1700 points despite being outside the Top 30). The traffic jam at the top limited escalator movement this week, but with several songs set to leave next week (Tenpenny, Ray, Old Dominion) and at last one of the folks at the top likely to begin their descent, I expect a bit more in the way of spin availability and position movement going forward.

This week was Country Aircheck‘s biannual analysis of the gold charts, and there were a couple of noteworthy trends:

  • This was a big report for debuts, with 14 tracks making their first appearance on the Gold charts. That would seem to indicate that there’s a fair bit of turnover in the Gold rotations right now…except that there were only three debuts in the last chart, and while we saw an even bigger debut surge a year ago (24 new entries, including 7 of the top 10), a fair few of these have either already been cycled off of the Gold 100 or are on the verge on being tossed out (granted, these are snapshots that are very spread out and the rankings can be surprisingly volatile, so reading into any trends shown here can be tricky). I’m very curious to see just how much staying power recent tracks here, because the drop in song quality I’ve seen over the last few years makes me wonder if anything from this era will reach legendary status.
  • Women (five artists and seven songs) and groups (five artists and ten songs) continue to have minimal presence on the charts, and I don’t see either of these improving in the near future, as the artists here are either past their prime (Underwood, Lambert, Lady A, Rascal Flatts, Zac Brown Band), have lost all of their momentum recently (Morris, Barrett, Old Dominion), or never had any momentum to being with (Rexha, LoCash). There are some promising names that might be eligible in a year or two (Carly Pearce? Lainey Wilson?), as well as some not-so-promising ones (Parmalee will probably claim a spot with “Take My Name”), but I don’t think the current balance will change all that much.
  • The 90s are dead, long live the 90s. The final holdout from the era (Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That) finally fell out of the Top 100 this time around, which means we’re getting mixed signals about neotraditional nostalgia: There have been some recent singles that have found success with 90s callbacks (“Like I Love Country Music,” “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”), but there doesn’t seem to be much of an appetite for the OG tracks, and despite the success of these songs we don’t see a ton of people rushing to follow their lead. For better or worse, the genre continues to move in a slicker direction with less sound variety than the era they supposedly hold in high esteem.

On the coronavirus front, the pandemic has faded into the background so completely that not even NPR bothered to update their case/death count page this week (the New York Times site continues to show declining new case and death counts, but the daily death count seems to be leveling off around 400…). Much of the country seems to have moved on from the pandemic, but the raw numbers (about 50,000 new case a day on top on the 400 deaths) still seem far too high to warrant ignoring. I’d really like to see us come together and make a big drive to drive these numbers all the way down, and we know exactly how to do it:

There may be a level of acceptance of the current COVID caseload among Americans, but such acceptance feels unacceptable to me. If we made one more concerted effort to squash this virus, we could finally bring this pandemic (and all of its associated needless suffering) to an end.

Song Review: Parmalee, “Girl In Mine”

Don’t look now, but it’s time for our yearly dose of Parmalee pop-country. Just like last time, you won’t taste a thing.

Parmalee is the poster child for why people stick it out in Nashville for so long. The group is no better than they’ve ever been, and their material has been nothing but mediocre for the last decade…but then in 2021, Nashville suddenly decided they were done with Dan + Shay and wanted someone else to fill the genre’s quota of lightweight, flavorless pop-country, and Parmalee got the call. Then again, for as big a hit as “Take My Name” would up being, it’s a sample size of one (two if you include their Blanco Brown collab “Just The Way”), and the group could very quickly find themselves on the business end of the business if they’re not careful. Now would be the time for Parmalee to make a strong move and solidify their place at the top of the Boyfriend country heap…but instead we’re getting “Girl In Mine,” a generic, uninspired love song that fails to distinguish itself from its recent Boyfriend brethren. There’s never been a reason to tune in to Parmalee’s tunes, and this track doesn’t change that.

The production here sounds exactly as you’d expect it to sound: The slick guitars playing basic riffs, Grady Smith’s favorite snap track, the deliberate beat, the neutral-to-dark tones that don’t feel all that happy or romantic…I know I just complained about whether all this soundalike nonsense was me or Nashville, but on a generic Boyfriend track like this, I refuse to take all the blame. The producer deserves a little credit for making a dobro the primary melody carrier (the dobro isn’t as ever-present as the steel guitar, but it seems like we’re hearing more and more of it these days), but when electrified and buried under extra effects, it loses most of its distinct sound, and doesn’t add a whole lot more to the song than the guitars do. Like most love songs these days, the mix doesn’t have the feel I’m looking for—it seems like it’s going for a sensual feel, but not only does it miss the mark by a mile, it’s not the feel the lyrics seem to be going for (the “in my t-shirt” line seems to be the only true sex implication here). A song like this should feel like love, and this sound doesn’t move the needle in that department.

With dealing with a group like Parmalee, the best that you can hope for it for them to show some growth over time, especially when they’re moving to a new album cycle. Unfortunately, we see exactly zero evidence of this here, and much of what I said about “Take My Name” still applies:

  • “Lead singer Matt Thomas avoids any technical issues on the track, but there’s nothing compelling about him as a vocalist (or distinct either; if you told me that, say, Matt Stell was singing this song, I would believe you).”
  • “I’m sure the narrator cares a whole bunch about their significant other, but Thomas fails to allow the audience to share in those feelings, and thus he can’t convince them to give two you-know-whats about their love story…”
  • “The rest of the band is as invisible and replaceable as ever: There’s nothing distinct about their sound or their harmonies, so why does Stoney Creek bother keeping them on the payroll?”

All of is still true: Thomas is still as indistinguishable as ever, the narrator’s got something bubbling up inside him but can’t seem to get the audience to care, and with sounds and backing vocals this generic, I feel like Thomas needs to ditch the rest of these stiffs and strike out on his own, because the band contributes nothing of value to the song. I don’t like to repeat myself, but I also don’t like wasting my time on songs that aren’t worth the effort.

