Song Review: Dustin Lynch, “Stars Like Confetti”

“Stars Like Confetti”? More like “Song Like Garbage.”

I’m starting to get the feeling that Dustin Lynch isn’t even trying anymore. He spent much of 2022 clogging up the airwaves with “Party Mode,” a lifeless, repetitive song that flamed out at #17 on Billboard’s airplay chart (and when your album leadoff track gets smacked down, that’s not a good sign), and he’s back now with “Stars Like Confetti,” a song so derivative in every facet that it could have been written and produced by an AI tool (but not performed; an AI tool would have more personality than Lynch does). I don’t feel like wasting any more time than I have to with this drivel, so let’s get this over with.

Remember how I thought the one place on “Party Mode” where “progress seems to be happening is in the production”? Yeah, they went right back to square one here: This is a bland, plodding guitar-and-drum mix that actively works against its subject matter with its tenor and tempo, and it does so unnecessarily. All the pieces that could have potentially spice up the mix are still here (pedal steel, dobro), but they’re buried so deep in the mix that you barely notice them, and the result is an undercurrent of slurry noise on the chorus that adds nothing to the sound. (Heck, the pedal steel mirrors the guitar lead on the bridge solo, but it’s impact is blunted by the electric axe it has to share with.) If that wasn’t enough, the arrangement also “pulls an Aldean” by using minor chords and leaning on neutral-to-negative instrument tones that create a bizarrely-ominous atmosphere that’s neither fun nor reflective nor nostalgic, and its leaden pace and beat cause the song to bog down and collapse under its own weight. This is about as mailed-in a mix as I’ve heard in a long time, an attempt at inoffensiveness that winds up being the sound’s most offensive trait.

As far as Lynch goes, could somebody check this man for a pulse? The man has all the charm and charisma of a hat stand, and he struggles to inject any sort of feeling or emotion into his lines. He seems to have trouble getting through the uneven lyrics (more on that later), and he’s only able to muster up a slight volume increase when he tries to ramp up the intensity on the chorus. He’s supposed to be looking back fondly on a long-forgotten rendezvous, but his delivery is a little too nonchalant (and honestly a bit sleazy too), and he falls far short of passing his nonexistent feelings to the listener. (I think the sound works against him a lot as well, but a better vocalist could overcome this, and “better” has never been a word to describe Lynch.) There’s just not a lot to say here: Lynch fails to earn the narrator’s sympathies or make the song interesting, which means he did exactly what we expected.

It’s the writing here that really gives me ChatGPT vibes: Not only is the story a cookie-cutter nostalgia trip that trots out all the usual buzzwords (we got the beer, we got the truck, we got the dirt road, we got the nighttime cuddle session, and so on), but it’s about as badly-written a song as I’ve heard in a long time. A surprising number of lines try to cram in too many syllables unnecessarily (and then the “see-forever sky” line is inexplicably left short), and the “God was throwing stars like confetti” hook is more awkward than it should be (stars falling kind of makes sense, but stars being thrown does not). The whole mess feels like exactly what you’d get if you ran the last two years of mainstream country music through a machine-learning algorithm, and you’ve heard everything here at least a hundred times before. It just feels like a lazy effort on the part of the writers (did it really take three writers to cobble this junk together?), and when you combine something everyone has already heard with an artist no one wants to hear at all, the results are not pleasant.

“Stars Like Confetti” is an amalgamation of everything I can’t stand about modern country music. The sound is ill-conceived and ill-fitting, the writing is haphazard, paint-by-numbers, and borders on plagiarism, and if personality were dynamite, Dustin Lynch wouldn’t have enough to blow his hat off. At some point, even Nashville has to realize this guy has jumped the shark, and after a decade of letting him foist his mediocre material onto the public, it’s long past time to toss him out and give his roster spot to someone with some actual talent. I’m sick of wasting my time on this joker, and with any luck I’ll never have to do so again.

Rating: 3/10. NEXT!

Retro Review: Lonestar, “Mr. Mom”

Won’t anyone think of the children? Because country music certainly won’t.

I’ve written in the past about the lack of maturity in modern country music, and one of the effects of this trend is the near-total disappearance of songs that mention kids in any capacity. On some level, this shift mirrors a larger societal change: Country music is continually chasing a younger audience, but the age at which people are having children is increasing, so the music and the market have been diverging for some time now. Outside of a few isolated examples (Thomas Rhett’s “Life Changes,” Elvie Shane’s “My Boy”), you won’t find any children on the airwaves.

It wasn’t that long ago that country music was obsessed with chasing the “suburban mom” demographic, trying to capture the hearts and minds (and wallets) of women who doing the dirty work involved with maintaining a home and family. A good example of this is our song for today: Lonestar’s “Mr. Mom,” a 2004 multi-week #1 from the band’s Let’s Be Us Again album that wound up being the group’s final chart-topping hit. We’ve already discussed Lonestar’s career at length on the blog (real talk: I’d completely forgotten about writing that thing. 2019 feels like it was 50 years ago) and how the group went all in on courting women with kids in the early 2000s, but “Mr. Mom” is where “I would argue that the group officially jumped the shark.” This was a forced, over-the-top attempt to connect with the mothers of young children, and while there’s certainly a kernel of truth to its madness, this track felt silly to the point of absurdity, and it struggled to connect with its audience as a result.

The first issue with the song is the production, which feels a bit too sunny for the subject and includes some questionable sound choices. Opening with a mandolin and a fiddle is fine, but neither instrument gets any meaningful screen time afterwards, and the pairing of an electric guitar and something I can’t positively identify (organ? accordion?) on the song’s signature riff creates that synthetic, slightly-squealing sound that has a weirdly-absurdist feel, coloring the song is a less-than-ideal light. Most of the track is covered by acoustic guitars and a drum set, with the mystery instrument and a steel guitar floating around in the background but neither being loud enough to make much of a difference (the keyboard gets some space on the second verse, which at least lets people notice it). The overall vibe here is bright and bouncy, but it’s a bit too saccharine for my tastes, to the point where I think it trivializes the underlying point of the song. The producer’s heart was in the right place here, but they went a little overboard trying to make the song sound fun, and instead made the song more of a joke.

As strange as it might sound, I think lead singer Richie McDonald has the opposite problem on this track: He really doesn’t capture the frantic desperation of a father in over his head with child care. On the verses, he comes across as fairly placid, delivering his lines like a news anchor with little of the exasperation and fatigue that you might expect from someone in his position. (The problem seems to be that he’s trying too hard to keep up with the song that he can’t put that much emotion behind the lyrics; his best line is the closing “Honey…you’re my hero,” because he’s freed from the song’s time constraints and has room to make the line feel tired.) The volume goes up a little on the choruses and you kinda-sorta feel the panic in his delivery, but it’s not enough to get the audience to take him seriously. (I’m not that impressed with the band here either: Neither their harmonies nor their instrumentation work are distinct enough to be noticeable, and you can kind of see how McDonald could convince himself to embark on a solo career a few years later.) It’s not a terrible turn behind the mic, but it’s not enough to get the listener invested in the story.

