Song Review: Jake Owen, “Made For You”

Oh, Jake Owen has another boring song for us?

Actually, I think that’s my ‘really? really?‘ face. (Original Images from and Sounds Like Nashville)

I’ll be honest: I have absolutely zero interest in hearing what Owen has to say anymore. The garbage he keeps foisting upon us is sleep-inducing at best and headache-inducing at worst, ranging from creepy (“If He Ain’t Gonna Love You”) to copypasta (“I Was Jack (You Were Diane)”) to cookie-cutter (“Homemade,” his most recent single). “Made For You” is the fourth single released from his Greetings From… Jake album, and what a surprise: It’s yet another unremarkable soundalike song that feels bland even by Boyfriend country standards. If you took Tom T. Hall’s “I Love” and removed all the interesting details from it, you’d be left with this watered-down excuse for a song, one that is best used as a non-habit-forming sleep aid.

The production here is fairly sparse: A single acoustic guitar opens the track, and it dominates the mix from the start to finish, with a scattering on other instruments (background piano and organ, a few electric guitar stabs, some barely-there drums) trying to fill out the sound. The instrument tones are left fairly dark here to reflect the depth and seriousness of the narrator’s feelings, but the whole arrangement runs together to become an monotonous, indistinguishable mess (seriously, couldn’t they have added some more instruments or riffs to break things up, or make the bridge solo do more than just stall for time?) that doesn’t really give us a sense of the narrator’s love for their partner. Worse still, the lack of volume and tempo makes this the most lethargic, plodding track I’ve heard in a while, so much so that I’d avoid listening to the radio while operating heavy machinery in case this song comes up and lulls you to sleep. Less can be more sometimes, but less is just less here.

Owen seems to be stuck in the same doldrums as the production here, as his performance is as lifeless and  uninteresting as his acoustic guitar companion. He’s always been a strong technical performer and this is no exception (he handles the minimal range and flow demands of this song without breaking a sweat), but there’s just no passion or emotion in his delivery. Even when the production kinda-sorta swells up on the choruses, Owen never steps on the pedal in response and continues stoically reciting his lines like an evening newscaster. This lack of emotion is a major misstep from an artist who’s been around long enough to know better, and it makes the audience question just how deep his devotion to the other person actually is. (It’s a good thing the postal service is still operating amidst this pandemic, because Owen really mailed in his performance here.) This song would sound the exact same if it were sung by anyone else, on for a talented artists like Owen, this is unacceptable.

And then *sigh* we get to the lyrics:

Water towers are made for hearts and names
Friday nights are made for football games
Fallin’ leaves are made for fallin’ in
Front porch steps are made for goodnight kissin’
And I was made for you, yeah I was made for you

We know that, Jake. You know how we know? Because every song in country music history has told us that. The other verses are no more novel: An extended curfew-breaking date vignette, barroom dancing, backseat lovemaking, starting a family (yeah, didn’t see that coming. What a surprise. Totally.), and so on. The weaksauce “made for you” hook is bad enough on its own, but even with the repetitive “X was made for Y” format, it feels disconnected to the song, as the writers wait too long to tie them back to the rest of the song (until the very end, the song seems to be telling someone else’s story). To its credit, the song is a much more mature take on relationships than we usually get from the genre these days, but it relies on the same generic Boyfriend country tropes, which makes it no more interesting or memorable than its brethren. It’s just another overly-serious love song that fails to justify its existence.

“Made For You” is a song that’s made for everyone and no one. The production is boilerplate and ill-fitting, the vocals are uninspired, the writing is generic and weak, and the whole darn thing lacks any hint of emotion that would make the song resonate with its audience. In other words, it’s a typical Jake Owen song, and the world yawns in unison at its lukewarm nothingness. Personally, I’m sick of it, and my hope is that Owen eventually releases something worth listening to or stop releasing songs altogether.

Rating: 5/10. Next!

Song Review: Jake Owen, “Homemade”

You know the bar is low when a mediocre trend-hopper like this song might be Jake Owen’s best song in three years.

No artist makes me bring out the knives more consistently than Jake Owen, who hasn’t earned a score higher than 4 from me since I started his reviewing his garbage back in 2016. “Down To The Honkytonk” was formulaic, “Good Company” and “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” were creepy and disgusting, and “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” was flat-out plagiarism. Now Owen is back with “Homemade,” the thrid single from his current Greetings from… Jake Owen album, and while it’s a barely-disguised “I’m so country!” song wrapped in a thin, generic layer of nostalgia that will be forgotten thirty seconds after you hear it, that’s still enough to constitute his best work since I started hanging out at this corner.