The lyrics here are yet another cookie-cutter-yet-incomplete effort, presented a half-painted effort in basic colors that the listener has to finish themselves. The narrator is infatuated with their partner, and they want them in everything they have (“in my t-shirt, in my ride, running circles in my mind,” and eventually in their world) so that they’re “the only girl in mine” (a weak hook if I’ve ever heard one). It’s just the same old stuff we get from every song in this lane (they get a few points for the screen lock reference, but it’s a throwaway line that barely registers), and we don’t get any sense of what makes this romance special or unique. It’s one of those tracks that tries to be intentionally vague (and you can’t get any vaguer than “In my Friday every weekend/All my days, my nights”) and relies on the listener to connect it back to their own romance for it to be even remotely effective. It’s one of those lazy soundalike songs that’s been done (and done better) a thousand times before, and there’s nothing in the lyrics that helps justify its existence.

“Girl In Mine” is a uninteresting song on a topic that’s been done to death over the last couple of years, and kind of feels like “Take My Name, Part 2” in Parmalee’s discography. I get that “Take My Name,” was big and you want to keep the hits coming, but you’ve got to give folks a reason to tune into the new track, and with uninteresting production, unimaginative writing, and an undistinguished performance from Parmalee, there’s no reason to pay any attention to this thing. It’s a great example of why I really want to get off of the mainstream grind, because there’s no payoff to doing so—you’re stuck with people copying other people (including themselves!) when the originals weren’t that good to begin with, and everyone’s sticking to a confining meta that demands surface-level listening only. It’s boring beyond belief, and everyone involved needs to do better.

Please tell me we don’t have to do this again next year…

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.

State Of The Blog Address: No Seriously, What Now?

Perhaps Harry Callahan was right: A man’s got to know his limitations.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of Kyle’s Korner, and if I’m being honest, I’m not sure how to feel about this. By all accounts the blog is doing just fine for itself: As of this writing we’re sitting at just over 1,200 posts and just under 400,000 total page views, and after a brief lull following the spike we saw in the first half of 2021, we’ve settled almost exactly in between our pre-pandemic viewership levels and the 2021 spike. Despite my feeble-to-nonexistent efforts to build an audience, “readership remains surprisingly robust, even as the post topics get a bit more scattershot.”

However, that last quote exemplifies my current issue with this blog. It’s taken from my 2021 state of the blog address, and when I re-read it, I feel like I could copy-paste 75% of the darn thing and use it in this year’s address. Truthfully, it’s how I feel about the last twelve months: I just keep saying the same things over and over and over again, and it’s wearing kind of thin.

So whose fault is this? Like any complex problem, there’s no single source that can be blamed:

  • Nashville certainly isn’t helping with this. I was unhappy with the state of mainstream country music last year, and it seems to have gotten worse in 2022. This genre is as stale as month-old bread, and there doesn’t seem to be any will or ambition to change this fact.
  • …Or is there? I’m hearing more and more songs that are getting dropped via streaming or social media but never end up sniffing the radio, so is country radio at fault for the current restrictive meta? It seems like the airwaves have a ‘background noise’ model, playing songs for people to listen to while doing other stuff rather than actively engaging with each track. It would certainly explain why very few of these songs stand up to a critical reading—they’re meant to turn your brain off rather than on.
  • Of course, this is called the music “business” for a reason, and nobody would be selling this stuff if people weren’t buying it. So are we as listeners to blame? Do we want to turn our brains off? If so, it’s a shame, because music can be so much more than a bland sedative.
  • Then again, can we really blame people for wanting to turn their brains off when the world around them is so over-stimulating and vitriolic? Have social media, politics, and society at large gotten so loud and pain-inducing that people are desperate for a respite? With so much bad stuff happening that seems totally out of our control, it’s only natural for people to just want to plug their ears and be done with it all. They don’t want deep, thought-provoking music because they’ve got enough deep thoughts getting provoked by everything else.
  • Finally, it’s worth noting that the common denominator across all the songs reviewed here at the Korner is the person doing the reviewing, and if everything sucks, maybe it’s not the music’s fault after all. There seems to be some debate over when consumers fall off of the mainstream wagon (Tastes solidify at age 14! People start cutting back on new music at age 24! “Music paralysis” sets in at age 30! Tastes have matured by the mid-30s!), but the truth is that I don’t fall into any of these categories anymore, so perhaps my worst fears have been realized and I’ve finally become the get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon who thinks this newfangled stuff has no heart behind it and all just sounds the same.

It’s that last option that’s been bothering me lately: Just as the music has started sounding the same, so have most of my posts over the past year. You all know the hits by now, where I complain about basic guitar-and-drum mixes, nihilistic fill-in-the-blank writing, interchangeable vocal performances, and of course the constant labeling of trends (“cobronavirus” caught on a little, “blandemic” not so much). My Pulse posts are kinda-sorta formulaic by design, but things like playlist shortening, express lanes, and even my pandemic updates are starting to feel a little tired. Is it time to step aside and turn the critical conversation over to some fresher voices?

I think the answer here is a definitive “maybe.”

The plan is to change things up a bit in 2023, and try to get off of the mainstream grind. First off, I’ve been talking about dumping the Pulse posts for a while now, and I think it’s time to make it official: At the end of 2022, I am giving up tracking the Pulse of Mainstream Country Music. It’s been over four years since my first Pulse, and I think it’s time to let a fresh set of eyes take over the rankings. If anyone else is interested in picking up the baton, they’re more than welcome to do so, but the Pulse is getting booted off this blog at the end of the year regardless.

I think I’m going to change up my review format and schedule next year as well. Reviews have mostly been feeding the Pulse over the last few years, and they’ve admittedly been a slog lately (spending several hours trying to find the words to describe a boring 5/10 track is no one’s idea of fun). I’d like to find a way to streamline this process and limit the scope of these posts, and focus on the more-interesting (or perhaps more-aggravating) songs on the radio today.

So given the fact that music stuff makes up 90% of what I talk about here, what’s going to take its place? Well, there’s a chance I do a few more retro projects around here, given that my deep dives have consistently been the best-performing on the site and my Randy Travis post over on The Musical Divide absolutely exploded last month (we even got a seal of approval from the man himself!). That said, there’s a reason those sorts of posts have faded from the blog: There’s a lot of legwork and research involved, and they can be incredibly draining to put together. I think it’s more likely that my post schedule gets pared down, which might buy me a bit more time to write more interesting stuff.

