Song Review: King Calaway, “No Matter What”

“No Matter What,” King Calaway can’t seem to rise above their generic and lukewarm material.

Remember when King Calaway was the next act in line to destroy country music? Instead, a funny thing happened on the way to that “preordained” #1 that Kyle C. predicted: Radio didn’t embrace the manufactured supergroup, and “World For Two” barely cracked the top fifty on Billboard’s airplay chart before crashing back down to earth. With Boyfriend country becoming a thing late in 2019, however, the genre climate still seems favorable to a group leaning on lightweight love songs like King Calaway’s debut, so the crew is back with a new single “No Matter What,” the second release from their debut album Rivers. While the song has got an upbeat, wedding-ready feel to it, it also doesn’t offer anything more than overused platitudes, and doesn’t do anything that really sticks in the listener’s mind. It’s a thing that exists, and unless the listener has a wedding or some other life-changing event to give the song meaning, it doesn’t really stand on its own.

The production is probably the high point of the song, as it does a decent job creating a positive, high-energy atmosphere. There really isn’t a whole lot to the arrangement here: An acoustic guitar and restrained snare cover the opening verse, some electric axes and a full drum kit jump in for the chorus, and the bass guitar also stands out a lot more (and has a bit more groove and personality) than in most other mixes. The brisk tempo, the rapid-fire nature of the riffs, and a sizzling electric guitar push the energy level into the stratosphere, and the bright instrument tones plant the vibe firmly on the sunny side of the fence. All of this combines to enhance the forward-looking nature of the lyrics, infusing them with an extra dose of optimism and cheer that will make this thing a staple of party and especially wedding playlists this summer. In short, the producer deserves some props here, and it’s a shame that the rest of the track doesn’t live up to the sound’s promise.

Lead singing duties are once again shared between several different artists, and just like I said in my last review of the group, “as equitable as the arrangement might be, it’s also completely unnecessary.” The different vocalists sound slightly different this time around (I can at least tell when they pass the baton between singers this time), but they’re still literally interchangeable, and there’s no reason why we have to be subjected to so many different singers on the same song. The good news is that the other issue I had with the group previously (that “they don’t really transmit their happiness to the audience”) is at least partially alleviated here, as their upbeat deliveries combine with the production to allow the audience to share in the good vibes, even if the romantic angle of the writing doesn’t really shine through. (It’s times like this when I question whether or not it’s worth bothering to review tracks that are clearly not targeted at me, because I’m not feeling the love here any more than I was on their last single.) I’m sure they’re having a fun time and all, but I don’t see why I should care about it, and while we’re copy-pasting things from my last review, let’s call this “the kind of performance I hear once, think ‘that’s okay, I guess,’ and immediately forget about the moment the next song starts playing,” because I’m afraid the shoe still fits.

And then we get to the lyrics, and this is where things really get stale: The narrator has had a revelation that they want to spend the rest of their lives with someone, “no matter what.” There’s more recycled content here than in the jacket I got for Christmas (“made with 100% recycled polyester!”): Generic references to future life obstacles, life expectancy, traveled roads, disapproving parents, ” looking down on cloud nine, flying high, so high,” etc. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been said more effectively somewhere else, and worse still, there are so few specifics offered that the listener never gets a sense of who the protagonists are and how strong their relationship really is. It’s a classic example of a swiss-cheese song that requires the listener to fill in the gaps with their own feelings and experiences, and when that doesn’t happen, the song feels hollow and just collapses into a vague, fluffy mess (to paraphrase Maren Morris: “When the bones aren’t good, the rest don’t matter either”). Again, while I understand that I’m not the audience the writers had in mind, a strong-enough song will grab me the ears and give me a reason me to care anyway, and this thing simply has nothing to offer.

I’d call “No Matter What” a marginal upgrade over “World For Two,” but it still only rises to the level of forgettable radio filler, and only increases my doubts that King Calaway truly has a future in country music. Their sound is a bit more on-track than before, but their vocals are unmoving and the writing is unimpressive,  and on a chart that’s seen a sharp spike in quality over the last few weeks, I don’t think this is enough to make people sit up and pay attention. This group may be a manufactured supergroup with some serious built-in advantages, but if they don’t find better material to release than this, it’s not going to matter.