The lyrics here read like an old episode of The Flinstones or The Jetsons (I can definitely see why they animated the video for this song): A newly-unemployed dad takes over the child care duties as their wife goes to work, and discovers just how much work caring for kids can be. I like the level of detail here, and that “charcoal cake” line is pretty good, but the chorus is a little disjointed and feels a bit like a laundry list as a result, and there are some brand name-drops that feel a little random (I guess “Pampers” might sound better than “diapers,” but “Maytag drier” is just there to fill space in the line). I know they were going for ‘overwhelming’ by dumping all the narrator’s misadventures on us like an overturned toy box, but doing so obscured the underlying message a little bit (you’re rubbernecking at all the chaos so much that you don’t really stop and think about how the wife, and many women in general, have been putting up with this themselves for a long time). The writing wants to use humor to make a point about how amazing mothers are in general, but I think it goes for laughs so much that it glosses over the key point, and even the closing line “now I know how you feel, what I don’t know is how you do it” is too late and isolated that it doesn’t draw much reflection from the listener. The writers went in here with good intentions, but they just didn’t stick the landing.

If you’re looking for country music that addresses more ‘adult’ concerns, “Mr. Mom” may be an example of this, but not a very good one. The production and writing get a little too cutesy on the topic of child rearing, and Lonestar doesn’t distinguish themselves terribly well here, leaving the song feeling a bit empty when it’s all over. Still, for all its faults the song is at least an attempt to talk about something beyond the Friday nights, first loves, and fiery breakups of life, and that’s far more than 95% of Music City bothers to do today. I think part of the reason modern country music struggles to resonate with me is that as I’ve gotten older and (in theory) matured into a responsible adult, the genre hasn’t matured with me, and focuses on things that simply aren’t a part of my life (if they were ever a part of them in the first place). Country music used to have something for everyone underneath its umbrella, and I’d really like to see it get back to that big-tent philosophy, even if we get some mediocre stuff like “Mr. Mom” as a result.

Rating: 5/10. There are far better country songs about the trials of parenthood than this one.

One-Hit Wonderings: What Happened To Ken Mellons?

Image from Ken Mellons’s Official Site

Musicians are often lumped into two buckets: Those who make it big, and those who don’t make it at all. However, there’s a third group that sits in between these extremes: The artists that get a taste of success and draw the spotlight for a brief moment, but can’t sustain the momentum and watch the light quickly fade from their careers. Bittersweet as it may be, however, that brief moment can leave an lasting impression on the people who hear it, leaving them scratching their head as to why things didn’t work out. These are the stories of the one-hit wonders.

On today’s episode of OHW, we examine the brief career of Ken Mellons, a hat act and longtime Nashville native who spent much of the 1990s on the roster of one major label or another. Most of his singles disappeared quickly like ripples on a pond (out of 11 single releases listed on Wikipedia, 10 failed to crack the Top 35), but there was one notable exception, a #8 hit from 1994 that felt far more ubiquitous at the time than its peak indicated:

“Jukebox Junkie” was one of those fun, uptempo numbers that can’t help but catch the listener’s ear, and for a moment it made Mellons a part of the country music conversation. However, he was never able to build on the song’s success, and within a few years he had all but disappeared from the scene. What happened?

After examining the evidence, it seems that “Jukebox Junkie” was not only a great song, but a great song for its time, and Mellons was never able to recapture that success…and then he fell into the clutches of a country music supervillain, and all hope was lost.

The Gateway Drug

Mellons’s style mimicked the old-school stars of the past (and one star in particular that’s we’ll talk about in a second), and it led him to a job at Opryland USA “impersonating country performers” and eventually a regular gig playing at the Grand Old Opry. His first record deal was signed with Epic Records in 1993, and his self-titled debut album arrived a year later.

Nashville, like the NFL, is a copycat league, and while the neotraditional sound of the era certainly made Mellon’s work a natural fit for the radio, what Music City really loves to do is find the next soundalike iteration of a current star (think of all the Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen clones clogging up the airwaves right now). For Mellon, his spiritual predecessor was clear: The man sounds almost exactly like John Anderson, a fellow old-school country star who had crashed fairly had in the latter half of the 80s, but then found a second wind in the early 90s behind hits like “Straight Tequila Night” and “Seminole Wind.” 1992 was Anderson’s best showing in nearly a decade (three top 10s, with #1s on either side of the year), and if Mellons could capture some of that same glory for Epic, he was worth taking a flyer on.

Mellon’s debut single “Lookin’ in the Same Direction” was basically a copy of Alan Jackson’s debut single “Blue Blooded Woman,” and like Jackson’s track, it went down in flames (it peaked at an awful #55 on the Billboard charts). The follow-up, however, was “Jukebox Junkie,” which became one of the most-played songs of the year and thrust Mellons into the mainstream spotlight. The magic left as quickly as it arrived, however, and neither of the next two singles from that album (“I Can Bring Her Back” and “Workin’ For The Weekend”) made it past #40.

So where did “Jukebox Junkie” succeed where its fellow singles failed? I think what happened is that it managed to find the sweet spot that Joe Diffie stumbled across with “Pickup Man” and “John Deere Green”: It was a bit of a novelty song, but it had decent tempo, it was fun without feeling too silly, and its sound adhered closely to the meta of the era (which is to say, driven by rollicking electric guitars and punchy drums, featuring lots of fiddle and steel guitar, and seasoned with a tinkling piano). The song was the very definition of radio-friendly, and stuck the landing in a way that none of Mellons’s other work could.

Afterwards, Mellons alternated between more-serious fare and attempts to recreate the “Jukebox Junkie” magic, but nothing seemed to do the trick. His material wasn’t necessarily bad, but he fell into the same trap that a lot of artists today are stuck in: There was nothing that distinguished his work and made it rise above its peers. Songs like “I Can Bring Her Back” and “Stranger In Your Eyes” were decent ballads, but there was no reason to listen to them over the ballads of bigger names like Jackson or George Strait, and Mellon’s lighter material (“Workin’ For The Weekend,” “Rub-A-Dubbin'”) failed to find the same niche as “Jukebox Junkie”: The former felt a little forced and its sound was a little thin, and the latter overshot the mark and was too much of a novelty tune to have broad appeal.

It didn’t help matters that the genre was also shifting away from the neotraditional movement towards a pop-country sound. 1995 would mark the peak of Anderson’s last Top Ten single “Bend It Until It Breaks,” and was also the year Shania Twain earned her first #1 and began her reign atop country music. Fading fortunes and shifting tides conspired to make Epic decide to go in a different direction, and after two singles from a single album went nowhere, the label dropped Mellons from their roster.

The Kingpin

Label instability is something that derailed a lot of careers in our deep-dive series, but plenty of artists have switched labels and found success as well, so when Mellons found a new home with a new label, he probably figured he still had a chance at mainstream success.

…Except that he signed with Curb Records, headed by the infamous Mike Curb.

My fellow Kyle over at Saving Country Music has compiled a list of Curb’s biggest blunders and pettiest moves, but the TL;DR version is that Curb does whatever he wants whenever he wants to whoever he wants, no matter how badly it makes him or the artist look in the process. He messed with LeAnn Rimes, he messed with Jo Dee Messina, he messed with Hank Williams III, he messed with Clay Walker, and he’s made a complete mess of Tim McGraw’s discography (9 compilations of McGraw’s hits? Really?). The bottom line is that this really doesn’t seem like a guy you wanted to go into business with.