I’m also going to try to branch out from the blog a bit more in the next year. My foray back onto YouTube was…uneven, to say the least, but I’m trying to use the launch of Splatoon 3 as a motivator to get more content out there, and video editing has been the challenge/spark that I’ve needed to get back on the path to productivity. I’m not 100% sure what this YouTube push will look like just yet, but since music on that platform is a copyright nightmare, I’ll probably stick to gaming stuff to start.

Beyond videos, I have also toyed with the idea of streaming some of my favorite games (I mean, I’m already playing them all the time; they might as well help feed the content machine). Whatever form future gaming content takes, it will be as Nintendo-focused as it’s always been, but I might sneak in a few non-Nintendo products for variety…

So I guess the state of the blog is awkward: It continues to surprise me with its success, but it’s become less enjoyable to operate as time has gone on. My hope is that Nashville takes a turn towards something more interesting that’s worth covering in depth again, but at this point it’s hard to say (for years I’ve been predicting a “Randy Travis” moment where an artist breaks through and reorients the genre single-handedly, but if Thanos hasn’t managed to do it, it’s fair to ask whether it’s even possible). At some point you’ve got to stop letting the genre dictate your path and make those decisions for yourself, so look for the next year on the blog to be different, and (hopefully) a bit more fulfilling.

Splatoon 3: Is It Worth Buying?

Well, this is a needle I didn’t expect to have to thread.

Splatoon 3 has been out for a couple of weeks now, and yet the debate swirling around the game continues to be about its necessity rather than its quality. With the Switch only in the middle of its lifespan and Splatoon 2 already being available for the console, did we really need Splatoon 3 now? This has spawned the usual counterarguments about how the core Splatoon formula was already solid and wouldn’t/shouldn’t get drastic changes, and how many badly-needed quality-of-life changes S3 brought to the table, and how the S2 meta was a mess by the end and needed a total rework, and around and around it goes. So who’s right here?

Honestly, I think the answer is “all of the above.”

Does Splatoon 3 need to exist? Absolutely not: The game provides essentially the exact same experience as Splatoon 2 does, and had we not gotten this “threequel,” I would have been completely happy chugging along with Splatoon 2 for a few more years. However, “is it necessary?” and “is it worth buying?” are two very different questions, and since the game does exist, the minor tweaks and changes it makes makes Splatoon 3 the definitive version of the game as the current time. If you weren’t interested in or didn’t like Splatoon 2, there’s nothing here to excite you about Splatoon 3, but if you had fun with the first two games or find all of this ink-slinging intriguing, Splatoon 3 is still worth exploring.

That is the face of someone who’s just happy the Undercover Brella is back.

First, let’s address my biggest complaint about Splatoon 3, a problem that’s cropped up in several of Nintendo’s recent releases: There’s a noticeable lack of polish here, as if the game had to be rushed to meet a deadline despite missing its expected summer window. For example, consider the game’s network setup: Frequent connection errors have always been a meme in this franchise, but in my time with the game I’ve found the connection to be far less stable than Splatoon 2 despite a similarly-powerful connection (Side note: I’m one of roughly 8 people left in the world that hasn’t gotten screwed over by Comcast yet). There are also moments when the game stutters noticeably and consistently, especially when you’re entering the battle lobby (the player’s animation takes a few seconds before it starts running smoothly). There are several game modes that seem like no-brainer Day-1 additions (league battles, X rank, online play in Tableturf matches) that won’t arrive until an unspecified future update. It seems like Nintendo has gone overboard with pushing content into future updates, and it’s led to games feeling unfinished at launch (Mario Strikers: Battle League) and even prematurely abandoned (Super Mario Maker 2, Mario Golf: Super Rush). Given Splatoon 3‘s massive launch sales, I don’t think the developers are going to push the game to the back of the closet anytime soon, but I would have been perfectly content waiting months (or even years) to get a fully-featured game at launch.

So what is here? Well, Turf War returns, and it’s just as chaotic and exciting as ever. Just as in Splatoon 2, teams of four players have three minutes to cover as much ground as possible with their own ink, with whoever gets the most ink down getting crowned the winner at the end. The initial map rotation has been drawn from all three games (5 new, 4 from S2, 3 from S1), and some of them have been reworked significantly (seriously, Mahi-Mahi Resort is completely unrecognizable). With the caveat that I haven’t gotten to play the new Hammerhead Bridge yet (that map was terrible in S1), most of the maps here sit somewhere in the mushy middle for me: The only one I really like is Mincemeat Metalworks, and the only one I can’t stand is Museum d’Alfonsino (which is weird, because I never minded that map in S1 and it looks almost exactly the same). Players enter a map via a new airborne spawning system that lets you choose where to rejoin the action, but the reachable area is so limited (with good reason; you shouldn’t be able to spawn in the middle of the map whenever you want) that it feels pointless, and adds extra steps and button presses to what was an automatic process in the first two games. The Squid Roll and Squid Surge provide some extra movements options to avoid enemy fire, but I haven’t seen any players (myself included) take advantage of them yet, so I imagine it will be another month or so before we really see how they impact the game.

The impact of the shuffled special weapons is more apparent, and the general trend from S2 and S3 is to make these weapons more local and less powerful. Where S1 featured invincibility specials like Krakens and Bubblers and S2 was defined by global and/or long-ranged specials like Ink Armors, Stingrays and Tenta Missiles, Splatoon 3 is determined to up the risk factor of specials by forcing you closer to the action and providing a weakness for other players to exploit. (The one exception to this rule remains Tenta Missiles, although they don’t have quite the firepower they once did.) Zipcasters and Inkjets can be shot out of the air, Crab Tanks and Ultra Stamps are vulnerable to flanks, Tacticoolers require teammates to be in the immediate vicinity to get a boost (remote work won the battle IRL, but Tacticoolers still demand that you show up in-person), Big Bubblers and Wave Breakers can be destroyed by enemy fire, and so on. These weapons still pack a punch when skillfully deployed (Ink Vacs in particular can be very tricky to approach), but there are no get-out-of-jail-free or panic button weapons to pull yourself out of an impossible situation.

