Song Review: Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots”

When George Jones asked “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”, I don’t think this is what he had in mind.

Say what you want about Lane (and I’ve certainly said a lot about him), but you can’t call him unpredictable: Whenever he thinks he needs a hit, he goes to the same old “hit on a girl at the bar” well he’s been drawing from since “Fix” in 2015. (To his credit, he tries to rise above this material, but he struggles to sell it whenever he does: “For Her” only made it to #10 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and “Big, Big Plans” took nearly eighteen months to top the charts.) After no new releases in 2020, Lane was in need of a another hit, and the result is as predictable as it is sad: “Fill Them Boots,” the likely second single off of Lane’s next album, and yet another guy hitting on yet another girl in yet another bar. It’s not interesting, endearing, or even fun—it’s nothing but the latest exhibit in a mounting body of evidence suggesting that Lane should have his country music membership card revoked.

Lane has tried to move beyond the slick, synthetic sound of “Fix,” but unfortunately he’s only made it to the point of sounding exactly like everyone else on the radio. The mix kicks off with a single acoustic guitar and simple mostly-stick drum line, but the chorus brings in the usual electric guitars and a drum machine, and we’re left with the same arrangement everyone else is leaning on these days. However, that isn’t to say there aren’t some improvements here: The instrument tones are brighter and the electric guitars have a bit more texture to their sound, giving the song a more optimistic and hopeful vibe (which might work if someone else were singing the song, but we’ll talk about that later). Unfortunately, these improvements aren’t enough to make the mix stand out from its peers, and the overly-positive vibes feel a little awkward in context (“how great is it that you’re going through a painful breakup, eh?”). Overall, I think Lane’s sound is trending in the right direction, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be right now, and as a result, the listener doesn’t even realize it was playing until it’s over.

Somebody needs to sit Lane down and tell him that there are more ways to become a country superstar than being a creepy dudebro (although admittedly that’s been one of the more-effective tactics over the last decade). There aren’t any technical issues here (he handles some isolated rapid-fire syllable okay, although it’s weird to here someone who was jumping into their falsetto on “Fix” stay deep within their lower range here), but there’s a serious lack of empathy on display during this conversation. The other person is going through a painful breakup, but instead of showing any compassion or sympathy for them, Lane’s attitude is more “hey girl, I’m right here; let’s party and forget about him!” He doesn’t care about the other person’s well-being—he just smells a chance to score with a hot lady on the rebound. Through this lens, the implications that there don’t have to be any strings attached sound less like giving the other person control and more like he’s just in it for the good time and doesn’t really care if anytime comes of the moment or not. Overall, despite his occasional forays into more wholesome subjects, it’s the horny, disingenuous narrator from “Fix” and “I Don’t Know About You” that shines through on this track, and we’ve got enough losers like that in Nashville already.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A guy walks into a bar, sees someone else already drinking, and decides that they are “too fine not to try” approaching and picking up. Sure, the writers try to frame in a chivalrous manner by making the other person a victim of a breakup and having the narrator be up for anything, but that’s not a terribly original angle either, and they undermine the narrator with immature lines like “what you think about a late night turn-it-up,” and the cringiest of all, “hold you like a Dixie cup.” (That “scoot on over” line is a bit too pushy for my tastes as well.) Instead of acknowledging the pain and letting the other person tell their story, the narrator immediately jumps to all the things the pair could do together to put the memory aside, treating said person not like a wounded soul but as an easy mark for a pickup line. Even worse, the suggested activities are the same drink-and-party tactics that these meatheaded bros use even when there’s not a breakup—it’s the same old song with a slightly different context, a weak hook, and no story beyond the initial setup. In other words, there’s nothing to hear here, and the listener tunes out the whole mess before the second verse.

“Fill Them Boots” winds up being an empty song, with no emotion, no substance, and no reason to pay attention. The sound is cookie-cutter, the lyrics are half-baked, and Chris Lane is absolutely terrible in the role of a sympathetic narrator that totally has the other person’s best interests at heart. At this point, I’ve had my fill of Lane’s boots and I’m tired of putting up with his shenanigans—he’s flashed some talent in the past, but if he’s going to keep creeping on people in bars and dropping stinkbombs like this track on us, I don’t want him anywhere near my stereo. There are way better artists looking for a spot in Nashville right now, so Lane needs to take a hike and not let the door hit him on the way out (and take Dustin Lynch with him when he goes).

Rating: 4/10. Next!

Song Review: Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans”

Is it just me, or does something sound a little…off with this track?