I can’t find any specific statements detailing if/how Curb might have torpedoed Mellons’s career, but there’s an awful lot of circumstantial evidence that suggests that he did…

  • Despite signing with Curb in 1997, Mellons did not release a full album on the label until 2001. His first two singles were left as single-only releases for several years (similar to what happened to Messina), and when the album was finally released, it was under the bizarre title The Best Of Ken Mellons, as if they were trying to fool consumers into thinking it was a greatest hits package (because we know Curb loves to release those…)
  • I couldn’t find any direct statements from Mellons about his time at Curb, but the sources I did find indicated that he wasn’t thrilled about being there:

“Mellons subsequently parted company with Epic and, although he kept busy with live work and his fund-raising commitments, his recording career had largely stalled by the end of the decade due, in no small part, to record company politics.” (emphasis added), undated

Frustrated with the label, Ken asked to be released from his record deal in 2003…” (emphasis added)

—”The Music Know It All,” rareandobscuremusic, April 15 2020

We may never really know what went down at Curb, but we can infer that whatever it was, it basically put Mellons’s career on ice, and he wasn’t terribly happy about it. He was granted the release he wanted in 2003, but by then the industry had moved on, and later releases on independent labels (including “Paint Me A Birmingham,” which was released around the same time as Tracy Lawrence’s version but wound up nowhere near as successful) never found any traction. In 2005, Mellons decided to turn his focus to his family, and while he would release other records in the years to come, the book on his mainstream country career was essentially closed.

Could Mellons’s fate have been different under the direction of a different label? I think so, because Curb (at least according to the Wikipedia page) followed basically the same playbook that Epic did: Alternate between emotional-but-undistinguished ballads and silly novelty tracks. Mellons was a good-enough singer to hold his own behind the mic, and a label with better material and a better plan could have found a way to capitalize on Mellons’s strengths, even as the neotraditional movement faded.

So what derailed Ken Mellons’s county career? Honestly, it was a little bit of everything: Shifting trends in music, poor management and subpar business strategies, and Mellons’s own inability to elevate his music above his competitors and into the mainstream consciousness. Perhaps he was a man out of time, someone whose classic country instincts and influences meant that they missed their musical moment by a good decade or so, but I think there’s a plausible alternate timeline where Mellons seizes on his breakthrough and finds lasting success in Music City. Alas, that didn’t happen in this particular reality, but the stars did align for one brief moment, giving Mellons a taste of success that many aspiring artists never reach (ask Carlton Anderson if he would have rather have one hit and a short mismanaged career instead of getting kicked to the curb at the first sign of trouble). The success of “Jukebox Junkie” was a high that no drug could replicate, and it left enough of a mark that nearly thirty years later, us jukebox junkies still remember his name.

Song Review: Thomas Rhett, “Angels”

Is Thomas Rhett too close to the “Angels” to make this song work?

I was something of a Rhett booster in the early days of the blog, partially because he was able to successfully navigate the transition from his clueless Bro roots to his current position as a devoted family man. Since then, however, Rhett’s work has gotten pretty stale: He released an uncountable number of odes to his wife, veered hard back towards the Nashville meta, and then released the exact same drinking song twice. He’s still a solid performer who is capable of elevating a mediocre track, but it’s got to be the right song, and “Angels,” the third song from his Where We Started album, isn’t quite the right song. It’s a classic tale of love, redemption, and spirituality, but it doesn’t quite square with Rhett’s squeaky-clean image, and its lack of detail causes it to struggle to hold the listener’s attention.

The production here is a fairly standard guitar-and-drum mix, primarily driven by an acoustic guitar and supported by electric and steel guitars (the electric axe is more of a background piece, while the steel is used mostly to fill space between the lyrics). An organ provides some spacious atmosphere, the drums do little more than keep time, and that’s pretty much all you get here. The main distinguishing factor of the mix is its 3/4 time signature (once a staple of the genre, you rarely here this sort of thing today), and its tempo is slow enough that the track practically qualifies as a waltz. Even more surprising than the beats per measure, however, is the neutrality of the instrument tones: The song seems to want to strike a balance between gratefulness and solemnity, and as a result it doesn’t create much of an atmosphere to support the track. A song like this should be unabashedly positive, rooted in the undeserved good fortune of the narrator and how appreciative they are for that fortune. The lack of auditory support forces the other pieces of the song to make their case that much more convincingly, and while they get part of the way there, the struggle and strain seems unnecessary to me. Outside of the time signature being a callback to old-school saved-by-love tracks, the sound really doesn’t do anything to move the track forward.

As much as Rhett would like you to think he’s a rough-edged bad boy who’s been saved by love, we all know better: The man has been one of the slickest performers in the industry for almost a decade now, and no one who’s written that many love songs about his wife can credibly claim “I dang near drug [an angel] through hell.” This is the kind of song best sung by an rougher-edged artist (ideally an “outlaw”-type like Dierks Bentley or Eric Church, but any sort of hard-living good ol’ boy will do), and the worst thing Rhett’s done lately is dump copycat drinking songs on the public. That said, Rhett still has charm to burn, and he’s no stranger to lionizing his partner, so he’s still kinda-sorta in his element here. I think it comes down to market saturation: Rhett has sung so many songs like this that the audience immediately writes it off as something they’ve heard before, and it’s really hard to Rhett to draw their interest, especially when he’s not a great fit for the narrator’s role thanks to his family-oriented persona. It’s a decent performance, but it feels more awkward than it should, and for as many straightforward love songs as he’s dumped on us, he’s actually better when he sticks to his vanilla script.

The lyrics here…well, I’m not quite sure what angle they’re going for here. The song leans into the classic “partner as angel” comparison and goes all-in on spiritual language to describe the relationship, but it doesn’t really give us the context for where the narrator is coming from. There’s plenty of self-flagellation as the narrator chides themselves for their “selfish heart” and their “lessons to learn” and their failure to live life by the book, but the reaction feels a bit over-the-top for such garden-variety faults. I think the track was going for a redemptive angle with the angel saving the speaker despite their shortcomings, but it doesn’t go deep enough and provide enough examples of just how crooked the narrator’s path was (which I think hurts its audience retention numbers; some juicy details would have helped hold the listener’s attention). Instead, we’re left with a standard “I’m not worthy” tale that really that makes just enough of a halfhearted effort at a redemptive arc to make the song feel like a bad fit for Rhett as an artist.

In the end, “Angels” is a pretty “meh” song for me. It’s yet another gooey love song that only kinda-sorta tries to be something different, and its efforts only make the song feel less convincing. The sound doesn’t do enough to push the song’s agenda, the lyrics don’t do enough to strike out in a more interesting direction, and for all the love songs Thomas Rhett has sung, this feels like the least natural fit for him. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not really a good song either, and it contributes to the sense that Rhett seems a little stuck right now, and isn’t quite sure what direction to go next. My two cents is that he should go back to the family angle that made “Life Changes” such an interesting song, and give the uninspired love songs a rest for a while.

Rating: 5/10. It’s a thing, I suppose.

What Happened To Brellas In Splatoon 3?

Fridays are usually my day for retro song reviews, but the recent reveal of the Fresh Season bugged me enough that I had to talk about it.

In typical Nintendo fashion, the company decided not to mention anything about the latest season of Splatoon 3 in their recent Direct, and instead resorted to drip-feeding us all information via their Twitter feed instead. The new season appears to be leaning heavily in a retro direction, with two new old specials (the Kraken Royale’s lineage is obvious, and the Super Chump just looks like a reworked Suction Bomb Rush to me), a collection of returning/remixed weapons (no new types like the Big Swing Roller or Splattershot Nova last time), and the return of the Manta Maria map from Splatoon 2. (Given the presence of the jukebox on the promotional image, you’ll likely be able to pick from a selection of old and new songs to play in the lobby.)

There’s a fair bit of content here, and is should shake up the current meta at least a little bit (especially the new specials). However, there’s a fair bit that isn’t here as well, particularly in the area of weapon classes. Duelies, Brushes and Splatlings are shut out this time around after getting at least a little something last season, and the Splatana and Stringer classes haven’t seen anything new since they were introduced. Still, at least these classes were in a (mostly) workable state when the game started (even if brushes were broken later).

