Song Review: Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”

To paraphrase Brett Eldredge, “I’m just trying to get through”…this boring review.

You could be forgiven if you heard this song and thought “Brett who?” The man has been basically invisible since “Love Someone” fell off the charts off after a #2 peak midway through 2019 (my closing line “You won’t hate it, but you won’t remember it either” was right; I completely forgot that song existed). His 2020 album Sunday Drive was a complete flop, with “Gabrielle” peaking in the high twenties and “Good Day” generating so little buzz that I never bothered to review it because I didn’t realize it was a single. If there was ever a time to drop an attention-grabbing, remind-the-world-I’m-still here track, it’s now…and unfortunately, “Songs About You,” the leadoff single and title track to his next album, isn’t one. (Although in truth, “Somethin’ I’m Good At” was one of those kinds of songs, and that didn’t go anywhere at the time either.) It’s a bland, run-of-the-mill breakup song that fails to convince the listener to tune in, and its prospects for reminding the world that Elderedge exists don’t look good.

The production fails on two fronts: It doesn’t feature any interesting pieces or sounds that make it stand out, and its vibe doesn’t quite fit the mood of the track. In terms of the arrangement, not only is this the same old guitar-and-drum mix that everyone leans on these days, but the instrument tones feel incredibly generic and unimaginative as well. There are a lot of parallels between this mix and what Chris Stapleton already hit us with earlier this week on “Joy Of My Life”: The slick, soulful electric guitar (although there’s no acoustic guitar on Eldredge’s song, so the electric axe has to pick up the slack), the light-touch percussion, the retro keyboard…it ends up creating the same chill vibe in both instances, but while it supports Stapleton’s efforts, it works against Eldredge’s aims: Even with the regular minor chords, the sound is too relaxed and neutral, making it seem that contrary to what the lyrics are saying, the narrator isn’t all that bothered by the breakup and it handling their business quite well. When a sound doesn’t distinguish itself and doesn’t really support the writing, it would normally call the producer’s decision-making into question…but the truth is that the audience isn’t interested enough in the song to question it. This is background noise, plain and simple, and does nothing to sell the story to the audience.

For his part, Eldredge’s sales job leaves a lot to be desired as well. He might have one of the best voices in the business, but the song does nothing to show it off, keeping him in a narrow range band and keeping him from applying any sort of power. As a result, Eldredge can sound disinterested at time, especially on the verses (he may be “just trying to get through these songs about you,” but he sounds like he barely gets through this song without yawning), and really doesn’t come across as someone who’s struggling with an old flame. By not being able to share his pain with the audience, they instead take their cues from his tone (and the sound), and don’t see any reason to care about the story being told. Eldredge has more than enough charm, charisma, and vocal prowess to connect with his audience, so the decision to restrain him in this way was a bad decision, as without his backing the song get exposed for the mediocre tale that it is.

The writing here tells the story of a narrator who’s doing their level best to move on from a failed relationship, but is struggling with the memories tied to songs the pair shared together. I think the biggest issue is that there’s just not enough of anything here to help immerse the listener in the song: For example, we get a little bit of detail with the “Wrigleyville bar” in Chicago early on, but beyond that there’s nothing to help the listener imagine and visualize the scene. The scenarios are fairly boilerplate (the bar, the store, the date), and even the rock anthems that are name-dropped don’t feel like great choices for a country audience (I’ll be 100% honest: I had never heard of “Dancing In The Dark” or “I Cant Make You Love Me” before looking them up for this review). The narrator’s reactions are mixed at well: He admits that some songs “make me dance,” which don’t seem like the behavior of someone bothered by the memory of their ex (maybe if they were drinking, but in a surprise move the initial bar and “a bottle” are the only alcohol references here). There’s just not enough here to make the song worth listening to, and without support from the sound and the singer, it gets ignored entirely.

“Songs About You” isn’t the kind of song that will inspire any memories in those who hear it. From its ill-fitting, soundalike sound to its unremarkable writing to a dull performance from Brett Eldredge, this is just another song by just another singer, and to apply this label to someone like Eldredge is an absolute travesty. I didn’t need another reason to be frustrated with mainstream Nashville, but with its inability to maximize Eldredge’s gifts (and the fact that they don’t get rewarded when they do), Eldredge has gone from a potential star to a victim of the current meta, desperately hanging on to whatever relevance he’s got left. It’s especially galling when you think about just how deep a rut Music City is in these days, and someone like Eldredge could be just the guy to inject some life back into the genre. I’d say “better luck next time,” but at this point I’m not sure there will be one.