Chris Lane isn’t exactly known for quality tracks: His breakthrough song “Fix” serves as a pretty good summary of everything we couldn’t stand about the Metropolitan era, and his most-recent single “I Don’t Know About You” (his first No. 1 since “Fix”) is one of the reasons I’m worried the Metro-Bro sound is starting to make a comeback. Still, “For Her” demonstrated that Lane had the ability to produce emotional material that was actually convincing, even if the approach (the song peaked at #10 on Billboard’s airplay chart) wasn’t quite as successful in the marketplace. Now, however, Lane is making a surprise move by dropping his Laps Around The Sun album after only two singles and bringing out “Big, Big Plans” as the presumed leadoff single for an unannounced third project. The song falls somewhere between the extremes of his discography thus far: I like the sentiment and detail here, but there’s something about the sound and the vocals that doesn’t sound right here, and it keeps me from giving it too heavily of a recommendation.

The more I listen to this song, the more the production feels like an awkward fit for the subject. The pieces present here seem innocent enough: An acoustic guitar drives the melody forward, the drums are real and not terribly intrusive, and there a surprisingly amount of steel guitar sprinkled into the mix. The overall arrangement, however, just doesn’t feel right: The instrument tones feel a lot darker than they should for a song this forward-looking and optimistic, the frequent minor chords detract from the atmosphere, the percussion line gets a bit too busy and distracting at points, and there’s a stray audio effect floating around in the background that’s messing with the steel guitar and making it sound distorted and unsettling. (There’s also something⁠—a keyboard perhaps?⁠—that’s floating around creating some spacious background noise that feels a bit out of place as well.) For a momentous and celebratory occasion like a marriage proposal, this mix feels too tepid and restrained to really fit the moment, and leaves the listener feeling nonplussed about the whole thing.

I never thought more Chris Lane would be the solution to anything, but he doesn’t bring the energy and enthusiasm he needs for this song, and settles for putting periods on sentences that deserve exclamation points. Technically, his performance is fine: His range is barely tested, he’s got enough flow to effortlessly handle the faster portions of the lyrics, and there’s even a earnest feel to his delivery that I didn’t expect, a solid display of charisma that at least convinces the audience that he likes the other person. Just like the production, however, Lane comes across as far too matter-of-fact for a guy that’s about to pop the question, and rather than being excited at the prospect of a future together with his soulmate, he seems almost nonchalant about the whole thing, making whether or not he loves the other person more uncertain than it should. It’s nowhere near as bad (or slimy) as “I Don’t Know About You,” but it’s also a far cry from “For Her, ” and in the end it’s that lack of exuberance that leaves the biggest impression on the listener.

It’s too bad Lane and his producer couldn’t get themselves revved up for this song, because the writing is actually pretty good here. At its core, there’s nothing groundbreaking here: The narrator is about to pop the question to their significant other, and his mind is running wild over the “big, big plans” he’s got for their life together. The exotic travel, the parental permission, the “little house out on some hand-me-down land”…we’ve all heard these things a million times before. The key things that separate this from the slicker tracks we’ve been getting a lot of lately are the level of detail and commitment that we see. The significant other is fully fleshed out in the opening verse, the ring is given enough time to let us visualize its sparkle, and even some quick addition like “hand-me-down land” add a bit of flavor to the scene. The “big, big plans” also give us a good sense of the depth of the narrator’s feelings: Rather than being a short-term companion, the song takes great pains to convince us that there are real feeling behind the romance here, and the narrator is willing to stake the rest of their life behind them. Unlike songs like “Take Back Home Girl” or “I Don’t Know About You,” the words don’t ring hollow here, and that’s a step in the right direction, even if nothing else follows its lead.

“Big, Big Plans” is really just a small, small step for Chris Lane, but at least it’s a step back towards respectability. The writing is pretty solid, but the production and vocals don’t do enough to really set the mood, and the tempered atmosphere tempers my enthusiasm for the track. I’ll take it for now, but I’d like to hear more from Lane before I anoint him as more of a boon for country music than a bane.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a shot and see what you think.

Song Review: Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You”

Chris Lane: The poster boy for stranger danger since 2015.

Much like Dylan Scott, Lane seems to be treading water in a sea of faceless young male country artists, desperately searching for a solid foothold in the genre. Since his Metro-Bro breakthrough hit “Fix” in 2015, Lane has struggled to maintain his relevance, with the actually-decent “For Her” taking over a year just to reach #10 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and his forgettable Tori Kelly collab “Take Back Home Girl” only marginally improving on that showing (it made it to #8, and still took ten-and-a-half months to do it). Now, as he faced a sink-or-swim moment in his career, Lane and his team decided to go back to their “winning” formula and release “I Don’t Know About You” as the second single from his Laps Around The Sun album. The song is basically “Fix” without the drug references or unfounded narrator confidence, and winds up having no memorable (or redeemable) qualities at all.