The production here is about as bland a guitar-and-drum mixture that you could think of, without even the seasoning of a steel guitar or keyboard to break up the monotony. The electric axes feature only the slightest sliver of texture to them, and their tone is so dark and gritty and that it paints the entire track in a bittersweet, overly-nostalgia light that doesn’t really fit the grateful, forward-looking feel of the writing (and the methodical usage of minor chords doesn’t help). There’s a hint of Blake Shelton’s “I Lived It” in the sound: There’s so much darkness in the sound that even though it’s not explicit in the lyrics, it’s hinting that this ideal home life has been lost to time, and that the times that have followed haven’t been a good and we’d all be better off reverting to the old ways (excuse me for a moment while I gag). The tempo is also as issue as well, as its slower, methodical pace makes the mix feel like a reheated Bro-Country arrangement (minus the token banjo) and sapping the track of whatever energy it was hoping to generate. Overall, the sound is just not that interesting, and it blends in far too well with everything else on the radio.

Owen is generally a very charismatic singer (which can sometimes be a disadvantage if the song is bad enough), but I found his performance here to be fairly flat and uninspired. His range and flow are solid, but there’s a real matter-of-factness to his delivery that makes him come across as slightly detached and even monotone, like he’s holding his true vocal power back for some reason. As a result, I don’t find him very believable in the narrator’s role, and while his home doesn’t sound bad, it also doesn’t sound interesting enough to be worth waxing on about it like this. Granted,  a neutral performance like this certainly beats an angry or sleazy one, and given how badly I’ve ragged on Owen’s last few songs, this is at least a step in the right direction (although you could argue that making the audience feel nothing is the worst thing you could do). A veteran performer like Owen should be much better than this, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

As far as these sort of rural-pride songs go, this is actually one of the better-written tracks I’ve heard in a while, Yes, this may be nothing ore than yet another “I’m so country!” song (my hometown is so country, therefore I am too) and it brings out every tired cliché you can think of (God, truck, dirt roads, Friday nights, George Strait, beer, sweet tea, etc.), I really like the way the song riffs off of the hook: “Home made” me this person, “homemade” items, a “home made” for a good life, and so on. I also like how forward-looking the song feels: Home was great and all, but it also made the narrator the person they are today and inspired them to a create a home just like that for the future. The whole approach feels a lot more inclusive than exclusive (even if the production feels like it’s looking backwards), and are are even a few extra clever turns of phrase tossed in (“turned to Miller Lites when I turned twenty-one”). While the end result isn’t any more memorable than its predecessors, I can at least appreciate the effort put forth.

Overall, “Homemade” is an unremarkable sound whose surprisingly-decent lyrics are weighed down by bleh performances from both Jake Owen and his producer. I wouldn’t go out of way to hear it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid it either, and that might be the first time I’ve been able to say that since I started this blog. Owen’s still got a long way to go to get back into my good graces, and I’d lie to see him take bigger swings than this, but being forgotten is a lot better than being remembered for the wrong reasons.

Rating: 5/10. It exists, I suppose.

Song Review: Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk”

So Jake Owen has a new single…and like Justin Moore, I “Kinda Don’t Care.”

Dustin Lynch and Jordan Davis might draw the most complaints from me, but Jake Owen isn’t far behind them on my disgust scale: I’ve reviewed three singles from him thus far, and none of them have scored higher than a 4/10. Unfortunately, country radio doesn’t really care what I think, and after back-to-back flops with “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” and “Good Company,” his awful Mellencamp ripoff “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” soared up to be become his seventh #1 single and first since his generically-boring “American Country Love Song.” Buoyed by his uncreative rebirth, Owen now returns to the charts with “Down To The Honkytonk,” a song that tries way too hard to push the narrator’s country credentials and not hard enough at actually making me care about the story. In the end, it comes off as an half-baked, uninteresting wall of noise that should come with an FDA warning about operating heavy machinery under its influence.