Ony one new sub weapon was introduced in S3 (the Angle Shooter, basically a Point Sensor with longer-but-narrower range), but two new classes of main weapons joined the party as well: Stringers (bows) and Splatanas (melee weapons similar to brushes). Both of the base weapons of the class have some interesting/distinctive features (the Tri-Stringer shots will explode a few moments after impact if charged enough, the Splatana Wiper has some incredible speed and mobility while swinging), and I generally enjoyed trying them out during the World Premiere Splatfest. The Splatana Stamper and REEF-LUX 450 don’t seem quite as distinct, but they’ve got solid kits that get them a lot of attention of the battlefield. In terms of the weapons as a whole, the current balance isn’t exactly balanced right now (that sound you hear is Nintendo preparing to nerf the Sloshing Machine into the ground), but at least non-shooter classes appear to be more viable right now, and that’s a step in the right direction. While not every weapon will click for new players right out of the gate (chargers in particular require a lot of time and patience to master), there’s something for darn near every kind of playstyle available, so you can try things out and see what works best for you.

(Of course, Undercover Brellas remain as meta as ever. 🙂

In terms of other battle modes, all three ranked modes from Splatoon 2 return(plus Clam Blitz, which I still refuse to consider as an actual mode), but the format is a bit different this time around. “Anarchy Battles” (the new name for ranked matches” are split into Open and Series modes: Open matches can be played with teams of friends, but Series matches are strictly solo and demand that you win five matches before you lose three to progress. It’s not quite the Turf-War-esque model that freed you from the anxiety of rank maintenance that I wanted (and the fact that ranks drop automatically every three months doesn’t help matters either), so while this is where the hardcore competitive players will gravitate, I’ll likely stick mostly to Turf Wars as I always have.

One more thing I’ve noticed: There’s a lot more space in the Splatoon 3 hubs and lobbies than in previous games, but right now most of this room feels empty and wasted. The hub world is massive, but many of the explorable paths feel pointless or redundant, and you can get lost in a series of passages to nowhere. The matchmaking lobby is finally playable after two games of staring at a static screen, but it’s just a couple of inflatable bad guys and a stationary robot who can shoot back at you (not to mention an upstairs cafe-like area that doesn’t serve any purpose at all), and by your fifth match you’re just setting your controller down and walking away in from the screen between matches like you always have. It adds more weight to that lack of polish and that feeling that the game is incomplete, and it does so unnecessarily.

Salmon Run falls into the same category as the ink battles: The stages, weapons, and bosses may have changed, but by and large the mode remains the same as in Splatoon 2: You beat down the baddies, you collect the Golden Eggs, you stick them in the basket, and you try to hit your quota within the allotted time. Throwing eggs and using Egg Cannons to launch them towards the basket is a useful addition, and becomes a big plus when you’re stuck with a team that loves to overextend itself (at least they can toss the eggs back now to make them easier to collect). It’s a fun diversion from the adversarial multiplayer modes, and has enough satisfying strategic depth to keep you coming back.

The single-player campaign tries to combine the tutorial gameplay from the Hero Modes of Splatoon and Splatoon 2 with the specialized challenges found in the Octo Expansion DLC, and it mostly succeeds in this regard. Some of the challenges can be frustrating (riding rails with a Slosher is not my idea of a good time) or pointless (so…I just have to cover a giant statue in ink? That’s the whole level?), but this was true of some of the Octo Expansion levels as well, and some of the levels can be super fun (especially ones where you have infinite time with specials like the Zipcaster and Crab Tank, and you can just mess around with them as you bounce across the level). The boss battles I’ve played so far have felt a little tired compared to those found in Splatoon 2, but admittedly I haven’t gotten to the endgame stuff yet, so there may be more secrets in store.

Dang, Fresh Callie and Diamond Machado? Now that’s what I call a pull!

The new game mode here is Tableturf Battles, and while it’s a far, far, far cry from Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, it’s an fun little game that can be a nice change of pace between Ink Battles. Tableturf Battles are turn-based affairs where players play cards that correspond to different shapes, with each shape taking up space on a grid. Generally you can’t play cards that overlap with squares you or your opponent have already covered (there are some exceptions involving “special weapons,” but that’s a longer discussion), and the goal is to cover more squares on the grid with your color than your opponent—you know, just like a turf war! It’s the sort of game that’s just begging for a competitive scene to overanalyze it and put a restrictive meta in place, but at this point it’s just a 1-player game vs. the CPU. It’s a decent idea, but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, “Senator, you’re no Salmon Run.”

Let’s close by talking about the new customization option that the game provides for players to express themselves. On top of the new hair/eyebrow/pants options (even your little Smallfry Salmonid buddy can sport a fresh hairdo), players can now customize the look of their “splashtags” (name tags with strange titles and varied background) and their “lockers” (a small space where you can stash and arrange all sorts of weapons, cosmetics, and random stuff). It’s all a great idea, and people are putting together some really interesting and intricate designs…but surprisingly, none of these options seems to resonate with me: My splashtag remains the default background and title, and my locker is empty save for a single Undercover Brella (because only the things that matter go in there). The inclusion of the seasonal catalogs is a step towards MLB The Show 22‘s programs, but I’m not sure it’s enough to keep players engaged (especially when the game isn’t terribly up front about what rewards you’re playing for). The custom victory animations flop unexpectedly hard as well: You have to watch the winners dance regardless of if you win or lose (which can be a little tilting after a close loss), and even if you win, sitting through each animation takes forever, and I find myself tapping my foot impatiently and checking my watch like I’m waiting for a Sam Hunt song to end. Much like 75% of Nashville’s output in 2022, there are a lot of people who enjoy these options, but they’re just kind of “meh” to me.


