Something feels off about this song…but whether it’s a good or a bad thing is a larger question.
While lurking in the gaming sphere as I do, you run into the concept of “the meta” a lot—that is, there is some combination of characters/items/weapons/etc. that (in theory) gives you the best chance for succeeding in top-tier competition. In music, the meta manifests in the form of “trends” that we constantly complain about: An artist has to sound a certain way or sing about certain topics to give themselves the shot of finding traction on the radio.
How powerful is the Nashville meta right now? Consider the curious case of Clay Walker, a 52-year-old hat act whose peak was roughly twenty-five years ago and who pretty much disappeared from the genre in the 2010s. The man has reemerged in the last few years, however, with both “Need A Bar Sometimes” and now “Catching Up With An Old Memory” both sneaking onto the Mediabase charts (although the former didn’t go anywhere, and I don’t think this one will either). As someone who really enjoyed this artist back in the 1990s, I can’t listen to his latest single without getting a “not my Clay Walker” vibe, and it’s more than a feeling: This is a man changing with the times in an attempt to stay relevant, and while I wouldn’t call it necessarily bad, the current meta just doesn’t resonate with me, and thus this song doesn’t either.
Let’s start with the positives, which is that Walker still sounds pretty good despite his age. He seems to have found the presence and power that was missing on “Need A Bar Sometimes,” and holds up well when pit against his earlier work. He delivery can feel a bit rote and deliberate when going through the chorus, but generally he’s able to convey his emotions in a way that listeners can really feel, which is something a lot of newer artists seem to struggle with. The most interesting part of his performance is just how positive it is for what’s ostensibly a heartbreak song: Walker gives no indication of blame and regret, and instead gives us the impression that his occasional strolls down memory lane are actually enjoyable. I give artists grief all the time for dwelling on the past and trading on nostalgia, but for Walker this longing doesn’t come across as an all-encompassing thing (of course the writing gets an assist here; more on that later). Basically, Walker is the only reason you might tune in to a song like this, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t have a stronger supporting cast.
So about that supporting cast: From a production standpoint, Walker burst onto the scene back in the fiddle-and-steel, neotraditional 90s, and it’s the sound I associate with his best work. This arrangement, on the other hand, feels like a leftover from the Boyfriend country era, opening with some synth tones, Grady Smith’s favorite snap track, and a choppy instrument that I honestly can’t place by ear, all framed with echoey effects in an attempt to create a more spacious, arena-ready sound. A steel guitar eventually gets a few words in (and even gets a prolonged feature on the bridge solo), but otherwise this is the same slick sort of sound you might find one the many failed sex jams Nashville has tried to sell us recently. The mix’s generally-dark tones put it at odds with Walker’s attempt to put a positive spin on the predicament, and outside of the bridge solo there’s nothing here that you couldn’t find in ten other places on the airwaves right now. I get that artists have to update their sound with the times, but something just feels off about pairing Walker with this kind of mix, and conforming to the sort of bland background noise that’s apparently all the rage just doesn’t feel like the right move. You might as well move along, because there’s nothing to hear here.
The writing here is a bit of a mixed bag, as it tells the tale of a narrator who occasionally has to “catch up with an old memory” and reminisce about the good times with a former partner. On one hand, the writers go to great pains to set the boundaries of this behavior: It’s an occasional pastime that the narrator actually enjoys in partaking in, not an all-consuming force that driver to narrator to numb their feelings every night (“I ain’t hidin’ or lyin’ or tryin’ to drown any pain”). On the other hand, however, the writers don’t bother to share any details about the relationship besides it being “wild and on fire,” making it hard for the audience to know if the relationship is really worth remembering, and thus making it hard to them to justify staying tuned in. It’s also hard to tell if the narrator’s statements are truthful, because their behavior (sitting around drinking by themselves) is indistinguishable from someone who is trying not to catch up with an old memory. (The hook is also super clunky and seems to have to many syllables for the song’s meter.) There might have been some potential, but it feels like the song needs a few more drafts and a lot more detail to realize it—as it is, it’s all on Walker to sell the story by himself.
“Catching Up With An Old Memory” is just another unremarkable song whose only success is reminding people that Clay Walker still exists and is a pretty good vocalist. He’s not able to elevate the song thanks to its soundalike production and half-baked writing, but sadly said production and writing are a feature of the current Nashville meta rather than a bug, and this is the sort of game you have to play to get into the mainstream country conversation today. Every era has its house rules, but rather than label it good or bad, the word that comes to mind for me is uninspired, a minimal-necessary effort to check a few boxes, fit the provided template, and maybe throw a minor curveball in the mix to get your song on the right playlists. For my money, I’d rather catch up with Walker’s old discography instead.
Rating: 5/10. Nothing to see here, folks.