Okay, this is the Maddie & Tae we all expected to see.
“Friends Don’t” was an absolute mess of a song, and radio mostly gave it the silent treatment, forcing it to limp its way to an awful #33 peak on Billboard’s airplay chart. Three years removed from the pair even getting a glimpse of the Top Ten, such a mediocre showing would normally have brought down the curtain on the careers of Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the dumpster: The meta of the genre started to shift in a more-traditional direction, favoring a sound that the pair had championed early in their career and sat squarely in their wheelhouse. This shift meant that instead of a boot out the door, Maddie & Tae got a stay of execution, a shiny new EP, and a second chance with their follow-up single “Die From A Broken Heart.” The track is a return to form for M&T, with a restrained, comfortable feel to it now that everything is pulling in the same direction.
The production, which seemed to be working at cross purposes with the writing on “Friends Don’t,” is much more suitable and complementary this time around. It’s a fairly restrained arrangement overall, driven primarily by an acoustic guitar and a light-touch drum set and backed up with some steel guitar stabs and mandolin riffs. Unlike the cold, creepy vibe their last arrangement had, this one is warmer and comforting, as if it’s trying to comfort the narrator as much as their mother is in the lyrics. The minor chords are still here, but they’re mostly outnumbered in this I-IV-vi-V-IV structure and drowned out by the brighter tones of the instruments themselves. It’s a bit of a throwback to their last Top Ten hit “Fly,” and seems like a much better fit for everyone and everything involved.
Vocally, you probably couldn’t find a better singer for a track like this than Marlow, which is the exact opposite of what she seemed to be on “Friends Don’t.” This time around, not only does her range fit the song’s key perfectly and her earnest charisma allow her to play the narrator’s role with aplomb, her youth and relative inexperience give her added gravitas in the part. The word that keeps popping into my mind when listening to this is relatable: Perhaps we haven’t all been devastated by a breakup like this one, but many of us have made calls like this before (that darn door still doesn’t close right), and the emotion and subtle panic in Marlow’s delivery does a nice job connecting with the audience and bringing those same feelings to the forefront along with her. (I wouldn’t call Dye’s harmony terribly groundbreaking or interesting, but she’s got excellent vocal chemistry with Marlow and really gives the lead vocals some added depth and texture.) I feel for this narrator, and compared to how little I’ve felt for some narrators lately (LoCash, Adam Craig, even Carrie Underwood), this is definitely a step in the right direction.
The lyrics paint a picture of the narrator on the phone with their mother, looking for some shred of reassurance that they will be able to rebound from a not-so-mutual parting. Lamenting lost love is one of the foundational topics of country music and certainly not a novel one, but it’s the way the other details are delivered that really make this interesting. The way the breakup was framed as part of more-mundane requests like laundry or home renovation tips, combined with the sense of chaos and anxiety weaved into the words of someone in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation like this, really works to make the narrator more interesting and sympathetic. I also really liked the way some of the breakup effects were imagined as medical conditions: blowing out a knee by “praying so hard,” going blind “from crying in the dark,” and of course, wondering if you can “die from a broken heart.” I’ve certainly made a few of those “hey, is this serious/contagious/life-threatening?” calls before, and it strengthens the ties between the audience and the character while underlining the serious nature of the relationship. (Also, the line about the father and the pistol was really funny.) It’s a really well-written song, and it’s executed to perfection by Maddie & Tae and their producer.
“Die From A Broken Heart” showcases the Maddie & Tae that people were raving about back in the “Girl In A Country Song” era, and the genre winds have shifted just enough to make me think they might be on to something here. The production is sentimental without feeling sappy, the duo breathes life in the narrator without trying to oversell them, and the writing puts the whole thing in a familiar, conversational context that can appeal to a wide audience. Maddie & Tae have something good on their hands here, and while it’s too early to tell if it can overcome country music’s chronic allergy to female artists, it’s got as good a shot as anything else I’ve heard lately.
Rating: 7/10. Not bad at all.