So where does all of this leave us? Honestly, it leaves us in the same place that Splatoon 2 (and the last few Pokémon entries) did: Despite Tableturf Battles being a new mode, it’s not a very expansive one (yet), so we’re left with the same ink battles and salmon running that we’ve all been doing up to this point. If you were happy with this gameplay loop in S2, then you won’t (and shouldn’t) think twice about the $60 price tag, because this is a mechanical fine-tuning of the series that streamlines much of the process (even if the game doesn’t always run smoothly). New players who are curious about the series should probably start with S3 as well, as most of the aggravating wrinkles have been ironed out of the series by now. If Splatoon didn’t appeal to you before, however, there’s nothing in the latest version that grabs you by the collar and demands that you try it out. Splatoon 3 is Splatoon 2 Deluxe at its core, and as long as that’s enough for you, you’ll have fun with the game.

Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about this conclusion. Splatoon has always prided itself on being fresh, but this game feels a little staler than it should. I sunk almost 3,000 hours into Splatoon 2 and even created a few YouTube videos using the game, but the game’s magic really started to fade in 2022 as Nintendo’s release schedule swelled and other standout titles vied for my attention. (As of right now, I would unironically rank Splatoon 3 as my #3 game of the year behind MLB The Show 22 and Triangle Strategy.) After spending so much time racking up stats and hours in S2, I’m just not that enthused about replicating the whole process in S3.

However, if there’s any series that could change my mind about this sort of thing, it’s Splatoon. Like any addiction, every time I think I’ve finally broken free of its grasp, its satisfying, endlessly-replayable game loop reels me right back in. Only time will tell how this game will compare to its short- and long-term competition, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned for the last seven years, it’s to never count out a game or a series that’s this tough.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 19, 2022

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!

SongScore
1. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”+1 (6/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”-1 (4/10)
3. Morgan Wallen, “You Proof”-1 (4/10)
4. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You”0 (5/10)
5. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”0 (5/10)
6. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”-1 (4/10)
7. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story”0 (5/10)
8. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love”+1 (6/10)
9. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”+1 (6/10)
10. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”0 (5/10)
11. Luke Bryan, “Country On”-2 (3/10)
12. Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love”-3 (2/10)
13. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner”+2 (7/10)
14. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”0 (5/10)
15. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”0 (5/10)
16. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode”-1 (4/10)
17. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home”0 (5/10)
18. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”-1 (4/10)
19. Lee Brice, “Soul”0 (5/10)
20. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It”-1 (4/10)
21. Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does”0 (5/10)
22. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”0 (5/10)
23. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST”0 (5/10)
24. Brett Young, “You Didn’t”+1 (6/10)
25. Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You”0 (5/10)
26. Priscilla Block, “My Bar”0 (5/10)
27. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”+1 (6/10)
28. Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”-1 (4/10)
29. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”0 (5/10)
30. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”+1 (6/10)
31. Blake Shelton, “No Body”-1 (4/10)
32. Dierks Bentley, “Gold”+1 (6/10)
33. Michael Ray, “Holy Water”+2 (7/10)
34. Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”+1 (6/10)
35. HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”+3 (8/10)
36. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”0 (5/10)
37. Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby”-1 (4/10)
38. Cody Johnson, “Human”0 (5/10)
39. Dan + Shay, “You”0 (5/10)
40. Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life”-3 (2/10)
41. Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”0 (5/10)
42. Randy Houser, “Note To Self”+2 (7/10)
43. Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”0 (5/10)
44. Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”0 (5/10)
45. Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank You”+1 (6/10)
46. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”0 (5/10)
47. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”0 (5/10)
48. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”0 (5/10)
49. Matt Stell, “Man Made”0 (5/10)
50. Parmalee, “Girl In Mine”0 (5/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25)-5
Future Pulse (#26—#50)+6
Overall Pulse+1
Change From Last Week0

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Wait In The Truck,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Fall In Love,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” (recurrent)
  • Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” (down from #1 to #4)
  • Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” (down from #5 to #8)
  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (down from #16 to #22. Is it finally dead?)
  • Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” (down from #12 to #27, appears to have been dropped in favor of the Chesney duet)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (up from #18 to #16 with a solid week of gains. Does it has enough to get to the Top 10?)
  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t” (up from #26 to #24 with an okay week, but I’m not ready to pull this off of the list yet)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (down from #45 to #46, gained only four spins and forty-eight points. Riser needs to do everyone a favor and put this thing out of its misery)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (holds at #48 with a mediocre week, but it’s dead in the water)

In Real Trouble:

  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (down from #46 to #47, gained only seventeen spins and ninety-one points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (up from #27 to #26, but gained only thirty-four spins and seventy-three points)
  • Matt Stell, “Man Made” (holds at #49, but gained only one spin and eighteen points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “wait in the truck” (up from #42 to #35)
  • Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around” (up from #23 to #18)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (up from #3 to #1, but it feels like Swindell let him have it rather than Combs taking it)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”
  • Jake Owen, “Up There Down Here”
  • Maren Morris, “I Can’t Love You Anymore”

Overall Thoughts: This week was a bit of a breather after the dry spell of the last few weeks. Thanos is king of the hill once again, but instead of being the arbiter of who gets to be #1, this time he’s the one being let onto the throne while someone else (Swindell) holds the actual seat of power. The title of “Thanos” may soon be in play (and it really annoys me that Wallen is the betting favorite to claim it). Despite a big push for #1, we didn’t have any major debuts (the Browns only made it to #45), and there were several premature (but not wholly unexpected) exits from Ray and Old Dominion that ensured that spins were available for anyone who needed them. Anyone who didn’t get them—I’m looking at you, Dillon Carmichael and Brett Eldredge—should probably be putting together an exit strategy, because if you can’t find success in a week like this, good luck when the competition tightens up in the weeks to come. I don’t see any huge debuts on the horizon yet, but Thanos tends to have a quick turnaround with new singles, so I think spins will be a bit harder to find next week.

On the coronavirus front, daily new case and death numbers continue to drop, and the pandemic has faded into the background so completely that President Biden felt comfortable declaring it “over” on 60 Minutes last weekend. While I understand that he was trying to say that the virus wasn’t the threat that it was at the start of the pandemic, I still disagree with him: This pandemic is still very much ongoing, and with 60,000+ new cases and 400+ new deaths a day on average, we really shouldn’t feel comfortable about our current position (especially since we’ve been stuck here for a while—things aren’t improving much, if at all). We still need to be proactive in our fight against COVID-19, and luckily we’ve got the tools to do so:

The pandemic isn’t “over,” but we’re in perhaps the most optimistic position that we’ve been in since the start of this whole mess. If we keep taking the proper steps to keep everyone safe, perhaps I’ll feel comfortable agreeing with the president’s assertion sooner rather than later.