And then *sigh* we have the Brella class.

In all honesty, I haven’t been on the receiving end of all the Brella glitches that have plagued the weapons class, and while there are lots of reports of Brella players getting shot through their shields due to network latency, as an Undercover Brella player I never see this because its shield opens so fast that the window to hit someone is incredibly small. (On the other hand, Tenta Brella players, who could drink an entire cup of coffee while waiting for their shield to open, are victimized by this glitch more often.) Nevertheless, this weapon class has been a buggy mess since the game released, and it feels like it has been abandoned not only by the Splatoon player base, but by the developers as well. As someone who really enjoys using Brellas, it’s an incredibly frustrating feeling.

So what went wrong? I think there are three factors at play:

  • Splatoon’s netcode wasn’t quite ready for prime time, and Brellas serve as the canary in the coal mine. I made this point back when I was discussing problems with Splatoon 3 in general, but I think network problems hit Brellas especially hard because they carry their cover with them, and thus have the expectation that they’re going to be protected. For a weapon like the Splattershot, a charger might shoot you through a wall now and again, but in general you’re going to be out in the open and unprotected, and if an opponent’s got their crosshairs on you, you’re probably toast. If the final shot is a few frames too fast or too slow in reaching you, it’s not that noticeable—it’s only going to register as suspicious in the player’s mind if it’s egregiously out of sync (for example, if the opponent doesn’t appear to be firing in your direction, or the fight has long since ended). Brellas, however, go into battle with the assumption that if their shield is up, they are protected, which means that even small discrepancies are going to be more noticeable because the shield appears to be deployed. The networking setup for Splatoon 3 has been a noticeable downgrade from Splatoon 2 thus far, and a shielding class like Brellas is going to be the first to notice any problems.
  • Having so many Brella bugs early was not a good look for the game. Network issues may have been a problem, but you can’t blame all of the weird Brella glitches on the Internet. As a weapon class in Splatoon 2, Brellas may not have always been meta, but they were dependable weapons that generally functioned the way people expected them to. To have them go from generally reliable in S2 to completely unreliable in S3 was pretty jarring, and it raised a lot of uncomfortable questions:
    • How on earth could a weapon decay this badly between games? What could the developers have possibly done between S2 and S3 to break these things?
    • How could this class have been released in such a miserable state? Didn’t they bother to test any of this stuff before it went live?
    • If the launch was botched this badly, is Nintendo going to be able to fix it? Do they even know how, and if they do, are they even capable of doing it?
  • Splatoon’s slower update schedule is causing a disconnect between the developers and the audience. A quote I often cite (despite not being able to find an actual citation for it) goes something like this: “People tend to assume the worst if you don’t tell them you really care.” In Splatoon 2 (and also Splatoon), the constant drip of new content and relative frequency of patches made it feel like the development team was more engaged and responsive, and that any problems that arose would be quickly addressed and taken care of. There was also little advance warning as to what was coming, which gave players a sense that anything was possible: If your preferred weapon didn’t appear this week, maybe it might show up next week! In Splatoon 3, however, Nintendo publicly committed to a slower, more deliberate schedule for post-release content, organizing drops into three-month “seasons” and laying all their cards (catalogs?) on the table in advance. Whether or not this change was for the better or not can be debated until the squids come home, but the move had two major side-effects
    • It weakened the connection between the developers and the community, and made it seem like Nintendo was less interested or invested in the game, even if the update schedule thus far hasn’t been that far off of the schedule for the first two games.
    • It meant that if a weapon class was left out of a seasonal update, it would be three months before they got another chance to get into the action. If you miss two updates like the Brellas now have…well, you start to assume the worst.

So imagine that you’re a Brella player. Your beloved weapon arrives in Splatoon 3 as a glitchy mess. You’ve seen a bunch of bugfixes for your weapon, which is simultaneously uplifting and disheartening (it’s great to see the problems getting fixed, but why were there so many problems in the first place if the weapon was fully functional in Splatoon 2?). You’ve borne the brunt of Splatoon 3‘s network issues, and given the company’s poor track record with online play and mediocre efforts to address the problem so far, you don’t have much hope that things will get better. You haven’t gotten anything from the game’s balance changes or content updates yet, and unlike Splatanas and Stringers you’re not one of the shiny new weapons classes that have been at the forefront of the game’s marketing campaign. You’re stuck waiting until June for any alternate kits to shake up the game, and if nothing shows up then, your next chance will be in September. You appreciate all the love and focus being given to Splatoon, but given that your weapon didn’t show up until Splatoon 2, all that love and focus isn’t going to help you either.

Given all this, you could forgive a Brella player for wondering if they’ve been forgotten.

Now, my caveat to all this is that personally, I still find what we’ve got now to be viable in online matches. Granted, I mostly use the Undercover Brella and I’m not involved in any high-tier competitive play, but for the basic modes that I’ve been playing for years, these weapons work about as well as they always have. (I also think the maps, whose design has been rightly panned since the game debuted, actually work in a Brella’s favor: If the maps are chokepoint-filled hallways, that’s a plus for a Brella that can fill that space and wall off opponents.) I’d still like a bit more sub/special variety within the weapon class itself (I’m an experimenter at heart, i.e. the guy who puts Luke Maile in right field just to see what happens), but if this is all we get, I figure I can find a way to make it work. I’ll still be disappointed, however, because the Brella’s combination of offense and defense enables playstyles that no other weapon can match, and to see it seemingly get shoved into a corner and neglected just breaks my heart.

So what can be done to fix this problem? “Fix the Brellas” is the obvious answer, but I think the first step is communication: Tell us why Brellas appear to be on the back burner. I’ve discussed the difficulty of balancing a weapon like this in the past, but it would be nice to hear this directly from the Splatoon team. We need some way of the folks behind the game to the story behind the game: Why were Brella in such rough shape at the start of the game? What difficulties has the team run into while fixing them? Why are the maps shaped like Tetris pieces? Where do certain weapon buffs and nerfs originate from (seriously, that random .52 Gal special point drop still feels awfully sus to me)? Starting that sort of dialogue, even if it’s over a curated one-way channel, would go a long way towards helping players understand the state of the game, and while not everyone would agree with the provided rationale, at least we’d know where the developers were coming from.

In the end, everyone wants the same thing: A fun, reliable game that delivers years of enjoyment for players and prints money for Nintendo. Giving each weapon class an equal amount of attention and care would go a long way in a game that’s showing serious signs of “shooter privilege,” and if that isn’t possible, at least the community should know why that was the case. Otherwise, we’re left with nothing but speculation and suspicion to fill the void, and that never turns out well.

So what happened to Brellas? A series of unfortunate technical issues, policy choices, and unexplained decisions left players in the dark and Brellas out in the cold. Nintendo can’t fix all of this in a day, but they could at least let us know that they’re trying, and I’d settle for that for now. That, and a new .96 Gal kit. (I wasn’t that much of a Kraken user back in the day, but I’m willing to give it a shot!)

One-Hit Wonderings: What Happened To Carlton Anderson?

Image from Sounds Like Nashville

Musicians are often lumped into two buckets: Those who make it big, and those who don’t make it at all. However, there’s a third group that sits in between these extremes: The artists that get a taste of success and draw the spotlight for a brief moment, but can’t sustain the momentum and watch the light quickly fade from their careers. Bittersweet as it may be, however, that brief moment can leave an lasting impression on the people who hear it, leaving them scratching their head as to why things didn’t. These are the stories of the one-hit wonders.

