Song Review: Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me”

I was kind of hoping country music would make a New Year resolution to avoid songs like this…

Chayce Beckham is a California native whose claim to fame is winning season 19 of American Idol last year, debuting a few original songs such as “23” (no, not that “23”) and winning a record deal from 19 Recordings. “23” was released as a digital download but not as a radio single; instead, 19 jumped on the collaboration trend and brought in Canadian artist Lindsay Ell (whose only stateside success was on the Brantley Gilbert collab “What Happens In A Small Town”) for yet another attempt at a country sex jam with “Can’t Do Without You.” I’ve been pleading with country music to knock it off with these songs for a while now, and this one is no better than all the others, with a sound too dark and ominous to feel sexy and two performances that are too weak and cookie-cutter to feel deep and passionate.

The production here is a slight extension of the typical guitar-and-drum formula, but its main failure is that it just doesn’t set a proper mood for the writing. The electric guitars, drums, and keyboards are the same ones you hear on every track right now, right down to their darker tones and the ominous atmosphere they create, but there’s a steel guitar that gets enough screen time to leave its mark on the mix (also its influence seems to wane as the track goes on). The slightly-faster tempo is at least an attempt to create a sense of anticipation for the lovemaking that the narrators are working towards, but I’ve never liked how country producers try to use danger as a substitute for actual emotion and passion, and as a result that song just doesn’t have the sensual feel that it needs to succeed. Additionally, even when compared to a rawer-but-mediocre track like Cole Swindell and Lainey Wilson’s “Never Say Never,” the mix here lacks the edge or punch to drive home its message and sell its attempt at sexiness, and thus the audience is unmoved by the story or the sound. I really wish that this genre would either find a new formula for sex jams or just walk away and leave them to the professionals, because I don’t see this drivel getting anyone in the mood.

I would describe Beckham’s voice as Lee Brice with a bit of Gilbert’s raspiness sprinkled in, and while neither he nor Ell run into any technical issues on the track, there’s something missing that keeps the pair from connecting with their audience. There’s urgency in their delivery, but there’s also a lack of power and emphasis that makes their lines feel more muted and restrained than they should. It’s like there’s a pane of glass between the singers and the listener: You get a sense of the narrators’ passion, but neither Beckham nor Ell can break through and really make you feel it, and you’re left with two people who are both incredibly horny and incredibly uninteresting. The vocal chemistry between the two artists is “meh” at best, and Ell in particular seems stuck in a lower range that keeps her from applying whatever power and emotion she might have. (Back in my “Criminal” review, I said that Ell’s “effective range is incredibly limited, especially on the lower end, and her voice lacks tone and power on the verses and bridge as a result,” and while she took a step forward on “I Don’t Love You,” she falls back into the same trap here.) I think finding a different duet partner instead of trying to cram Ell’s voice into Beckham’s range would have been a better play, but honestly neither artist acquits themselves well here, and the song does little more than exist because of it.

The lyrics here boil down to two people who just want to get together and have sex, nothing more and nothing less. The songs uses evocative phrases like “burning up them sheets” and leans on fire-and-lightning imagery to create a sense of danger, but they do little to make the song feel sensual—these are just two people looking for a quick release rather than anything emotional or meaningful. Heck, the song never gives us the sense that these people are even in love at all—the word doesn’t actually appear in the lyrics! Strangely enough, we don’t get to see the release either, as the song is all anticipation but no climax: The narrators say they can’t wait to do things, but they never actually get to do those things. Instead, we’re abruptly cut off at the hook with “doing all those things that you can’t do without me.” This track suffers from a lot of the issues we’ve documented in recent love songs: It comes across as impulsive and ephemeral instead of deep and everlasting, and it’s based purely on physical attraction instead of an emotional connection that suggests that this is part of a larger romance. You’ve heard this sort of song a million time before, and this ones adds nothing to the conversation.

“Can’t Do Without Me” is yet another misguided and failed attempt by country music to a) create a sensual sex jam that actually feels sensual and sexy, and b) to debut a new promising artist to the general public. Chayce Beckham isn’t the incredible vocal talent that Carrie Underwood or Scotty McCreery is, but you can’t win American Idol without having something that resonates with the people, and songs like “23” indicate that the man is capable of creating and telling deeper and more-personal stories. Instead, Beckham gets shoved into a one-size-fits-all mold by the Nashville machine, paired with Lindsay Ell with little regard for how they sound together, and is made to sing a boring song that conforms neatly to the country music meta without doing anything to push or change it. It’s not really the way I wanted to start 2022, but I suppose we’ve still got twelve months to convince Music City to change (or at least slightly alter) their ways.

Rating: 5/10. You can live without hearing this one.