The production opens with an awkward mix of retro and modern elements, tossing a 70s-era electric guitar on top of a synthetic hand-clap percussion line to give the sound a swampy feel similar to Florida Georgia Line’s “Smooth” (which isn’t a surprise given that FGL’s longtime producer Joey Moi also produced this song). However, instead of going full-on Bro-Country and cranking up the volume and guitars, the mix here is more measured and leans on classical country instruments (steel guitar, real drums, even an organ in the background). While the hand claps are a reoccurring (and annoying) theme, the mix does a nice job establishing a positive, carefree atmosphere that suits the song’s message, while also generating just enough energy to keep things moving along. It’s easily the best part of the track, but it lacks that special something that really hooks the listener and makes them pay attention, which ends up being a big problem when the singer and writing end up dropping the ball.

Technically, Owen delivers a decent performance here: He shows off much more range than I expected (his lower range is particular impressive), and his flow is untested but smooth and easy. However, it’s the artist’s charisma that makes or breaks this song, and while this is usually Owen’s strong suit and he does enough to feel believable in the artist’s shoes, he can’t get the next level and actually make me care about the narrator’s life. Although he admittedly doesn’t have a lot to work with here (more on this later), the best artists can sing the phone book and get the listeners invested in the song, and Owen just doesn’t make it happen here. Looking back, it’s a bit ironic to see Owen’s charisma put him in a deeper hole when playing creepy, annoying narrators, but absolutely desert him when he tries to play a more-conventional role.

And then we get to the lyrics, which are basically a watered-down version of those chest-thumping “I’m so country” songs that are forever plaguing the genre. The writing is incredibly weak on the whole, especially on the boring laundry lists that are the verses:

I got a house, down a backroad
I got a flag on the front porch
I got a dog named Waylon
I got a driveway that needs paving
I got a boat with a two stroke
A couple guaranteed to make you laugh jokes
I got friends in low places
Yeah, life is what you make it

…Okay, so you have a dog, a driveway, and a Garth Brooks tape. That’s…good for you?

The chorus reveals the ultimate irony about this song: The narrator declares that they will never be noteworthy or memorable, but they’re going to have a good time…except that the listener does not have a good thing because the song isn’t noteworthy or memorable! The narrator is as flat and boring as a piece of paper, and song does absolutely nothing to interest the listener in their story. (And don’t even get me started on the song’ other issues, like the repetitiveness of the bridge or limp lines like “I got a job that gets the job done.”) Even if we consider that the narrator is trying to take an everyman approach to reaching their audience (“hey, I’m just as boring as you are!”), it’s just not a terribly convincing ploy, and there are other artists currently on the charts (Brooks, anyone?) who are doing this is more interesting and successful ways. The only things this song moves listeners to do is yawn and wonder when the darn thing is going to end.

“Back To The Honkytonk” is a bland, boring, forgettable track, and while it’s still an improvement over Jake Owen’s most-recent material, it’s not a song or a story that I’m interested in revisiting or remembering once this review is posted. Owen needs to skip the honkytonk and go back to the drawing board, because after two years of putting up with his baloney, I’m ready to revoke his recording studio privileges and give them to someone (say, Rachel Wammack?) that actually has a story to tell.

Rating: 4/10. No.

Song Review: Jake Owen, “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)”

Jake Owen’s new single “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” is meant to conjure images of teenage nostalgia, but the only thing I see is a big old fork sticking out of Owen’s career.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Jake Owen, but once upon a time he released material I could actually appreciate (“Alone With You,” “What We Ain’t Got,” etc.). In truth, however, he never evolved beyond being “the Barefoot Blue Jean guy,” and he kept going back to that well even as the genre tide turned against Bro-soaked party tunes. The results were exactly what you would expect: Some of the worst songs I’ve reviewed on this blog (“Good Company”, “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You”), and absolutely zero traction on the radio. Now, with his career in real danger of flatlining, Owen has taken an even more desperate measure: Blatantly ripping off John Cougar/Mellencamp’s 1982 classic “Jack & Diane”  for his own new single “I Was Jack (You Were Diane),” and while it clears the low bar of Owen’s last two singles (in fact, it’s probably his most listenable song since “What We Ain’t Got”), if it takes this level of plagiarism to make your material even remotely tolerable, you probably need to consider a career change.