Rating: 5/10. Unless you’re a wedding DJ, feel free to let this pass you by.

Song Review: King Calaway, “World For Two”

Hey look, another molehill that we made into a mountain.

My fellow Kyle over at Saving Country Music has been banging the drums of war for months now over King Calaway, the latest creation from the mad scientist labs of Music Row to hit the airwaves. Their website brands them as a “multi-national supergroup” whose members “aren’t looking to blend into the crowd,” while SCM labels them a “manufactured boy band” that is “hopscotching hundreds of more worthy entertainers” on to way to a nationwide single release. The reality, as it often is, lies somewhere in the middle: The band is a inoffensive, middle-of-the-road “Dan + Shay + 4” soundalike that blends seamlessly into the rest of the forgettable lightweight material on the radio these days. I wouldn’t go rush out and buy a ticket for these guys, but I wouldn’t call up Paul Revere and sic the dogs on the sextet yet either.

The production is even more safe and milquetoast than you’d expect: Bright acoustic guitars with a light touch, the cleanest, slickest electric guitars providing some simple chord work, a few piano notes to indicate the depth of the narrator’s feelings, and a barely-there clap track with absolutely zero punch. It’s as if everyone involved with this project anticipated the blowback from creating a country version of the Backstreet Boys, and were trying to make their sound as non-threatening as possible to try to mitigate the problem. As it is, it’s got a bright, positive sound and a pretty decent groove, but its utter lack and power and volume keep it from generating any energy or momentum as it goes along, and it doesn’t have anything to make it stand out from its competition and entice the listener to pay attention. The mix is standard “lightweight love song” fare, and almost seems afraid to be anything more than that. I can’t blame them too much for their cautious approach (visceral reactions like SCM’s coming out even before their music dropped seems to justify the move), but I’m more than allowed to be bored by it.

The group lists three different members (Jordan Harvey, Chad Jervis, and Simon Dumas) as lead vocalists, but Harvey and Dumas do most of the heavy lifting here, each getting a verse to themselves while Jervis is left closing the choruses by himself. As equitable as the arrangement might be, it’s also completely unnecessary: The three artists sound so similar that I didn’t realize multiple people were covering the lead until I watched the music video. Technically speaking, while I can’t tell which person is showing off their falsetto on the bridge, the collective range and flow demonstrated are solid and the vocal transitions are smoothly handled, and all three lead singers have enough charisma to credibly perform the narrator’s role. They don’t really transmit their happiness to the audience, however, so while I’m sure they’re all head over heels about someone, I don’t really feel the love myself. I also don’t find the band’s harmony vocals terribly distinct, and feel like any set of generic backup singers could have given the song the same feel. It’s the kind of performance I hear once, think “that’s okay, I guess,” and immediately forget about the moment the next song starts playing.

The writing is just as lightweight and predictable as the production: The world is a fast and busy place, and the narrator wishes they “could build a world for two” where they could slow down and focus on (making out with) each other. It’s a cookie-cutter piece that hopes you’re so caught up in the production and the vocals that you won’t notice how bland the lyrics are or that the setting and activities are mostly recycled from the Metro-Bro era (so much for not blending in, huh?). To its credit, the track avoids the most obvious talking points of the last decade: There’s no drinking, no clubs, no trucks, no mention of various female body parts—in fact, the other person in this scene is never described beyond the ten times they say “girl.” The whole thing is nothing more than a vehicle for the group to demonstrate their sensitivity and sex appeal, and while I’d heard much worse on the radio over the last few years, I’ve run across much better songs as well.

“World For Two” is a forgettable song from a group that’s indistinguishable from the rest of the genre, and certainly not worth the network traffic generated by the alarmists of the country music critical community. Regardless of whether or not King Calaway is country music’s answer to The Backstreet Boys, their safe production, copycat vocals, and reheated lyrics suggest that they’ll be more of a field-filler than a radical new direction for the format. In other words: Despite with Saving Country Music and others might have you believe, there is…

.....nothing to see here.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t waste your time with this one.