Dear Avenue Beat: If you’re going to sing an attitude song, it helps to put a little, you know, attitude behind it?
Avenue Beat consists of a trio of young “genzennial” women (Sami Bearden, Savana Santos, and Sam Backoff) from Illinois than turned a spur-of-the-moment Nashville invite into an eventual record deal with Big Machine last summer, but have only just released their debut single “Ruin That For Me” to country radio. Female power anthems are starting to become something of a movement on country radio (and with good reason, as the ladies of the genre are running circles around the men at the moment), but as anthems go, this one is pretty weak, featuring neither the defiance of Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” nor the raw anger of Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More.” Instead, this track feels bland and sounds surprisingly manufactured, and simply doesn’t stand up against its competition.
The decision to put production decisions is the hands of Santos, David Garcia and Ashley Gorley was a major misstep, because this is the cheapest, most synthetic-sounding mix I’ve heard in a long time, so much so that I question whether any actual instruments were used in its creation. The arrangement open with a pair of acoustic guitars that sound like MIDI instruments, with Grady Smith’s favorite snap track providing cover. Some realistic-sounding instruments eventually make some cameos (an electric guitar, a few real drums), but for the most part they’re overshadowed by spacious synth tones and prominent drum machines. The general vibe of the sound is also incredibly inconsistent: The frequent minor chords and deeper guitar cast a pall over the verses and make them feel fairly melancholy, and while things brighten up for the chorus, the sound remains unusually hollow and vacuous, and needs another instrument or two to fill the empty space and give it some presence. The softer feel of the mix also takes the edge off the writing and drains all the power out of the track, leaving us with a song that feels far more lifeless than empowering.
Don’t be fooled by the music video: All three women lip-sync to the lead part, but it’s Santos that covers the lion’s share of the lead role on the recording. The song is not a technically demanding one and Santos runs through it without breaking a sweat, but she’s an awkward fit for the narrator’s role: Her softer delivery projects a lot of vulnerability that would fit perfectly on a standard love song, but it lacks the edge and attitude to pull of a stubborn, defiant track like this one, and as a result her performance comes across as halfhearted and disingenuous to the audience. (It’s surprising because Santos’s voice reminds me a lot of Maren Morris, but she doesn’t have the grit or sass in her delivery that Morris does.) Bearden and Backoff don’t add a ton to the vocals by themselves, but to their credit the trio showcases some strong harmony and great vocal chemistry. Still, I get the feeling that this trio would be more suited to non-attitude-laden songs, and that they got stuck with this track in the name of trend-hopping.
The lyrics here are surprisingly weak for a power anthem, as the song feels like an awkward combination of “Buy My Own Drinks” and Sam Hunt’s “Break Up In A Small Town”. The narrator proclaims that their ex won’t “ruin that for me,” but a fair bit of the song boils down to a laundry list of “that” (songs, restaurants, friends, shows, etc.), and much of the imagery included here is generic and boilerplate (oh wow, your ex walked in while you were out on the town? Never heard that before…). While their are definitely some statements of resistance here (most notably the hook itself), none of them are terribly powerful, and their power is so drained by the punchless vocals that the listener barely notices them. The writers may have left plenty of hooks for a more-experienced artist to grab onto and elevate, but when this trio declines to do so, the writing’s unoriginality is exposed, and it sinks like a rock.
“Ruin That For Me” may have been the trendy choice for a debut single, but it was also the wrong choice for Avenue Beat. The writing feels recycled, the production feels underfunded, and this trio is just not up to the challenge of telling their exes to take a long walk off a short pier. There are some flashes of potential here, but it needs the proper support from their material and producer to really bring it all together, and that support is nowhere to be found here. It’s kind of a “meh” song overall, which may be the worst possible outcome, as the audience won’t realize that Avenue Beat has arrived, and won’t notice if they leave.
Rating: 5/10. Don’t waste your “shelter in place” time on this.