Honestly, it’s the unrepentant sound copying that bothers me the most about this track. Lyrical allusions and hook “borrowing” happen all the time in music, but only a select few tracks also copy the production of their spiritual predecessor to this extent. To call this a lazy effort would be giving the producer too much credit: Essentially, this song takes all the melodic guitar riffs from “Jack & Diane” (both the acoustic and electric ones), smashes them together, tosses a token banjo and drum machine on top of the whole thing (who the heck thought that was a good idea?), adds a steel guitar stab or two, and calls it a day. I can only recall two songs that went this far with their production: Kid Rock’s 2008 tire fire “All Summer Long,” and Brad Paisley’s actually-decent “Old Alabama” from 2011, which only worked because:

  • Paisley already had enough gravitas and stature to make the song feel like more than a cheap coattail-riding effort.
  • Paisley worked really hard to pay the proper respect to the group he was mimicking (Alabama even got to sing and play on the track).

This song, in contrast, doesn’t feel like a tribute to Mellencamp at all, and just seems to be trading on his name to get some attention.

While the mix admittedly generates a fair amount of positive energy, it creates more of a generic party atmosphere than a nostalgic one, and it doesn’t feel personal or emotional enough to move the listener. I’m not sure whether I’m more irritated by the Mellencamp mimicking itself, or by the fact that the result sounds so uninteresting and run-on-the-mill.

As a singer, Owen has an easy, earnest delivery that’s probably above-average in the genre today…so why in the name of Jimmy Buffett does he feel the need to channel his inner Sam Hunt and talk-sing all the verses here? (It certainly can’t be because it worked so well on “Real Life.”) In doing so, his voice completely loses its tone, and turns what should be a casual, song-induced walk down memory lane into an ear-grating nightmare that invites comparisons to Walker Hayes’s “You Broke Up With Me.” He sounds just as good as he ever did on the choruses (decent range, decent flow, decent power), and he’s still got enough charisma to sell these sorts of lightweight tracks, so why he chose to sing a song that handicapped him like this is just inexplicable.

As far as the lyrics go, the title pretty much gives the song away: The narrator reflects upon how “Jack & Diane” made he and his significant other act and feel when they heard it, and wonders whether it still makes the other person think about those wild and crazy days. The song-as-a-nostalgic-touchstone angle has been done to death in country music (even Chase Rice took a stab at the topic last year), and there’s nothing here you haven’t seen or heard a hundred times before. (Given that the “American kids” and “holdin’ on to sixteen” phrases are ripped right from “Jack & Diane,” that statement is true both figuratively and literally.) The imagery is generic, the use of Mellencamp’s tune in the story is predictable and uninteresting, and the talk-singing structure was a poor design decision. You’ve got to give me a compelling reason to listen to a song about “Jack & Diane” rather than just listening to “Jack & Diane” directly, and this track doesn’t deliver.

At best, “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” is a forgettable, unremarkable track that really doesn’t justify its existence. At its worst, it’s an shameless attempt to drum up some money and notoriety via a knockoff of a rock ‘n’ roll classic, one that would make John Mellencamp turn over in his grave even though he’s still alive. I understand that Jake Owen’s career is on the ropes and that desperate times call for desperate measures, but there are some lines that are better left uncrossed, and trying to co-opt an artist’s legacy like this just to earn a few radio spins is one of them.

I closed my “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” review by saying “Come on Jake, you’re better than this.” I was wrong.

Rating: 3/10. I’ve got a growing list of artists that need to be booted out of country music (Dan + Shay, LoCash, etc.), and Owen has just added his name to it in bright red ink.

Song Review: Jake Owen, “Good Company”

Unfortunately for Jake Owen, it seems that the winds of change in country music are not blowing in his direction.

Owen’s last single “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” currently holds the record for the worst rating I’ve ever given a song, and the track mercifully ended up crashing and burning in the high 30s on the Billboard airplay chart. With the genre shifting back towards more-traditional material and Owen himself on record saying that he’d like to “make music that means something to people,” (granted, he said that before releasing “Real Life” and “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You”) I wondered whether Owen would take this opportunity to release something deeper and more substantial to country radio. Instead, we got “Good Company,” a sleazy island-flavored track that finds Owen plowing the same old ground he’s been working for the last decade.

Production-wise, this song sound like what would happen if Jimmy Buffett decided to try his hand at Bro-Country. The melody is shared between an electric guitar and a ukulele, the percussion is a mixture of real, synthetic, and island-flavored drums, and a horn section is draped over the whole thing for flavor. The mix is going for a relaxed, easy-going vibe, but it’s a little too uptempo to capture that feel, and the prominence of the horns and the electric guitar’s bright tones makes the song feel a bit sleazy, like it was stolen from the soundtrack of a pornographic film. Unfortunately, the seedy feel of the track doesn’t stop at the production, and instead seeps into the rest of the song.