The bright, echoey opening guitars give the listener a brief sense of hope…which is immediately crushed when the effect is cleaned up and the synthetic beat and clap track jump in, and the mix turns into the same sanitized guitar-and-drum arrangement everybody else leans on (complete with the eventual introduction of real drums and an uninspired guitar solo, although the latter sounds like it was stolen from a porn video). The slower tempo and simple I-V-vi-IV chord structure leave the song with absolutely zero energy (which was the one thing “Fix” brought to the table), and while the mix tries to set a serious tone, it overshoots the mark and comes across as melancholy and depressed, clashing violently with the writing’s underlying message of”let’s get out of this bar and make out.” (Seriously, by the sound of it, hanging out with the narrator is the opposite of a good time.) In other words, the production here is generic, an awkward fit for the subject matter, and overall just a complete mess.

Lane must have been through a lot since “Fix,” because the cocky, cheerful narrator from that tune has been replaced by a lethargic narrator who just sounds more tired than anything else. His range isn’t tested here (which is a bit of a shame; his falsetto is decent and about the only thing distinct about his voice), the tempo doesn’t push his flow at all, and when given the choice of sounding gentlemanly or creepy, Lane chooses door #3 and winds up sounding weary and defeated, like he expects the other person will reject his advances. Instead of elevating the narrator and writing, Lane weighs them down so much with his gloomy attitude that even Eeyore is telling him to lighten up.

Tell us something we didn’t know, Chris. (Original images from Pinterest and Billboard)

Instead of passing a romantic or emotional vibe onto the listener, Lane makes them wonder if he has any more faith in the song than he does in his pickup lines. Either way, it’s not something I’m interested in revisiting.

Lyrically, the song makes a halfhearted attempt to pull the wool over our eyes: The narrator opens with some lame excuses about not usually being here this early and not usually talking to strangers, and then immediately peppers the other person with questions about their life, as if this is the first person the narrator has seen in twenty years. It’s all mean to look like thoughtful inquiry and signal that the narrator has serious interest in everything about the other person, but in the second verse the narrator reveals the real reason behind their advance:

I don’t know about you
We can dip, we can slip out of the back
Leave the scene put your feet on my dash
Find a spot past the railroad tracks and never look back

Yep, it’s just another one of those tunes, and the narrator is just another one of those meatheads who’s just looking for a hot partner to get it on with. There may not be any explicit objectification going on here, but you know darn well what’s going through the narrator mind (and it’s not “what’s your sign?”). Part of me thinks I should be offended that the writers thought the audience would fall for such a terrible bait-and-switch, but honestly, it’s like watching an incompetent cartoon burglar stumble through a bank robbery: Nothing’s really going to happen, and everybody in the room knows it. Most likely the target of this charade saw right through it, and they shut the narrator down with either a sharp “no” or a drink to the face.

Beyond that, there’s nothing really unique or interesting here: The setting, the drinking, the evening drives…most everything from the Bro checklist can be found somewhere in the song. It’s a generic wolf in the world’s most ill-fitting sheep costume, and it doesn’t offer the listener any reason to pay attention.

2019 has been a year of extremes in country music thus far: There’s a lot of quality out there, but there’s also a surprising number of unwelcome Bro-Country retreads getting foisted onto the public, and “I Don’t Know About You” falls squarely in the latter category. In fact, it’s probably the worst retread I’ve heard so far, as it combines all the usual tropes and topics you expect from such a song with a depression mix, an uninspired Chris Lane, and a lyrical fake-out that’s more obvious than that basketball wannabe you met at the Y who always pump-fakes the first time. “I don’t know about you,” but it all adds up to a song that I’d prefer to skip.

Rating: 3/10. No thank you.

Song Review: Chris Lane ft. Tori Kelly, “Take Back Home Girl”

Hello, is this Youtube? Yes, I’d like to “Take Back” this song for a refund of my time.

While I actually liked Chris Lane’s last single “For Her,” radio never really warmed to the track, and it only notched a #10 airplay peak over a year after its release. With all the momentum from his debut #1 “Fix” squandered, Lane and his team closed the book on his debut album Girl Problems after just two singles, and brought American Idol alum Tori Kelly out of the witness protection program to join forces with Lane on his new single “Take Back Home Girl.” The result is a slick, synthetic single that’s more forgettable than anything else.

The production has a manufactured feel to it, with a choppy, affected electric guitar carrying the melody and a mixture of real and fake drums (primarily the latter) providing the foundation. The verses are actually pretty sparse save for an occasional organ, which later combines with some other spacious-sounding instruments (possibly a steel guitar? It’s really hard to tell) to add some atmosphere to the choruses. The tempo is relatively relaxed, but (like seemingly every song I’ve reviewed recently) it’s plagued by minor chords that make its vibe much more serious than it should be. Overall, the sound is neither offensive nor memorable, and doesn’t leave much of an impression on the listener.