Today’s installment on One-Hit Wonderings is…well, given that it’s been almost a year since I wrote one of these things, I’m calling my own number and breaking my own rules to try to tell the story of a no-hit wonder that seemed poised for country music mediocrity at the very least…and then his debut single hit radio, and Anderson went down both in flames and in history as one of Nashville’s most-botched rollouts:

I ripped this piece of garbage to pieces when I reviewed it back in 2018, and the radio didn’t think much of it either, as it barely reached the Top 50 on Billboard’s airplay chart. One of my favorite lines is that country radio will give a debut #1 to just about anyone, but apparently the flip side of that argument is that if you don’t find success off the rip, Music City doesn’t have a lot of patience for you. Anderson was quickly voted off the island and disappeared from the mainstream scene, and has barely been heard from since.

So what happened? Why did Anderson flop so hard in his mainstream showcase, and where has he been since then? Let’s see if we can find some answers.

What Went Wrong

Anderson’s origin story is right out of country central casting: A Texas native, he grew up a Willie Nelson fan, cut his teeth on the Lone Star music circuit, attended Belmont University in Nashville, and became a regular on the local songwriting and performing circuit. He signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music in 2015, upgraded to a full-fledged artist deal with Arista Nashville in 2018, and released “Drop Everything” as his debut single in May of that year.

The speed at which Arista dropped Anderson is notable even by Nashville standards, but it’s also worth asking what moved them to sign him in the first place. “Drop Everything” is a unabashed throwback to the neotraditional sound of the 1990s, pairing a rollicking retro-toned guitar with a fiddle (which had already been banished from the radio for a while) and a real drum set, with an organ and steel guitar adding some background atmosphere to the mix. Surely this wasn’t the hot sound of the era…was it? (Honestly, after everything we’ve gone through in the 2020s, I barely remember 2018 at all…)

Looking back at my single reviews for the year, it seems like 2018 was a transitional year for the genre. The Bro-Country and Metropolitan trends were on their way out, but Boyfriend country hadn’t quite taken over, and the Cobronavirus trend was still a few years away from taking root. Instead, the preceding few years had seen a slight resurgence in traditional country music, and while it never quite rose to the level of a trend, there were a few encouraging datapoints:

  • We started to see the rise of acts like Jon Pardi (California Sunrise, 2016), Midland (On The Rocks, 2017), William Michael Morgan (Vinyl, 2016), and Mo Pitney (Behind This Guitar, 2016).
  • Cody Johnson finally cracked the mainstream radio charts with “With You I Am” in 2016 (although he wouldn’t truly break through for another few years), and Aaron Watson would also see his biggest radio success with 2017’s “Outta Style.”
  • After spending most of the decade trapped in MCA purgatory, Josh Turner (the closest comparison to Anderson vocally) re-emerged with “Hometown Girl” in 2016 and released Deep South in 2017.

Put it all together, and you can see where Arista was coming from when they brought Anderson on board. A lot of signs were pointing to a classical country revival, and the label didn’t want to miss the boat. That being said, Arista was also well aware of the trends that had been so dominant in the decade thus far, and thus were also likely wary of alienating modern fans who weren’t keen on the old stuff. In that light, “Drop Everything” was a convenient compromise candidate: With its Metro-Bro writing and its old-school sound, it had something for everyone.

Unfortunately, it also meant that everyone had something they could point to in the track that they didn’t like. I’ll let 2018 Kyle take it from here:

“On one hand, the sound hits my neotraditional nostalgia right in the feels, and Anderson acquits himself incredibly well and demonstrates a lot of potential as an artist. This particular song, however, is pure garbage, as the typical Bro tropes and the narrator’s insufferable attitude completely ruin the song’s atmosphere…all the fiddle breaks and vocal ability in the world can’t cover up a song this slimy, and ‘Drop Everything’ is an unvarnished throwback to everything I despised about the Bro-Country era. This song belongs nowhere near country radio in 2018, and with any luck, Arista will move on to Anderson’s next single sooner rather than later.”

“Song Review: Carlton Anderson, ‘Drop Everything'”, July 27, 2018

Calvin & Hobbes had a great quote years ago that summed up this situation perfectly: “A good compromise leaves everyone mad.” Bro-Country deniers like me couldn’t get past the ugliness of the writing, and Bro-Country lovers couldn’t understand why the sound didn’t sound like “Cruise.” No one could get behind the song 100%, and it flopped hard as a result.

That being said, it’s not like there haven’t been zillions of artists who fell flat on their face out of the gate, and Arista and Anderson had an EP’s worth of tracks that they could draw from to take another shot at the brass ring. (I, for one, would have totally gotten behind a track like “Keep Abilene Beautiful,” and you can’t tell me “Country Music Made Me Do It” wouldn’t have found an audience.) Arista, however, never released another single of Anderson’s, and dropped him from their roster a year later. Why?

I think the biggest issue was that the readings on the tea leaves changed significantly in a short period of time.The dream of a classic country revival was already running out of fuel in 2018, but 2019 was the year that put the final nail in its coffin. Boyfriend country took over in a big way, and acts like Dan + Shay began dominating the airwaves and the mainstream conversation. Acts like Morgan, Pitney, Watson, and Turner vanished from the radio, and though Midland’s managed to stick around, they haven’t had a true radio hit since 2018’s “Burn Out.” Pardi and Johnson are the only ones who are still in the spotlight today, and I would argue that Pardi has made some major concessions to the Nashville meta to maintain his position. In other words, traditional country was pushed to the sidelines once again, limiting Anderson’s upside and pushing Arista to cut its losses.

So Where Is He Now?

Of course, labels drop artists all the time, and although the radio climate made him a risky bet, Anderson was still a young, talented vocalist with plenty of time to work his way back to the big leagues. However, performance opportunities dried up when the pandemic hit, and while he released some music independently in the meantime (he dropped “When Baby Gets A Buzz” late in 2019, and put out an acoustic EP Yours and a separate single “No Place Like You” a year later), the songs were hit-or-miss, and without the muscle of a major label behind them, they didn’t make much of an impact. A bouncier single “Burn Me Down” (a much more palatable take on the “Drop Everything” scenario) came and went in 2022 without anyone giving it a second look.

Now, the last few years have seen artists rise to prominence through the power of social media (for example, Priscilla Block), so why couldn’t Anderson find success through the same channels? My sense is that there are two issues here:

  • Anderson doesn’t seem to be any better at using social media than I am. He hasn’t posted on Twitter in almost two years, he’s an inconsistent poster on Instagram (although his activity picked up a bit at the start of the year), and his TikTok is only now starting to grow with some ‘This Day In Country Music’ videos. There’s still a chance he could find some traction, but it’s going to take more than cover songs to do it.

    The truth is that Anderson has been a tough guy to find any information on this decade. He talked to the Cowboy Lifestyle Network about “When Baby Gets A Buzz” in 2019, had a lengthy profile in Sounds Like Nashville a year later to promote Yours…and that’s pretty much it. He doesn’t seem to be that good at promoting his material in any format, and that really hurts when you’re trying to build an audience.
  • Honestly, I just get the sense that traditional country music remains a small niche in the grand scheme of things that people really aren’t searching for. “Burn Me Down” came out last June, and it has fewer views than my Undercover Brella gear guide from last month. You know that something’s not clicking with the public when my videos can outpace it.