Song Review: Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank God”

How do you out-Thomas Rhett Thomas Rhett? Instead of talking about your wife, let her do her own talking.

Kane Brown’s path through country music has been a fascinating one, from his Metro-Bro beginnings to his recent dalliances with more-traditional sounds. All of this appeared to culminate in his recent #1 “Like I Love Country Music,” a hat-tip to 90s country that defied the radio’s slow escalator by rocketing to the summit and spending a mere sixteen weeks on Billboard’s airplay chart. There’s almost no way to follow up a song like this, but the show must go on eventually, and Brown is now back with the third official single from Different Man, “Thank God.” While it’s got a slight odor of Boyfriend country, this track is a bit more along the lines of Chris Stapleton’s “Joy Of My Life” and Eric Church’s “Doing Life With Me,” a fact hammered home by having Brown’s wife Katelyn step in as his duet partner. I wouldn’t call it a great song, but it’s a solid effort that helps lift the genre rather than weigh it down.

Let’s start with the production, which somehow creates a soft and tender atmosphere for the song despite breaking some of the cardinal rules I’m always blathering about. Primary melody duties are passed between an acoustic and electric guitar (the former handles the verses, the latter takes the choruses), while percussion duties are covered mostly by a drum machine (it sounds like Grady Smith’s favorite snap track is back…). Outside of some synth notes and a steel guitar that’s marinated in audio effects, this is all you get, and when you factor in the lack of brightness in the instrument tones, this sounds more like a recipe for disaster than a love song. So how does the producer make it work? Part of it is that the overall volume level is relatively low, letting the song support the vocals without stepping on them. Part of it is the measured, relaxed tempo that make the song less passion-driven and ephemeral, and makes the characters feel more connected and invested in the relationship. Part of it is the overall softness of the instrument tones (especially the drum machine, which is washed-out enough to sand the edges off of what’s usually a cold, hard beat), which helps the song feel a bit warmer and more heartfelt. Whatever the reason, I have to give some reason to whoever was in the production booth: It’s not a standout sound that will stick in my brain long, but it’s a suitable sound that does its job and keeps the focus where it should be.

Honestly, my first question after hearing this was “Who the heck is Katelyn Brown, and why haven’t we heard from her before?” Apparently she’s a singer in her own right who’s been more focused on the business side of the industry lately, but she’s a credible presence and a decent vocalist behind the mic ( I hear bits and pieces of Gabby Barrett and Kelsea Ballerini in her voice), and she’s got quite of bit of vocal chemistry with her husband (which probably shouldn’t be a surprise). For his part, Brown has trended away from the deeper vocal range that got him noticed early on, but he’s still got good tone higher in his range, and his floe is as effortless as ever. He doesn’t stand out quite as much as he did initially, but he pulls off the Rhett-esque metamorphosis perfectly here, moving past his Metro-Bro roots and into the role of a dedicated partner by bringing some notable depth and charisma to the table (of course, having his wife on this track doesn’t hurt either). This is an artist that’s shown some serious growth and maturation over the years, and honestly both artists do a nice job here. So when are we getting that Katelyn Brown solo album?

The writing isn’t terrible here, but I’d still call it the weakest part of the song. This is a fairly standard song of devotion (there’s no interesting backstory as in “Doing Life With Me”), and while there are hints of a longstanding relationship here (particularly in the opening lines), I think it’s the Browns that give the song a feeling of commitment more than anything else. The reliance on spiritual language (angels, Bibles, forgiveness, and of course the “Thank God” hook, which isn’t really that strong) is also nothing new or attention-grabbing, but it does get some points for its unwavering consistency. The main selling point of the lyrics is that by leaning into the sentimentality and religiosity, it leaves a lot of hooks for a charismatic performer to elevate the song to make it feel more meaningful, which works when you’ve got a pair of capable performers behind the mic as we do here. (It also allows for the other person to deliver their own side of the story, even if it doesn’t seem like it intentionally written that way.) It’s a story that’s not terribly interesting by itself, but it allows the pieces around it to make it feel a bit more special.

“Thank God” is a decent song that’s part of a decent mini trend that offers hope that we can finally move past the Boyfriend country hookup era, and I’d call it another decent step along the career path of Kane Brown (and a huge step for Katelyn Brown—could this lead to a solo release?). There haven’t been a ton of bright spots in country music recently, but I think Brown has become one (especially when compared to other A and B-listers). He runs the risk of falling into the same trap that Rhett did by overdoing this sort of song (and admittedly this song falls far short of greatness), but I’ll take this track for now, and look forward to better things to come.

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a listen to see how it strikes you.

My Reaction To The September 2022 Nintendo Direct

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It’s a statement that feels very appropriate when discussing Nintendo’s latest Direct, which dropped earlier in the week with little notice. With what’s been a loaded 2022 nearly in the books and many of Nintendo’s franchises already represented on the Switch, the questions now were simple:

  • What will 2023 look like?
  • What long-languishing franchises will finally make their debut on the Switch?
  • What long-awaited game would finally get a release date?

Nintendo still has a lot of franchises sitting in mothballs (F-Zero, Pikmin, Star Fox, Mario Baseball, etc.), and it’s got several games that have been saddled with ‘TBA’ release dates for several years (notably Metroid Prime 4 and Breath of the Wild 2). After a solid year, how could Nintendo possibly follow it up?