Rating: 5/10. You won’t remember this song, and you may not remember Eldredge before too long.

Song Review: Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle”

“Gabrielle” left Brett Eldredge because she was “wantin’ somethin’ more,” and frankly, I’m about to do the same.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what I would label “the lost generation” of 2010s country music stars, artists that came out of the gate with their hair on fire but have seen all their momentum evaporate in the last few years. While artists such as Kelsea Ballerini, Cole Swindell, and Brett Young have continued to fight an uphill battle filled with year-long #1 treks and short-circuited singles, Brett Eldredge decided to opt out of the struggle and basically disappeared from the genre after “Love Someone” took nearly a year just to limp to a #2 peak. While I admittedly really didn’t miss him during his hiatus, I still consider him to be one of the strongest vocalists in the genre, so I was mildly intrigued when he dropped a short-notice song “Gabrielle” as the presumed leadoff single to his eventual fourth album. Unfortunately, my reaction to “Gabrielle” is nearly the same as it was to “Love Someone,” as Eldredge once again squanders his talent telling an uninteresting story and winds up being far more boring than a singer of his caliber should ever be.

The production is the first upbeat piano-driven tune in a long while: It bright tones are a constant presence from start to finish, joined early on by an acoustic guitar some light (and very synthetic-sounding) percussion. The song eventually graduates to a full drum set and and background organ to give the mix a fuller sound, but they don’t add much to the volume level, and as a result we don’t get that slow swell to a crescendo that helps the track build energy and momentumin truth, the arrangement comes off as surprisingly flat despite its brightness. I’m also not sure how well the song fits the subject matter: The narrator is looking back at a romance that could’ve been, but the happy vibes given off by the production saps any feeling of reflection or nostalgia and makes the whole thing feel like a meaningless thought exercise (and if the narrator doesn’t care about the story, than why should the audience?). In the end, despite its optimistic tone, the whole thing feels like it only exists for existence’s sake, and isn’t worth investing time and energy into.

When a power voice like Eldredge or Chris Stapleton comes along, I want them to wow us by taking on challenging material that pushes their skills to the limit. Eldredge did that back in 2017 with “Something I’m Good At,” but he wasn’t rewarded for it, and ever since he’s stuck to safe, radio-friendly songs that are more likely to put you to sleep than anything else. “Gabrielle” is no exception: The track make next to no demands on his range, flow, and power, and in return Eldredge turns in a lighthearted performance that follows the same script of the production, and thus he doesn’t give the listener any sense that the relationship actually mattered to him. It feels more like the kind of meaningless, meandering musing that we’ve all been doing to pass the time while sheltering in place, and when he asks “can we just rewind it like it was before,” you don’t get the feeling that he actually means it. I declared in my “Love Someone” review that “with a voice like Brett Eldredge’s, he should never sound this boring,” but bored is exactly how he leaves us feeling here.

My biggest issue with the lyrics is that they really don’t tell much of a story here. Yes, we get the premise that the narrator is thinking back on a failed relationship and wondering if could have ever succeeded, but all we’re given is a pair of still images (one per verse) that don’t give us a ton of insight into what was going on: The other person had plans that the narrator didn’t see, they left to act of them, and…that’s it. There’s nothing about the things the couple used to do together or what the narrator is left doing now, no sense of how long this relationship lasted (or if it was even a thing at all, as lines like “Really made me feel like, like I could fall for you” makes you wonder if the narrator was just watching from a distance the whole time), and really no weight behind the narrator’s words (without Eldredge or the producer taking them seriously, they’re unable to stand on their own). Throw in the short chorus with the long, drawn-out “Ga-A-a-A-abrielle,” and the listener walks away feeling like the song is only half-written, and they aren’t interested in seeing how it ends.

“Gabrielle” is just more of the same bland schlock we were getting from Brett Eldredge before his hiatus, and it’s no more interesting now than it was then. The writing is too feeble to stand on its own, leaving the production and vocals to take the track in a direction that drains it of all its meaning and emotion. It doesn’t strike me as a song that’s going to change the trajectory of Eldredge’s career, leaving him stuck sitting in the waiting room next to Ballerini and Swindell waiting for a call to join country music’s A-list that isn’t coming.

Rating: 5/10. Ever since I said “country music in 2020 has actually been pretty good thus far,” I’ve given out exactly one score above a five and nothing above a six. Me and my big mouth…

Song Review: Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone”

With a voice like Brett Eldredge’s, he should never sound this boring.

