Wow, I don’t remember Brothers Osborne being this boring.
The pair asked people to “Shoot Me Straight” on their last single, so here goes: As highly as people speak of TJ and John, it’s time to bestow the dreaded “one-hit wonder” label upon them. Ever since their breakout hit “Stay A Little Longer” in 2015, country radio has consistently shot them down, with the #28 airplay peak of “Straight” being their worst showing since their debut single in 2013. Now, the brothers are waving the white flag, dropping their hard-driving, outlaw-esque style for a more contemporary sound for their latest release “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You).” It’s the closest they’ve come to re-creating their 2015 hit since its release. but they removed everything that was interesting about their music in the process, and we’re left with a plodding, lifeless song that doubles as a substitute for Ambien.
The production here is way more restrained than you’d expect from a Brothers Osborne, opening with a quiet acoustic guitar, some affected mandolin stabs, and a decidedly not-hard-driving drum set. The choruses turn up the drums and add an electric guitar borrowed from Van Zant for some added volume, but unfortunately the noise is the only thing you get (and even that isn’t much). This track has absolutely zero energy to it, and the mix makes the track sound more like a lullaby than a heartfelt romantic ballad. With its melancholy instrument tones and frequent minor chords, you won’t even realize this is a love song unless you’re listening carefully, which you won’t be doing thanks to the song’s sleepy vibe. (Even the guitar solo work feels halfhearted and lethargic, suggesting that John Osborne was actively trying to dial back his axe to soften its blow.) In short, this mix is neither memorable nor interesting, and it fails to get its intended message out to its audience.
Similarly, in taking the edge off of his delivery TJ Osborne turns himself into a dull, monotonous vocalist, and he lulls the listener to sleep long before they have a chance to care about what he has to say. The narrator questions whether or not they were alive before meeting their significant other, but Osborne’s flat, apathetic performance makes me question if they were alive after they met either. I hesitate to call the performance “mailed-in,” but in trying to match the tone of the production and make the track feel more romantic, Osborne plays to his weaknesses rather than his strengths, and despite his distinct tone and decent technical skills, he just doesn’t feel earnest or believable in this role. In truth, the song is a poor fit for TJ, and probably should have been left as an album cut rather than a single.
In a vacuum, the lyrics here aren’t terrible: The narrator is reflecting on the hard, shallow “life” they lived before they entered their current relationship, and can’t even recall how they existed before now. The problem is that the song focuses on philosophical and existential questions that are bland and high-level by design (the narrator wasn’t really living his life, after all), and unlike many tracks in this lane, its lacks any details about the narrator’s past that might catch the listener’s ear and draw them in. (For example, the narrator “heard he was a wild one,” but outside of the “last-call stranger” line, the listener doesn’t hear anything to that effect.) In other words, the song is intentionally boring, and thus needs a lot of help from the singer and the sound to make the story interesting and draw in listeners. When the artist and producer fail to hold up their end of the bargain, however, you’re left with a zombie of a track that has as much life as the pre-relationship narrator does.
“I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” is a cautionary tale of what mainstream country music can do to promising performers. Before this, Brothers Osborne seemed to have find their niche in the genre as a rough-edged outsider in the mold of Eric Church or Dierks Bentley, and earned some critical acclaim in the process. Acclaim isn’t always profitable, however, and after several underwhelming singles the brothers have shifted to a forgettable, uninteresting style in an attempt to blend in with the rest of the radio and bump up their airplay numbers. The trick may very well succeed, but for my money what’s lost will outweigh what’s gained.
Rating: 5/10. Frankly, I doubt I’ll remember this one at all.