Song Review: Rayne Johnson, “Front Seat”

What’s the point of lying if you can’t even keep up the charade for three freaking minutes?

Rayne Johnson is an Ohio native who (according to his website) is a member of “the new class of emerging modern country artist that can mix a little soul, a little pop with a whole lot of down home goodness.” In other words, say hello to the latest faceless young male artist that, despite not yet landing a deal with a major label, looks and sounds exactly like the other acts rolling off of Nashville’s assembly line. Technically this thin isn’t supposed to hit the charts until next year, but it’s gotten enough pre-release airplay to crack the Mediabase Top 50, which means it’s about to take its turn under my microscope. Frankly, I don’t like what I see here: This is at best just another Boyfriend country song, with one major caveat: It spends over half the song trying to mislead the public about the narrator’s intentions, only to eventually give up and reveal an unimaginative and utterly predictable scheme to steal someone else’s girlfriend. I don’t like being lied to (even when I see it coming a mile away), and I don’t like this song.

If you’ve heard never this song, take a minute and just imagine what the production might sound like. I’m guessing what pops into your head sounds pretty much like we get here: A piano-driven melody (because this is a serious song, by gosh!), an unapologetically-synthetic percussion line (some real drums appear about halfway through the track, a string section in the background, some simple guitar riffs tossed in for…reasons. It tries to create a wholesome and gentlemanly vibe about this supposedly-nice speaker, but mostly it just bores the listener to death with its plodding tempo, limited punch, and complete lack of anything that would make it stand out from the crowd (not to mention it feels completely disingenuous when the heel turn arrives). This is a slick, slightly-overproduced mix that sounds like every other song in this vein that you’ve ever heard, and for an artist trying to distinguish themselves and break into the mainstream, this is a really bad sign.

The one thing that impresses me about Johnson’s voice is how I can’t seem to come up with a specific comparison for it, and yet it feels like I’ve heard this guy a hundred zillion times in the past. I get a strong ‘generic early-2000s pop artist’ vibe from him, and while his range, flow, and power are enough to satisfy the demands of the song, the song doesn’t really stress any of these elements too much. This is a song that relies heavily on the artist’s charm and charisma to connect with its audience, and frankly, I don’t see too much of either quality in Johnson’s performance. Instead of feeling natural and genuine, it comes across as forced and a little over-the-top (which is partially the writing’s fault), setting off the listener’s BS detector and leaving them unsurprised when the truth finally comes to light. Overall, there’s nothing particularly notable about Johnson’s delivery, and if you put any member of the current Boyfriend country crop behind the mic, this track would sound the exact same. Again, this is not a good look for an artist that’s currently on the outside looking in.

The above issues are concerning, but it’s the lyrics that really infuriate me on this track. At annoying as many of these songs are, at least they’re kinda-sorta upfront about their intentions: The narrator runs into somebody, decides that the pair are soulmates, and spends the rest of the song gushing over them in an attempt to bring them around to the narrator’s point of view. Here, however, the narrator tries to present themselves as a neutral third party observing that the other person’s current partner is treating them like an afterthought, and while they say that the other person deserves a partner that will put them in the “front seat,” he also explicitly declares multiple times that “I ain’t saying you belong with me.” However, we’ve heard enough tracks like this to know better, and sure enough, by the time we finish the bridge, the narrator proclaims that they are saying “you belong with me,” and it’s their front seat the other person should be sitting in, throwing their credibility through a paper shredder in the process. This is just another meatheaded dudebro trying to break apart an existing relationship for their own breakup, and the reveal casts doubt on their entire argument: Is the woman really getting kicked to the back seat? Is the woman’s current partner really ignoring them? Personally, I’m not ready to take this guy’s word for it.

“Front Seat” deserves to be tossed out of the passenger-side window, because it’s a steaming pile of garbage even by Boyfriend country standards. As irritating as I find “10,000 Hours” and “Kinfolks,” at least Dan + Shay + Biebs and Sam Hunt had the guts to come right out and say what was on their mind. Here, the lyrics try and hide behind faux chivalry and empty platitudes which Rayne Johnson absolutely fails to sell, and the production only succeeds at putting the audience to sleep. I don’t know what Johnson is hoping to accomplish with this track, but I don’t see him breaking into the Nashville establishment like this. The suits on Music Row have enough of their own shills to do this kind of work for them.

I ain’t sayin’ this song belongs in the garbage…oh wait, yes I am.

Rating: 3/10. Blech.