For such a powerful vocalist, Eldredge’s hold on country music stardom feels a lot more tenuous than it should be. The “Somethin’ I’m Good At” experiment (despite being a great song) fell flat on the radio and didn’t crack Billboard’s Top 20, and while “The Long Way” earned a respectable #3 peak, it generated neither the sales nor the buzz of his Bring You Back and Illinois singles (five #1’s and a #2 from 2012 to 2016). Now, Eldredge has returned with “Love Someone,” the third single from his self-titled album, and while it’s got an distinct-enough sound to pique your interest, it  minimizes its best asset (Eldredge himself) so much that it ends up coming across as just another run-of-the-mill love song.

The production starts off fairly strong, using an electric guitar (whose sound falls somewhere in between a mandolin and a sitar) to establish a relaxing atmosphere that borders on psychedelic, with some real drums thrown in for flavor. However, as the song continues and more instruments are tossed in (acoustic guitars, steel guitar stabs, and synthetic hand claps get tossed in), the mix begins to feel crowded, and its unique sound is replaced with something that feels a lot more generic and uninteresting. To its credit, the song at least maintains its bright tone for the duration, propping up a celebratory vibe that complements the writing well. Still, that vague sense of happiness is about the only thing the listener gets out of the track, as its gradual fade to bland mediocrity really blunts whatever impact it hoped to have.

The most damning this I can say about this song is that you could stick just about anyone behind the microphone and it would sound about the same. When you have a singer as talented and powerful as Brett Eldredge at your disposal, this should never happen. Eldredge is the best vocalist in the genre today (yes, I’d even rank him above Chris Stapleton) with range, power, and charisma to spare, and frankly, only the last of the three is on display here. Eldredge certainly sounds believable and earnest in the narrrator’s role, but if his team wants to maximize his potential, he needs material that will stretch and challenge his voice à la “Somethin’ I’m Good At” (even if that song was too far out-of-the-box for radio). “Love Someone,” unfortunately, is not that kind of song, keeping Eldredge’s range surprisingly constrained and forcing him to dial back his delivery (making him sound like a mere mortal in the process). In the hands of someone with equal charisma but less vocal power (Thomas Rhett comes to mind), this would have been a suitable song, but here, it just feels like a waste of Eldredge’s time.

There’s still enough here for some clever lyrics to elevate the track to a memorable level, but sadly they’re as bland as everything else here:

When I wake up in the middle of the night
You’re holding me so tight
Good Lord, I mean, my oh my
Sure feels good to love someone
When you laugh at the way I dance
When you smile when you hold my hand
I look at you and I understand
Sure feels good to love someone

There’s nothing here that you haven’t heard a million times before in a million other love songs, and even the small twists on old ideas (“You put the weak there in my knees”) feel more “meh” than witty. On top on that, the whole “love someone” hook feels awkwardly distant: The narrator spends the entire verse and chorus fawning over what sounds like a specific individual, and then suddenly steps back and hits you with a broad generalization? Put it all together, and you’ve got a shrug-inducing track that just doesn’t connect with its audience the way it should.

“Love Someone” is an average song with an average sound and an average vocal performance, which makes it an affront to Brett Eldredge fans everywhere. Sharpen up the writing, pare down the production, and remove Eldredge’s reins, and this song could have been something special. As it is, however, it’s nothing more than six months worth of radio filler, and with his stardom not looking as shiny as it once did, Eldredge can’t afford to waste this kind of time.

Rating: 5/10. You won’t hate it, but you won’t remember it either.

Song Review: Brett Eldredge, “The Long Way”

I was waffling on whether to review this song or Rascal Flatts’s “Back To Us” today, but since “The Long Way” is basically a modernized version of RF’s “Take Me There,” I figured this qualified as a compromise.

Brett Eldredge went big, brash, and bombastic with his last single “Somethin’ I’m Good At,” and while I really enjoyed it, country radio scolded him, whacked his nose with a newspaper, and made him settle for a disappointing #21 Billboard airplay peak. Judging from “The Long Way,” the second single off of Eldredge’s new self-titled album, the singer got the message, as this song is safer, more radio-friendly, and ultimately nowhere near as interesting.

The production opens with spacious 80s-esque synthesizers and a drum machine that makes the listener do a double-take, and unlike Easton Corbin’s “A Girl Like You” (which quickly introduces a rollicking guitar to give the track a country flair), “The Long Way” makes the listener wait a while before slowly adding more traditional instrumentation (electric guitars, steel guitar, real drums). Thankfully, the song avoids the outright pop territory that Keith Urban’s “The Fighter” staked out, and restrains the sound enough to established a relaxed tone that fits the song’s subject matter. If anything, the tone is a bit too relaxed, and ends up pulling its punches so much that it fails to leave much of an impact on the listener.