The one major piece of news I can find is Anderson’s Instagram announcement from last July that he had lost his songwriting deal, which puts him right back at square one as far as building a country music career. While he mentions is both the CLN and SLN pieces that he prefers to be independent and be his own boss, there’s a reason so many artists fall in line with the Nashville meta: It puts a marketing machine in their corner to push their material to the top, regardless of how much say they have in what that material is.

So what does the future hold for Carlton Anderson? I don’t know, but I don’t think I see another major label deal in his future (although given his past associations with Cody Johnson, maybe the CoJo label is a possible fit?). The good news is that Anderson still seems to be writing songs; Ben Gallaher (yeah, I don’t know who he is either) has an Anderson cut on his album coming next week. Writing at least allows Anderson to keep a foot in the door, but whether or not he can eventually use it as a springboard back into the mainstream conversation remains an open question.

It’s really a shame: Anderson has a great voice and seemed like a really talented artist, the sort of act that Nashville could really use to diversify their musical offerings in this current climate of conformity. “Drop Everything” may have been terrible, and Anderson’s music may not have fit the era it arrived in, but I think Anderson deserved to be more than a one-and-done artist. Given a bit more time, I think he could have found at least a modicum of an audience for his style of music. Still, getting one shot (as mishandled as it was) is better than getting no shot at all, and for what it’s worth, I’m glad I got the chance to hear from Anderson and discover what he could do. In a perfect world, the rest of the world would get that same opportunity.

Song Review: Jackson Dean, “Fearless”

The only thing we have to fear is…not being interesting enough for people to bother being scared.

Country radio will give a debut #1 to just about anyone these days, but Jackson Dean stretched that statement to its absolute limit late last year: I kind of liked Jackson Dean’s debut effort “Don’t Come Lookin’,” but after nearly ten months on the charts it was forced to settle for a Mediabase-only #1 (it only made it to #3 on Billboard’s airplay chart). It was the sort of ambiguous result that made almost any follow-up move possible: Would he stick to his rough-edged, free-spirited style, or pivot back towards the Nashville meta to try to grow his audience? We now have the answer with Dean’s follow-up single “Fearless,” and…honestly, I’m not sure how to feel about this one, because I don’t feel a whole lot. He may stick to his guns on the sound, but the execution isn’t as crisp this time around, and the story doesn’t hold my interest as much this time around.

There isn’t a lot the production here: We’ve got an acoustic guitar holding down the verses, some electric guitars that crank up the volume and intensity on the chorus and bridge solo, some steel guitar riffs that add some flavor to the seasoning, and a drum set that jumps in late and doesn’t pack much of a punch, even on the choruses. The things that bugs me the most about this mix is the volume balance: It’s relatively serene and sets a calm mood for the verses, and then suddenly Dean starts screaming into the mic and the whole atmosphere turns raw and moody until the next verse arrives. (I usually scold producers for letting the sound overwhelm the vocals, but here the vocals actually overwhelm the sound, and it’s no less annoying.) It’s a jarring transition that shatters the immersion of the song, and you spend most of the track fiddling with the volume knob trying to keep your ears from bleeding. As far as the vibe, I think it supports Dean’s unpolished persona, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for the song itself: It doesn’t convey any sort of emotion to the audience (no love, no fear, nothing). It’s just an awkward fit for the track, and you can’t help but feel like this mix is an instrument or two short of being complete.

As far as Dean goes, his performance doesn’t have the nuance required to truly sell a song like this. Yes, he’s supposed to be a tough guy who specializes in hiding his feelings, but this song is supposed to be his moment to be vulnerable and scared, and I just don’t get that vibe from him here. Instead, he oscillates between calmly telling us that he’s powerless in the face of his partner and screaming his credentials at us at full volume. (There’s no anger in his delivery, but seriously, the man needs to calm down.) As a result, he struggles to step into the narrator’s shoes and sell their story, and while his bravado reinforces the persona he laid out in “Don’t Come Lookin'” (he does seem pretty fearless), he can’t quite convince the listener to engage with his story. There’s nothing new or interesting to explore here, and while Dean may feel some apprehension about what might happen, he fails to share any of that feeling with his audience.

The lyrics feel a bit unfocused and unbalanced overall, but the general thread is that the narrator, fiercely independent and unmoved by any hardship, has now surrendered control to their partner, and are worried about how the relationship will progress (“maybe you’re the right one…or maybe you’re the one that’s gonna break [my heart]”). The song opens with a random aside about seeing ghosts that doesn’t tie in with the rest of the story at all, and for all the hand-wringing over being afraid, exactly what the narrator is afraid of isn’t fleshed out as much as I would like. Is it the chance that things go could south, as we get in a single line in the first verse? Is it the feeling of powerlessness that consumes the second verse? Given all the credential-brandishing on the chorus, it is fear that they might be changing as a person, or that the only life they know is changing? (I really wish the song had spent less time brandishing said credentials and more time elaborating on the fear that’s ostensibly the center of the song.) I think there’s a good song buried in here somewhere, but what we’ve got right now is a few drafts away from its full potential, and it leaves the listener unimpressed.

“Fearless” is a thing that exists, and while it feels like a logical extension of Jackson Dean’s persona, it also feels like an uneven and haphazard effort from everyone involved. Dean is too loud and not introspective enough, the sound doesn’t really capture the conflict or support the subject matter, and the writing is too scattershot and sidetracked to tell its story effectively. I’m still kinda-sorta bullish on Dean’s prospects in the genre, but he’s got to get better material to work with, songs that can both build his reputation and tell whatever story he’s got with equal success. He’s already taking a chance by being a bit left-of-center from the Music City meta, so next time he and his team need to do a better job hitting their marks.

Rating: 5/10. You’re not missing anything here.

Retro Review: Chad Brock, “Yes!”

Dear artists of Nashville: Don’t be afraid to tell your own story!

A phrase that I’ve used a bunch in reviews over the years is “effectively vague.” The idea is that if you dial back the level of detail in your song and instead paint a picture using broad strokes, more people will say “Hey, that sounds like what I experienced!” and you’ll connect with a larger audience as a result. It’s not a bad strategy on balance, but it relies on the listener to fill in your blanks with their own memories, as if you’re playing a game of Mad Libs, and over time I think this has led to a strain of lowest-common-denominator songwriting, where the only provided details are the approved list of buzzwords you hear in every song. My feelings on the subject are that I already know my own darn story, and I’d rather hear about the artist’s journey through the topic, and how it differs from everyone else’s experience. While there are a few songs today that do this, most only offer a bare-bones framework that the listener has to finish building.

This brings us to the song I’d like to examine today: “Yes!”, the sole #1 and signature song for pro-wrestler-turned-country-artist Chad Brock. Released in 2000, the song served as the second single and title track for Brock’s sophomore album, and was based on the true story of how Brock met his first wife Martie (sadly, it seems the relationship didn’t last long). Over two decades later, the track still holds up as a solid love song, and despite being a fairly specific tale it still resonates with its audience through smart decision-making and solid execution.

First, let’s start with the production, and the cardinal rule for love songs is that they should feel like a love song: Positive, upbeat, energetic, and emotive. The mix here checks all the boxes, opening with a bright fiddle and bouncy electric guitar, leaning on the higher octaves of its piano and organ to give the some a more-expansive atmosphere, and giving every piece of the arrangement ample space to make their voice heard (the exception here is the steel guitar; it doesn’t get much exclusive screen time). The tempo is brisk, the drums drive the song forward without overwhelming the sound, and most importantly they not only set a suitable mood for the track, but the sound even helps pass the good vibes of the writing on to the listener. (The volume balance is also pretty good here—this can be tricky to pull off when the mix is this loud, but here it never feels like the sound gets in the way of the lyrics.) You feel this one as much as you hear it, and when the narrator talks about how much they love their partner, you know exactly what they’re talking about. This is a great mix for this track, and for as much grief as I give producers for bad mixes, whoever put this thing together deserves to stand up and take a bow.

