The Bro-Country era is over, Sam Hunt. Get over it.
Remember when “Body Like A Back Road” was everywhere and Hunt was Public Enemy No. 1 in country music? Fast forward 5-6 years, and we’ve watched him go into hiding, take three years to release an album, sample Webb Pierce and lament the tech-less 90s, and generally fall back to the pack and become just another artist in the genre. While his previous single “23” did eventually make it to #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart, its weaker showing elsewhere (#10 on Hot Country Songs and #50 on the Hot 100, way off his usual pace and becoming his worst showings since 2018) indicate that his influence in Nashville is waning, especially giving that this was supposed to be the leadoff single for his next album (which admittedly probably won’t arrive until 2024). He’s in desperate need of a home run right now, but instead he’s given us the swing-and-miss that is his latest single “Water Under The Bridge.” Seriously, it’s as if the song was tailor-made for made to despise it: It’s a shallow, lazy, and blindly-nostalgic piece of garbage that offers nothing of value or interest to the listener.
The producer may be looking for an A for effort here, but you’ve got to do more than just include instruments in your mix—you’ve got to actually use them in a meaningful way. Careful listeners will note the presence of a lot of different instruments here (a classic piano, a Hammond B3 organ, a banjo, a dobro), but outside of the last of these four, they’re barely noticeable beneath (wait for it) an series of acoustic and electric guitars and a mix of real and synthetic percussion, which all seem to bleed into each other as the song progresses and eventually turns it into a bland wall of noise. (There’s also a weird low tone, likely from an electric guitar, running underneath the mix that is a bit distracting and seems like a mistake that should have removed in post.) With its deliberate tempo and bombastic approach on the chorus, this is a transparent attempt to recapture the party vibes and free spirits of the Bro-Country anthems of the 2010, and the result is just empty sonic calories that overshadow the writing rather than support it. (Then again, the writing is a massive nothingburger and not worth supporting anyway, but we’ll get to that later.) Hunt made a name for himself by using his fusion sound to distinguish himself from his peers, but now he sounds like everyone else in the genre, which may be part of the reason his star has faded over time.
Speaking of Hunt: What the heck happened to him on this recording? Did he have a cold or something? His voice sounds incredibly nasal and far less clear than on his previous tracks, and he seems to be singing in a higher key than normal as well. Whatever the difference, it’s a clear regression: He sounds more generic and replaceable on this track, but he still comes across as immature and not terribly likeable, and thus he can’t sell the narrator’s carefree recollections to the audience. It’s as if he’s singing inside a snow globe: He certainly seems psyched as he looks back on his youthful transgressions, but he struggles to share his fun with the listener. He’s just one more person reminiscing on how much fun life was way back when, and the listener duly notes their perspective and quickly moves on to something more pressing and/or interesting. These tracks were a dime a dozen not that long ago (and aren’t exactly rare nowadays either), so Hunt really needed to step up his game and be more than “just Sam Hunt” to make this one worth paying attention to, and he simply didn’t.
The writing is what really irritates me here, because it’s so basic and unimaginative that calling these lines “lyrics” feels like an overstatement. Remove the bridge from the equation, and you’ve got a cookie-cutter Bro-Country party track that checks all the usual boxes: The beer, the cigarettes, the gas, the trucks (I give the “Chevy jukebox” label a C+, and that’s as clever as the song ever gets), the girls, the speakers, the avoided authority figures…heck, even the muddy river is an overplayed trope. (Also, being the creep that “kissed a girl my buddy used to like” doesn’t help your favorability ratings.) Add the bridge back in…and we’re just partying on a bridge, with the classic “water under the bridge” phrase used as a hook in the most awkward and uninteresting way possible (water under the bridge is something that isn’t worth caring about, so why are you using the phrase to convince us to care about random parties of yesteryear?). There’s just nothing to this song, either literally (we only get half of a second verse, and ironically there’s no bridge at all) or figuratively (the imagery is stock, rudimentary, and not compelling at all), and with all the similar drivel that flooded the genre back in the 2010s, there’s just no reason to revisit this topic now.
“Water Under The Bridge” is a poorly-executed throwback that no one wanted in the first place. Between pointless production, lazy writing, and a poor effort from Sam Hunt, the song is badly outclassed by both its competition and its inspiration, and it completely fails to justify its existence. The truth is that Hunt, much like fellow 2010s compatriots Florida Georgia Line, is an afterthought in country music today, having neither earned the stature of their predecessors (Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean) nor maintained the buzz of their successors (Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen). He’s just kind of hanging around in Nashville nowadays, and if he keeps dumping junk like this onto the airwaves, he won’t be hanging around much longer.
Rating: 4/10. Skip it.