To be fair, Owen isn’t really the reason this song veers into the ditch—in fact, he’s probably the only redeeming part of the song. He demonstrates good range, a decent flow, and his exceptional vocal charisma is on full display. The problem, however, is that his charisma works against him just as it did on “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You,” as he seems a bit too believable as a lazy beach bum who wants (nay, demands) a beer to drink and a girl to make out with.

If Owen is the highlight of the song, the lyrics are definitely the lowlight. Just take a look at this poetry:

We’re in good company
Yeah, the only thing missing
Is a pretty girl sitting next to me
Kissing up on me, and I got a spot waiting on you
So B.Y.O.B, it means bring yourself over, babe
Got what we need to make good vibes, good times
And a damn good memory
We’re in good company
Yeah, yeah we’re in good company

It’s not Florida-Georgia-Line “Sun Daze” bad, but it’s pretty close.

The narrator comes off as a real creep here, and while he’s not as bad as the girlfriend-stealing slimeball from “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You,” his requests to the object of his affection to “kiss up” on him and jump in the pool sound more like orders than suggestions. (Also, the references to other people being around make the whole event sound like one giant orgy.) Combine the sub-par lyrics with the sleazy production, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster no matter who the singer is. Owen’s been putting out party material like this his entire career (“Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” “Beachin'”), but his parties are rarely this bad.

Overall, “Good Company” is a step up from “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You,” but it’s still a pretty bad song, and it feels very dated and out of place on the radio today. (It’s more “Outta Style” than even Aaron Watson’s dated pop culture references.) It’s a sleazy summer jam surrounded by much better competition, so do yourself a favor and find some better company than this track.

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.

Song Review: Jake Owen, “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You”

Normally, I have a pretty high tolerance for Bro-Country and Metropolitan country music. I thought “1994” was a neat tribute to Joe Diffie. I enjoyed the irreverent extravagance of “High Class.” I even jammed along to “Snapback.” But even I have to draw a line somewhere, and you, Mr. Owen, have just crossed it.

Jake Owen, like a number of mid-tier country artists, has been caught in between making the substantive material they claim to want to perform and chasing the latest musical trends to maintain their mainstream relevance. Owen tends to bounce between party jams like “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and “Beachin'” and more-serious tracks like “Alone With You” and “What We Ain’t Got.” The former have tended to yield more success for Owen, and he went back to that well for his latest single “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You.”

Lyrically, the song attempts to tell the tale of a conscientious gentleman telling a girl that her boyfriend isn’t giving her enough love and attention, and that said gentleman can give her the attention she deserves…except that the song fails spectacularly at this, and the narrator comes off as a slimy douchebag who’s just trying to get in the pants of someone else’s girlfriend. “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” plows the same ground as Old Dominion’s tire-fire of a song “Break Up With Him,” with the same off-putting results.

Oh, and the song includes incredibly sexy banter like this:

If he ain’t gonna love you, I will

Like you never been loved before

Up against the wall when you walk in the door

Looking like you wanna leave, you want some more

Yuck. Can you say “locker-room talk”? Releasing a song with garbage lyrics like this in the current political climate is just inexcusable.

Owen is a talented vocalist, and he delivers a solid technical performance here, but in this case his charisma works against him—his portrayal of a creepy sleazeball is a bit too believable for his own good. It would be one thing if he had injected some levity or playfulness into the track, but he sings the song with too much conviction and seriousness to make the track enjoyable. (Chris Stapleton delivers a decent performance singing backup vocals, but this song is proof that not everything he touches turns to gold.)

The track’s production doesn’t do Owen any favors either. From the opening guitar riff to the synthetic backing beats to the backing vocals on the chorus, this is an unapologetically-Metropolitan track that would sound more at home in a 70s-era disco than anything else. The whole mess sounds like the backing track to a low-budget porno film, and only adds to the sleazy feel of the song.

Overall, Jake Owen’s “If He Ain’t Gonna Live You” is a Metro-Bro track that combines the worst elements of both subgenres. It isn’t fun, it isn’t sexy, and with any luck, it isn’t going anywhere on the charts.

Come on Jake, you’re better than this.

Rating: 2/10. If you want to hear country-disco done right, check out Brett Eldridge’s “You Can’t Stop Me” instead.