There’s a part of me that is surprised that Brock performs this well on this track, and there’s a part of me that knows I shouldn’t be: Sure he was a pro wrestler, but what is a pro wrestler if not a showman who plays to the crowd? (The various prior occupations of Midland’s members haven’t hurt them either, so it’s unfair to judge someone’s musical prowess based on their resume.) Despite the tempo, the lyrics are fairly relaxed and don’t test the singer’s technical abilities, but as with all love songs it’s imperative that the artist bring the required charm and charisma to the table to let their feelings shine through, and honestly, Brock does this even more effectively than the production does. (Let’s not minimize his technical ability either: It’s the clarity and volume in his voice that truly keeps the production from swallowing up the lyrics, even at its loudest.) There’s a notable cheeriness in his performance (mixed with a dash of wonder), and he does a great job sharing his feelings with the audience and making the narrator a likeable character. Sometimes I think artists today try a bit too hard to be serious when they convey the depth their feelings, but I’d argue an ebullient performance like this does a better job because you can really feel it, and it makes whoever you’re singing to know just how much you make them smile.

Finally, let’s talk about the lyrics, and in particular the first verse, which is a blow-by-blow retelling of how the speaker and their eventual partner met. Meeting via mail being sent to an old address is probably one of the rarer ways to start a relationship, and while not a lot people have that experience firsthand, it’s a distinct and interesting start to the story that catches the listener’s ear early (it’s not quite “a farmer and a preacher, a hooker and a preacher,” but it’s not bad). I wouldn’t call the “Yes!” hook exceptionally strong, but the writers do a decent job tying it into the story (come on, you know the marriage vows are coming), and it’s a perfect summation of the ethos of the song: Unabashedly excited and positive. The song gets a bit more vague and cliché in its second half, but it’s less about buzzwords and more about feelings, and it’s enough to let the sound and singer elevate it with their standout performances. (There’s some actual story progression here as well, and even though it’s just the standard ‘meet to marriage’ thread, it gives the emotions of the track some deeper meaning, and keeps them from feeling shallow or ephemeral.) This song isn’t here to tell our story—it’s here to let us share in their story, and it succeeds.

“Yes!” is exactly what I would say if asked if this was a good song. Through its upbeat sound, its specific writing, and a really nice performance from Chad Brock, this song demonstrates that there are more ways to connect with your audience than being super vague and hoping they recognize the tale as their own. You don’t have to tell someone else’s tale if you can interest people in your own tale, and this track does a great job of connecting with the listener and giving them both insight and the feeling of being in the speaker’s shoes. Sadly, this song was basically the last we heard of Brock (he would never again reach Billboard’s Top Twenty after this), and the happy ending the song implied failed to materialize, but between this song and “Ordinary Life” (and to some extent “Lightning Does The Work”), he left a legacy that still holds up today. My hope is that some of Nashville’s current denizens take note of this legacy, and think about finding their own voice instead of being someone else’s voice for a change.

Rating: 7/10. Should you hear this? I’ll let the title speak for itself.

My Reaction To The February 2023 Nintendo Direct

Well, this was a thing, I guess.

I know people start predicting the next Nintendo Direct the moment the previous Direct finishes, but this just felt like the right time for the company to lay out its plans for 2023, and as we expected, Nintendo dropped a hefty Direct on us this evening, ostensibly focusing on the first half of 2023 (but they’ve said that before, the truth is that anything is possible). I laid out my predictions a week ago, but how many would come true, and how many unexpected surprises would the Big N hit us with?

In the end, the biggest surprise here was how few surprises we actually got.

While the presentation had its moments, I don’t think this was one of Nintendo’s better Directs. I’ve been harping about execution in song reviews lately, but the execution here felt pretty poor, with some bizarre unforced errors that really dragged down the presentation. I walked away feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole thing, and generating such a muted reaction is the worst possible outcome for a company who wants to keep people talking.

My specific thoughts on the Direct are as follows:

  • I’m not interested in the Pikmin series at all, but I think the Pikmin 4 trailer did a decent job opening the Direct and showcasing some of the game’s mechanics. I would have liked to see more about what individual Pikmin do (people who aren’t familiar with the series will have no idea what different colored Pikmin mean), but the ice Pikmon got some decent screen time, and we got a long look at the new dog companion that will accompany you on your journey. (I was also kind of surprised that we weren’t playing as Olimar, and that there were more humanoid characters around. Zelda‘s blood moon also seems to be a part of the game…) It didn’t entice me to buy the game, but it did a good job showing us what was new and what the game was all about.
  • I’m not a Xenoblade Chronicles fan either, but holy cow is XC3 huge! With a new character, more challenge battles, and an intriguing story teaser for the next wave, there is a lot to do in this game, and while I’m still not interested in real-time RPG combat, I think Xenoblade fans are doing very well in the Switch era.
  • Deca Police was the first hint that there were going to be issues with the presentation. In the wake of the killing of Tyre Nichols, showing off a game where the police fight the criminals and declare “we must use whatever means necessary” felt more than a little tone-deaf on the part of Level-5 and Nintendo. The gameplay looked okay (but also looked like more real-time combat, no thank you), but this just didn’t feel the right time or place to announce this one.
  • Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon looks like an interesting game with some intriguing mechanics (Cereza is a pure support character who can only freeze enemies in place), and traversing the world looks like it could be fun, but it didn’t quite reach the point where I might consider trying it out. Bayonetta fans will likely enjoy it, but I’ll pass.
  • Good grief, that might have been the worst Splatoon trailer I have ever seen. We got no information about additions for the coming season (no weapons, no modes, nothing), Inkopolis Plaza is just a retro re-skin of the current plaza with no additional…well, anything to justify its existence, and the Side Order teaser didn’t give us a good-enough look at the mode to know exactly what was coming. I can’t believe Nintendo wants to make people pay for this DLC, and unless Side Order is actually the next Octo Expansion, I don’t think I will.
  • I never thought I’d say this, but…Disney’s Illusion Island looks like a pretty solid platformer to me. The characters seem to have a large and varied moveset, the 2D environments look like they’d be fun to bounce around in, the boss battle looked interesting, and I even like how characters have their own personalized spin on different moves. I’m actually getting some Celeste vibes from this thing, and while I don’t think it would be as hard as climbing Mt. Celeste, I’ll bet this could be a really fun game, especially with its co-op capabilities. This one might be worth investigating further.
  • I kind of missed Fire Emblem Engage when it came out, but it looks like this game is getting some warranted attention (even it feels a bit too much like a fan service game with all these returning characters). More emblems mean more intriguing battle strategies, and the game still has a solid tactical RPG foundation at its core. I’m not quite ready to dive into this one, but I might revisit it later this year.
  • We got about what I expected for Octopath Traveler II, and honestly I don’t think it moved the needle either way for anyone. Kirby’s Return To Dream Land Deluxe didn’t get much mention at all (I suppose it’s understandable; it’s a port that in theory we should know all about already), but the new Magalor-centered epilogue at least seemed kind of interesting. I’ll probably get OT2, but I’m still waffling on Kirby. Finally, Sea Of Stars looked like something I might explore later this year: I like the art style and the combat setup, and I’m a sucker for a good RPG.
  • Good grief, that might be the worst Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp trailer I’ve ever seen. I know they had revealed most of the game before it was delayed, but to just TL;DR the whole thing over a cinematic trailer with no gameplay really minimized the game’s strength. Nintendo also made the tone-deaf decision to drop the game in mid/late April, which will be right about when the war in Ukraine ramps back up and the world is reminded why the game was delayed in the first place. I’m sure this one will be fun to play, but Nintendo is doing its level best to set it up for failure.
  • After years of rumors, Game Boy games are finally coming to Nintendo Switch Online! …And just like the other consoles, we’re starting with a paltry lineup that includes very few games I actually want to play. There are just nine game here to start, and there are some glaring omissions here (how can we get Super Mario Land 2 and not get the original Super Mario Land?). I counted maybe three games that I might check out at some point, and none of the advertised upcoming releases interested me at all. (Game Boy Advance games are coming too, but I don’t have much of a history with the GBA and they’re locked behind the NSO expansion pack that I refuse to buy, so they’re a no-op for me.)
  • Metroid Prime 4 got no mention here (not a big surprise), but the first Metroid Prime is coming to Switch as a remaster, and while I only played the original game once, I’m impressed by how much the visuals are improved here. It’s not something I’m interested in, but at least Metroid fans get something to tide them over while MP4 continues to flounder in obscurity.
  • As much hype as been generated by the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe booster pass, it hasn’t done a great job of re-engaging fans in the series: You play the new courses a few times, you set the controller down, and you wait a few more months for the next wave. Nintendo seems to have sensed this, because they’re going bigger than expected for Wave 4: We didn’t get the full list of tracks this time, but in a surprise twist we got a completely new course (Yoshi’s Island) and a new old character in Birdo (which is significant because Nintendo never said anything about adding more characters to the game). It looks like the course is going to make good use of the MK8D mechanics, indicating that the trend of improving the course offerings with each wave will continue. (It makes you wonder if lackluster reactions of sales from the first wave or two have spurred Nintendo to get their act together and finally bring their A-game to the table.) I don’t know if this will be the jump-start for the game that Nintendo was hoping for, but you can’t fault them for trying.
  • I did not think in a million years that the Power Pros series would ever return to North America. I had so much fun with MLB Power Pros on the Wii back in the day, and I love the look of the new characters that have been added since then. Not only am I probably going to buy this game (wait, it’s only $1 on the eShop?!), at first glance this could a dark horse candidate for my Game Of The Year.
  • Saving The Legend of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom for the end was a bad idea: Like Rickey Henderson on first base, everybody knew what was coming next, and it took a lot of the surprise and anticipation out of the moment. Still, this was a decent trailer much like Pikmin 4: We got to see the world and the enemies therein, got some hints at the story, and got to see a few of Link’s new tricks (and some new mechanical contraptions as well). It could have been better, but it probably would have had to be longer too, so with the time it had, it was fine.
  • The surprise no-show here was Mario: Despite the movie coming out soon, there was no mention of any new mainline games to capitalize on the publicity. Mario Baseball didn’t show up either, which was a bit of a surprise given that a March release to coincide with the MLB season would have been the best move for the franchise. Finally, my off-the-wall prediction of ARMS 2 didn’t materialize, which probably means that the franchise is pretty much history.