Lane is a decent vocalist in his own right, but this song is about as bad a fit for him as you could fine. Lane’s secret weapon that sets him apart from his contemporaries is his impressive falsetto, which he used to great effect on “For Her.” This song, however, keeps Lane trapped in his lower range, and he sounds rougher and less comfortable as a result. Kelly comes as the stronger vocalist of the two, as the song suits her voice better and she sounds much better in a harmony role than Lane does. The pair’s vocal chemistry is hard to discern, as Lane has to go way outside of his comfort zone to match Kelly’s tone. Throw in all the vocal effects the producers buried the pair in and the slight volume imbalance between the vocals and production (the voices are a shade too loud), and I’m left feeling ambivalent about the pair’s performance.

The writing here feels a lot lazier and sleazier than it should be, as the whole thing boils down to laundry-list verses with a chorus full of “You’re an XYZ!” declarations. Consider the first verse:

Duffle bag, backseat
My dash, your feet
Those other side of the highway headlights making you shine
My hand, your leg
Playlist playing
Even though I haven’t made it yet
I’m dragging it, dropping it in my mind

Not exactly Robert Frost, is it?

Unlike Brett Eldredge’s “The Long Way,” which takes a classier “show-me-what-made-you-who-you-are” approach, “Take Back Home Girl” flips the dynamic and depicts the guy showing his girl off to all the people in his hometown. The song gives off a uncomfortable, slightly voyeuristic vibe similar to Dustin Lynch’s “I’d Be Jealous Too,” and lines like “My little crowd pleaser/Parading with you feeling homecoming cool” feel downright creepy, like the guy is just basking in the adoration of his friends and neighbors over how hot a girl he scored. While the song does feature some unique imagery (making breakfast with the narrator’s mama, for example), it also features a few classic Bro tropes (nighttime drives, Friday night lights) that counteract whatever cleverness the song tries to show off. In the end, it’s just not that pleasant to hear.

Overall, “Take Back Home Girl” is an annoying song that is overproduced, poorly written, and squanders the vocal talents of Chris Lane and Tori Kelly in favor of a failed attempt to make a respectable Bro-Country song. (It’s not quite Dustin Lynch bad, but it’s close.) Lane better find some highly-quality material soon, or the next time he takes someone back home, Nashville will tell him not to come back.

Rating: 4/10. Don’t bother with this one.

Song Review: Chris Lane, “For Her”

Here’s a word problem for you: What does Bro-Country minus its “Bro” equal? The answer is Chris Lane’s “For Her,” and it’s honestly a better sounding result than I expected.

Lane arrived onto the music scene with “Fix,” a slick Metropolitan track based around the overused love-as-a-drug trope, and featured such Shakespearean poetry as “I’m more than recreational” and “get you fallin’ in love at the end of the night with that good ish.” (Naturally, the song ended up being a No. 1 smash.) Both Lane’s performance and the song’s production were decent, but neither managed to overcame the absurdity of the writing. In selecting “For Her” as the follow-up single, it seems that someone at Lane’s label came to the same conclusion.

From a production standpoint, “For Her” sounds like a generic Bro-Country anthem, complete with loud guitars, synthetic beats, and the token banjo that slowly rolls along in the background. (There are hints are a steel-guitar-sounding instrument at certain points, however.) You get a strong Florida-Georgia Line vibe while listening to this song, which is surprisingly part of the song’s genius: You expect the usual objectifying, “hey girl, let’s get drunk and make out” drivel that usually comes along with songs like this, but instead the lyrics take you in an unexpected (but very welcome) direction.

It’s not the words themselves that catch your attention—the song is a standard, slightly-generic ode to the narrator’s special someone; nothing is particularly witty or clever here. Rather, it’s what not there that makes this song stand out: There are no references to sex, alcohol, or booty-shaking, and the word “girl” never appears at all. Instead, we get a more-mature (albeit a bit vague) take on love, one that focuses less on the physical aspects of romance and more on the emotional and spiritual components. It’s a surprising yet refreshing take on the Bro-Country sound, and one that I’d like to hear more of in the future.

For his part, Lane does a great job of making the song feel heartfelt and believable, and delivers a strong vocal performance that showcases his impressive range and charisma. (Seriously, Lane may have the best falsetto this side of Adam Levine.) I wasn’t sure how much staying power he would have after “Fix,” but the fact that he can pull off both the sleazy narrator of his debut single and the thoughtful one of “For Her” makes me think he’ll stick around for a while.

Overall, “For Her” is a pretty good song, and not at all what I expected from Chris Lane. If this is what the future of Bro-Country sounds like, I am totally on board with it.

Rating: 6/10. If you wrote Lane off after “Fix,” I’d suggest giving him a second chance. You may be surprised at what you hear.