Well…for the most part, Nintendo and the third parties that develop for it appear to be doubling down on what’s been working for them up to this point: More old games and remasters, more RPGs for a system that’s already taken the 3DS’s title as the RPG console, more life sims looking to draft behind Animal Crossing’s runaway success, and in the end, not much more. This Direct lacked the big surprise that we’ve come to expect from the Big N, and games that we’ve known so little about for so long didn’t get a ton of screentime. There was a lot here for game enthusiasts, but not much for hardcore first-party devotees, and I think this approach annoyed as many people as it satisfied. Personally, I saw a lot of stuff that will make a lot of people happy, but little of it actually resonated with me. It was just okay in my eyes, and if I’m honest, I’m okay with okay given that Splatoon 3 just came off the burner.

My specific thoughts on the Direct are as follows:

  • There’s been a lot of chatter about whether Splatoon 3 was really necessary when it plays so similarly to Splatoon 2, and honestly that was the first thought I had when I saw Fire Emblem Engage (which is coming a mere three years after FE: Three Houses, and only about six months after FE Warriors: Three Hopes). Engage is more along the lines of the main tactical RPG games, but its focus on bringing back heroes from past FE games makes me wonder if its own story (which felt a bit generic on its face) will be strong enough to stand on its own. It didn’t catch my attention the way Three Houses did, so I’m not sure whether or not I’ll take a chance on it next January.
  • I’ve joked for a while that the Switch’s goal is to has every game ever made on it, and this Direct was a giant leap in that direction: It Takes Two, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, Tunic, Front Mission 1-3, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, Rune Factory 3, Factorio, Ib, Resident Evil Village, Tales of Symphonia…It’s a solid move to try and broaden the console’s appeal and widen its fanbase, but I think it limits the sizzle of the presentation (even if they’re remastered, these are games we’ve seen and played before). None of these interested me all that much, but I think the play here is towards smaller niche fanbases that might still be on the fence for a Switch.
  • I just got the bill for my Nintendo Switch Online service today, and while it’s a small price to pay for Splatoon 3 online access, I still don’t feel like service has managed to justify its asking price, especially the Expansion Pass. We got a whole bunch of N64 game announcements in this presentation, and frankly they felt both sparse and underwhelming. I mean, how many versions of Mario Party are we going to play (and is this a tacit admission that the franchise took a turn for the worst with later releases)? Are Pokémon Stadium 1 and 2 even worth playing if you can’t use your own monsters? I’m glad that Goldeneye 007 is coming to the system (it was a rare third-party game that defined a console), but I was never that interested in it back in the day—1080 Snowboarding is really the only game that interests me here. Combine this with a mobile app that includes functionality for all of four games (two of which are Splatoon), and Nintendo’s online services still feel like a cash grab with little benefit.
  • The NFL and country music may be copycat leagues, but gaming can be just as bad sometimes, and you could tell that Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been on the minds of a lot of game developers lately (and you could probably toss Stardew Valley in there as well), and given that the Switch continues to be the RPG console, the hot trend appears to be mashing these two genres together to watch the sparks fly and the crops grow. In addition to Story of Seasons, we saw Fae Farm, Harvestella, and Various Daylife join the party, and while they try to add more story and depth to the AC formula, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what differentiated each one. This feels like a situation similar to what Mario Kart faced recently, where a bunch of rival developers tried to cash in and provide a fresh experience in the distant wake of a release (Chocobo GP, Disney Speedstorm, etc. For what it’s worth, Disney Speedstorm made a brief appearance here as well). It sort of feels like everyone’s throwing something at the wall and hoping that it’s their game that winds up sticking, but it’s too early to tell whether any of these will be worth investigating.
  • Speaking of Mario Kart: We got a couple of DLC announcements here as well, with a few tracks from Wave 3 of MK8’s Booster Pass getting shown off (I can’t speak to Merry Mountain, but I liked Peach Gardens in MK Wii) joining announcements for Xenoblade Chronicles 3‘s second wave, Mario Strikers: Battle League‘s second set of new characters, and golf for Nintendo Switch Sports. Again, these seem like decent additions to each game, but there’s nothing on the level of, say, Octo Expansion for Splatoon 2, so I think the presentation hype levels took a hit as a result. (I have to admit, I’d forgotten Mario Strikers: Battle League even existed; I fear that the game is going the way of Mario Golf: Super Rush, but maybe I’m just not plugged in to that community enough. Sadly, I think Nintendo Switch Sports is already irrelevant, and golf is coming too late to save it…)
  • Look, I love Kirby and I understand that it’s his 30th anniversary, but did we really need another Kirby game on a console that’s already got Kirby Star Allies and Kirby and the Forgotten Land (the latter of which came out just six months ago; that one got kicked to the curb fast), not to mention Kirby’s Dream Buffet and fifteen other minor games and remakes? The market for the pink puffball feels a little oversaturated right now, and while Kirby’s Return To Dream Land Deluxe takes us back to classic 2D gameplay (as opposed to the ‘not quite 3D’ setup of Forgotten Land), I’m just not sure that this game is necessary with the number of Kirby platformers that we’ve already got. Couldn’t this time have been better spent on a different franchise?
  • Speaking of different franchises: Metroid Prime 4 was once again absent from this presentation, and at this point it’s fair to ask if the game is ever coming out (maybe it’ll be the Star Fox 2-type game thrown in when the Switch mini releases in 2040). The only long-suffering franchise that was thrown a bone this time around was Pikmin, but there wasn’t much to gnaw on: Pikmin Bloom was released and forgotten on mobile devices last year, and Pikmin 4 was relegated to a few seconds of environmental footage and a logo shot that felt a little too similar to that MP4 tease we got in 2017. The release date is just 2023 for now, but I’ll believe the game is really coming when I see it. At least Bayonetta 3 has a release date and a more-complete presentation…
  • The final announcement for the day was saved for Breath of the Wild 2, now officially known as The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom. I was all set for a fully-loaded presentation showing a lot of what the game had to offer…and instead we got 20 seconds of three or four gameplay, half of which just showed Link falling through the sky. I know the release date is next May, but we’ve known about this game for so long now, and to see so little after all this time was more than a little disappointing.
  • Gosh Kyle, was there anything you actually liked here? Believe it or not, there was! Specifically, I was happy to see Mario + Rabbids: Sparks Of Hope and Octopath Traveler II, as I really enjoyed both of the original games. I actually like some of the chances Ubisoft is taking with the M+R:SoH gameplay, and I think they will lead to some very interesting battles and lots of strategic thought. OT2 appears to be more of a by-the-book sequel, and given that I wasn’t thrilled with the lack of a cohesive ending in OT (though apparently there was one if you wandered around enough to find it), I’m hoping that the characters and stories in OT2 are a coupled together a bit more tightly.