Overall, this was a mixed bag in the gaming department, and seemed to be weighed down by some questionable decision-making on the part of some games. I think I saw 3 games that I really wanted (and a few more that were borderline), and given the broad audience Nintendo is trying to placate with all this stuff, I suppose I’ll have to take what I can get. Still, some better execution would go a long way towards improving the presentation, and I hope Nintendo does a better job showing off their stuff next time around.

Song Review: Chris Young, “Looking For You”

It’s safe to say that no one was looking for this song.

I’ll be honest: I straight-up forgot Chris Young was a thing in country music. He’s had some scattered moments over the last decade or so, but he seems to be perpetually stuck on the Nashville B-list, consistently overshadowed by the bigger names in the genre. Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s released some of the blandest material in town over the last half-decade or so (the man has gotten 5/10 scores on five out of six songs that I’ve reviewed here, and the exception was the tire fire that was “Famous Friends”). Sadly, the trend continues on his latest release “Looking For You,” a lukewarm love song that doesn’t do anything to entice the listener to tune in.

The production here is a run-of-the-mill guitar-and-drum arrangement that brings to mind the phrase “Bro-Country-Lite.” Yes, the prominent guitars are acoustic (the electric axes are mostly shoved into the background, and even on the bridge solo they don’t have the volume or energy you might expect), but the punchy drums, deliberate tempo, and token banjo harken back to the early 2010s, and remind me of how Bro-Country tried (and mostly failed) to evolve with the times a few years ago by moving from synthetic to acoustic elements. (The video mentions other instruments, such as a pedal steel, but good luck finding them in this mix.) The instrument tones are bright, but they don’t seem have to much of an impact, and the mix is devoid of any energy and just plods along from start to finish. The only thing that even kinda-sorta catches your ear is the occasional high-pitched guitar riff, and that’s mostly because it feels out of place with the rest of the sound. It’s the sort of arrangement that oozes mild sameness, the sort of song you’ll swear you’ve already heard a hundred time before, and it does nothing to create the sort of romantic atmosphere that the writing requires. It feels like a placeholder mix that needed some serious fine-tuning to suit the mood, and it mostly lulls the listener to sleep as a result.

Young remains one of the better voices in country music, but he doesn’t have a lot to work with here, and he feathers the gas pedal instead of putting his foot down and letting the audience know how he really feels. While this is not a particularly easy song to pull off and Young does well to get through it without breaking a sweat, that’s actually part of the problem: He seems to be holding back a bit in his delivery, and while he seems pretty smitten with the other person, he struggles to let the listener share in those feelings. This easygoing, awkwardly even-keel approach hurts him on the flips side of the coin as well: He really doesn’t sound all that bothered while talking about his life before meeting his future partner, making you wonder why (or how hard) he was looking for them in the first place. He’s just kind of a guy who lucked into something good, and while I’m happy for him, I’m not all that interested in hearing his story.

Of course, it would help if there was an actual story to be told here. The narrator…well, they were looking for a romantic partner, and they found one. That’s pretty much it. The chorus is wasted on overused phrases and imagery that don’t really tell us that much about the relationship, the hook is a weaksauce attempt to tie into the search for romance, and the general lack of detail here is absolutely astounding. The line that really bugs me is when the narrator says “you were so original”…and then proceeds to tell us nothing about what makes the other person so original. (I already know what my retro review is going to be this week, because I’m really tired of this fill-in-the-blank style of writing that forces the listener to provide the details that the song omits.) The bars, the sunset, the “up all night long”…we’ve been here a thousand times before, and there’s nothing here that lets this song stand out and stand on its own. By the second verse (which is really only half of one), the listener is completely tuned out, and no amount of looking is going to bring them back.

“Looking For You” is one of those tracks that can’t justify its own existence, one that tries so hard to get you to tell your own story that it never tells one of its own. The production is some reheated Bro leftovers that don’t fit the song’s vibe, Chris Young doesn’t bring enough emotion or charisma to the table to hold the audience’s attention, and the writing manages to come up about ten drafts of a decent story despite the fact that they’re copying someone else’s story anyway. The whole thing feels like a halfhearted endeavor, a feeble attempt to remind the world that Young still exists. The sad part is that in this regard, it succeeds: We’re reminded just how bland and boring the man’s work has been over the last half-decade, and the harsh truth that emerges is that we haven’t missed him at all.

Rating: 5/10. Zzzzzz…