Eldredge remains one of the best vocalists in country music today, and while this song doesn’t test his limits like “Somethin’ I’m Good At Did,” (to be fair, no other song could even come close to doing so), it gives him the time and space to show off his effortless range, impressive tone, and boundless charisma. What would likely come off as a half-hearted pick-up-a-girl song in the hands of a weaker artist (more on this later) instead comes off as earnest and sincere, as Eldredge’s delivery makes the narrator a genuinely sympathetic character.

The writing here is well-meaning, but it’s a little too generic for my tastes. The narrator has decided that the woman he has just met is his forever soulmate, and he asks her to show him the things and places that made her the person she is today. While there are a few interesting lines thrown in (my favorite is asking to see “your hand-me-down ’99 Impala”), the images are generally either vague (fields of clover, October harvest) or overdone (where did your parents meet?). I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve heard this song before (and thanks to Rascal Flatts, I have), and if it wasn’t for Eldredge’s performance, the narrator would either come across as impetuous or inauthentic. As it is, the song won’t offend anyone, but it won’t stick in their head for very long either.

Overall, “The Long Way” is an okay song that forces Brett Eldredge to cover for lightweight production and uninteresting lyrics, and while he mostly succeeds, it’s certainly not one of his best singles. I won’t mind hearing this tune on the radio, but I won’t remember it once it’s finished playing.

Rating: 6/10. Could somebody please find Eldredge and Darius Rucker some stronger material to work with?

Song Review: Brett Eldredge, “Somethin’ I’m Good At”

When Brett Eldredge says “get ready to go crazy right here” at the start of “Somethin’ I’m Good At,” he is not kidding.

When Eldredge first gained notoriety in the early 2010s with tracks like “Don’t Ya” and “Beat Of The Music,” he was just another fresh-faced singer cashing in on the Bro-Country wave. (In fact, I remember hearing that “Beat Of The Music” was the No. 1 of 2014 and thinking “Brett who?“) However, as time went on and Eldredge’s true talents became clear (the man turned out to have one of the best, more versatile voices in any genre), the singer seemingly set his sights on a prize much bigger than country music, and began pivoting towards a more pop-oriented, old-school crooner sound along the lines of Harry Connick Jr. (or even Frank freaking Sinatra). “Somethin’ I’m Good At” is a bold statement declaring that Eldredge’s transformation is complete, but one major question remains: Does he still sound good?

Production-wise, this song is primarily driven by a booming set of bass drums, with some electric guitars, tambourine, and even a banjo thrown into the mix as the song goes along. Both the traditional fiddle-and-steel combo and the current drum-machine trend are eschewed here, resulting in a song that sounds more like something out of a Broadway musical or Disney movie than something you’d hear on country song. (Seriously, it’s a horn section short of sounding like a 50s-variety-show throwback.) Despite this, however, the mix has a lot going for it: Its eclectic blend of instruments makes the song stand out from everything else on the radio, and the combination of the drums and the bright tones of the guitars (and especially the banjo) give the song a ton of positive energy, which is built up quickly and maintained throughout the entire song. If you want a challenge, try listening to this song without smiling or tapping your feet to the beat. You can’t do it—the song is just too much fun!

Vocally, Eldredge pulls off the most impressive performance I’ve heard in a long time. This song put him through a series of intense vocal gymnastics, and he manages to stick the landing every time. (Heck, this guy even’s got a good vocal tone when he screams.) He demonstrates his incredible range on command, shows off an above-average flow during the faster verbal portions, and generally puts the voices of everyone else in country music (except maybe Carrie Underwood) to shame. (Oh, and unlike Dustin Lynch, Eldredge sounds like he’s having an absolute blast on this song.)

Lyrically, the song details all the narrator’s failings and failures, but declares that making the woman in his life happy is the one thing he’s good at. The writing is sharp and witty throughout the song (my favorite line is the direction/affection rhyme that references Jack Daniels), and while a lesser artist might botch the delivery and come off looking like a total degenerate, Eldredge does an excellent job selling himself as a lovable loser whose antics would just draw a knowing eye roll from his partner.

Overall, “Somethin’ I’m Good At” is a wild, crazy ride that will brighten your day no matter how thick the clouds above your head are. While some purists will lament this isn’t really a country song, this track is way too much fun to engender the kind of backlash that, say, Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road” does. I thought Eldredge was decent before, but by embracing this bouncy, upbeat, swinging style of pop, I’d say that he, like the narrator in his song, has really found something he’s good at.

Rating: 8/10. Give this one a chance—you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it.