In the end, there was nothing that I was super aggravated about, but there was very little that I was impressed with either. This Direct lacked the star power of its predecessors, and given how good these presentations have been lately, this one didn’t measure up to a lot of people’s standards. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, but our first look at the menu wasn’t terribly appetizing. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of 2022 leftovers to tide me over. 🙂

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 12, 2022

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!

SongScore
1. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You”0 (5/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”-1 (4/10)
3. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”+1 (6/10)
4. Morgan Wallen, “You Proof”-1 (4/10)
5. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love”+1 (6/10)
6. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”0 (5/10)
7. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”-1 (4/10)
8. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story”0 (5/10)
9. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely”0 (5/10)
10. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”+1 (6/10)
11. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”0 (5/10)
12. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”+1 (6/10)
13. Luke Bryan, “Country On”-2 (3/10)
14. Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love”-3 (2/10)
15. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner”+2 (7/10)
16. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”0 (5/10)
17. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”0 (5/10)
18. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode”-1 (4/10)
19. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”0 (5/10)
20. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home”0 (5/10)
21. Lee Brice, “Soul”0 (5/10)
22. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It”-1 (4/10)
23. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”-1 (4/10)
24. Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does”0 (5/10)
25. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST”0 (5/10)
26. Brett Young, “You Didn’t”+1 (6/10)
27. Priscilla Block, “My Bar”0 (5/10)
28. Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You”0 (5/10)
29. Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”-1 (4/10)
30. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”+1 (6/10)
31. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”0 (5/10)
32. Blake Shelton, “No Body”-1 (4/10)
33. Michael Ray, “Holy Water”+2 (7/10)
34. Dierks Bentley, “Gold”+1 (6/10)
35. Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”+1 (6/10)
36. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”0 (5/10)
37. Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby”-1 (4/10)
38. Cody Johnson, “Human”0 (5/10)
39. Dan + Shay, “You”0 (5/10)
40. Randy Houser, “Note To Self”+2 (7/10)
41. Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life”-3 (2/10)
42. HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”+3 (8/10)
43. Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”0 (5/10)
44. Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”0 (5/10)
45. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”0 (5/10)
46. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”0 (5/10)
47. Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”0 (5/10)
48. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”0 (5/10)
49. Matt Stell, “Man Made”0 (5/10)
50. Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me”+1 (6/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25)-5
Future Pulse (#26—#50)+6
Overall Pulse+1
Change From Last Week0

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Son Of A Sinner,” 7/10
Worst Song: “Fall In Love,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” (down from #1 to #5)
  • Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” (down from #5 to #9)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You (holds at #16, but gained only six spins and 129 points)
  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (down from #17 to #18, gained only forty-six spins and 120 points, and has stuck in neutral in the high teens for what seems like forever)
  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t” (up from #27 to #26 and had another decent week—could this one fight its way off the list?)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (down from #44 to #45, gained only two spins and fifty-four points, and just hasn’t found an audience. This one needs to be tossed overboard)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (down from #47 to #48 and lost its bullet again. This thing has been floating in the high forties for a while now, it should go overboard too)

In Real Trouble:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” (holds at #30, but lost its bullet)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (down from #45 to #46, gained only one spin and seventeen points. I’m thisclose to declaring it DOA and tossing it overboard too)

In Some Trouble:

  • Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” (down from #24 to #25, gained only twenty spins and sixty-three points. This one hasn’t looked particularly strong as of late…)
  • Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby” (up from #38 to #37, but gained only twenty-six spins and ninety-one points)
  • Dan + Shay, “You” (up from #40 to #39, but gained only twenty-nine spins and seventy-seven points)
  • Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me” (re-enters at #50, but gained only seven spins and twenty-two points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “wait in the truck” (up from #50 to #42)
  • Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love” (up from #18 to #14)
  • Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends” (up from #48 to #44)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (holds at #3 for a second week in a row, will likely wait its turn behind Swindell)

Bubbling Under 50:

  • Not listed in Country Aircheck this week.

On The Way:

  • Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank God”
  • Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”

Overall Thoughts: This smells like one of those underhanded weeks giving us yet another manufactured #1 hit, but the stench isn’t quite as strong this time around. More spins and points seemed to be available thank to significant losses from Moore and Pardi, and more song appeared to take advantage of them. Still, this #1 still feels a little slimy (especially with a split chart this week; Swindell grabbed #1 on Billboard so Tenpenny’s team was left to out-spin them on Mediabase), and there’s still a noticeable difference between the songs doing okay and the songs who are really profiting right now (aside from Tenpenny, ten other tracks were able to gain 1000+ points, and another song (at #44!) racked up over 800. It feels like an amalgamation over nearly every trend we’ve covered on the Pulse: Playlist shortening, spin inequality, the “express lane” that A-list artists take advantage of, etc. The Pulse is slightly better this week with the trade of Young/Tenpenny for Church, but I really don’t see an ton of optimism on the horizon, which means that if things are going to improve, it’s going to come from a place we didn’t expect, which has kinda been 2022’s calling card thus far.

On the coronavirus front, daily new case numbers continue to drop (although the death numbers appear to have stagnated), and the outlook worldwide has improved to the point that the WHO has gone on record saying that “the end [of the pandemic] is in sight.” While I wouldn’t go that far yet (I don’t think we’ll see the full effects of the back-to-school season for another week or so, and the number of notices I’m getting about active cases in our community has been growing rapidly over the last week…), there are definitely some reasons for optimism right now. However, we shouldn’t take this as a cue to relax just yet—as WHO Director-General Ghebreyesus put it, this is a marathon we’re running, and “Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.” That means that we should stick to our best practices for now to make sure we finish this race:

As tired as all of you may be, I’m asking you to stick with us a little bit longer for the sake of the world. We might finally have a chance to bring this pandemic to an end, and we don’t want to miss it.