Unfortunately for Darius Rucker, fires need fuel to start, and there’s nothing here to burn.
Rucker certainly deserves some props for building a fifteen-year career in Nashville following a pivot from Hootie and the Blowfish, but after “My Masterpiece” was summarily ignored in 2021 and a pair of 2022 single releases didn’t chart at all, you had to wonder if Music City was pushing him towards a retirement with fellow fifty-somethings Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. McGraw wasn’t done, however, and it seems that Rucker isn’t either, as he’s now released his own new single “Fires Don’t Start Themselves.” Sadly, this song is another failed attempt at a country music sex jam, a track that fails to set the proper mood and puts everyone involved in an awkward position.
The production here just screams “wasted potential.” It seems like the original idea was to cash in on 90s nostalgia and give the song a retro feel with a fiddle, steel guitar, and a Hammond organ, but for the most part these instruments are buried in the background of the mix (only the fiddle gets any notable screen time at all), blended into a wall of noise behind the same old guitars and drums that define the modern meta. The guitars have a retro tint to their tone as well, for the most part they strike a neutral tone and don’t create a romantic atmosphere—instead, it tries to take the minor chord angle (which can work, but not if it’s only done halfway as it’s done here) and generates a vibe that’s more ominous and foreboding than anything else. It’s a mix that just isn’t sensuous or fun enough to draw listeners to the song, and given what the producer had to work with, that’s a darn shame.
Rucker is a talented and experienced vocalist, but this song puts him in a really awkward position. For one thing, the verses drive him deep into his lower range, and he loses most of his vocal tone when he drops down that far. (He occasionally sounds a bit strained in his upper range as well, making me feel like this was a really bad song choice for him overall.) I think he could pull off a song like this, but he comes across a bit too neutral to sell the narrator’s role, and isn’t able to share whatever passion he feels with the listener. (He’s also fighting the other pieces of the track the whole way, especially the wall of noise underpinning the sound, and he isn’t able to set the mood properly as a result.) It’s just kind of a so-so performance overall that doesn’t encourage the audience to stay tuned in, which isn’t great when you’re trying to break out of the kind of slump that Rucker’s in right now. Just like with the production, when you’re working with a vocalist this skilled, this feels like a squandered opportunity.
The lyrics here are a pretty standard sex jam: Both partners have been working hard for so long, and they’re ready to engage in some heavy lovemaking now that they have a spare moment. What really strikes me about this song is just how awkward some of the phrases sound: “Pull the Conway off of the shelf” makes it sound like Mr. Twitty is a brand of whiskey (which is probably what they wanted to use, but they’d just finished the bottle of wine at the start of the chorus), saying someone “just fits like the shirt that I got on” feels like the most awkward compliment ever, and the “fires don’t start themselves” hook is a lifeless line that just lets all the air out of the chorus. The descriptions and actions here are too cookie-cutter to grab the listener’s attention, and aren’t spicy enough to generate any real passion or romance. In other words, it’s exactly like every other sex jam Nashville has shoved in our faces, and it’s no more successful than any of the others.
As a song, “Fires Don’t Start Themselves” is more sad than sensual because it feels like it had the potential to be so much more. The production has some interesting pieces that are criminally underused, Darius Rucker is a good singer who gets put in a tough position, and the writing is underwhelming at best and flaccid at worst. Given his current status, Rucker and his team really needed to go big here to get him back into the country music conversation, and instead they chose to follow the crowd, sneak back onto the radio, and hope their promotional team can push it into the Top Ten by the end of the year. Rucker deserves better than this, but he’s going to need material that’s better than this to keep his mainstream career afloat.
Rating: 5/10. *yawn*