I’m fine with artists pulling the plug on singles when they think they have something better. It’s just that they never actually have something better.
Three months ago today, I declared that Lady Antebellum’s latest single “What I’m Leaving For” was “another step in the right direction” and “a well-constructed mix of sound and source material that makes for a easy, enjoyable listen.” A mere three months later, however, the group has decided to change course, dropping “What I’m Leaving For” in favor of “Champagne Night,” a collaboration with songwriter Madeline Merlo that was the big winner of the season 2 opener of NBC’s Songland back in April. The move is eerily reminiscent of Riley Green’s swap from “In Love By Now” to “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” last year, a move that didn’t really pan out in the end (“Grandpas” topped out at #12 and Green ended up losing all his momentum anyway). I was against Green’s decision then, and I’m against Lady A’s decision now: “Champagne Night” is clearly the inferior song of the two, a generic “lowlife living the high life” party song (honestly, it reminds me a lot of Thomas Rhett’s “Vacation”) that continues the genre’s frustrating trend of carefree celebration in the face of serious times.
The production is a standard guitar-and-drum mix on the surface, but there are some disturbing callbacks to the Bro-Country era here when you start digging. The mix cranks up the volume early, opening with a wall of noise courtesy of a pair of electric guitars and an in-your-face drum set, and then oscillates between leaning on a single, slicker guitar for the verses and bringing the heat again with the full arrangement for the choruses. However, the percussion is surprisingly synthetic when you get past the initial wall of noise: Grady Smith’s favorite clap track help kick things off in the beginning, and is joined by a drum machine buried deep in the mix during the choruses. The token banjo also returns as well, although it’s at least joined by mandolin that adds some noticeable brightness to the sound. Finally, while the atmosphere is suitably celebratory for the writing and the bright tones bring at least a little energy with them, the deliberate cadence of the song gives me flashbacks to Bro-Country stalwarts like “Cruise” and “This Is How We Roll,” which isn’t great company to keep. This mix falls in the same category as Luke Bryan’s “One Margarita” and Brad Paisley’s “No I In Beer”: Kind of fun, very paint-by-numbers, and not all that interesting in the end.
If it isn’t clear by now, I am absolutely sick and tired of these soundalike party songs, but if anyone could pull this stick out of the mud and convince me to have a good time, it would be top-tier vocalists like Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley, right? Unfortunately, the answer is a hard “No’: While Scott and Kelley are still the solid technical performers they’ve always been (although I’m not a huge fan of their flow over the rapid-fire sections of this song—they seem more comfortable and less choppy on the slower, smoother sections), they joy they exhibit during the course of the song seems mostly self-contained, and just kind of bounces off the audience without leaving any impact. The harmony and vocal chemistry is fine, but I’m just not feeling this song the way I did with “Bartender” back in the day (although the writing deserves its fair share of the blame here). This was probably going to be a hard sell to me anyways, but given the caliber of singers involved, I expected a better result than this.
And then we get to the writing, and let’s be honest, you already know what’s coming here: The narrators are looking to have a good old time (translation: get drunk off their, er, posteriors), with the only twist that they’re not going to do it all fancy-like, and will have fun “drinkin’ beer on a champagne night.” Contrasting high-roller and low-budget lifestyles is a common theme in country music historically (and it’s usually done in far more interesting ways than this, e.g. Charlie Pride’s “All I Have To Offer You Is Me”), and this track brings nothing new to the table: It simply eschews velvet ropes and expensive drinks in favor of casual wear and plastic cups. (I mentioned “One Margarita” before, but thematically this track is closer to Bryan’s “Kick The Dust Up” with its critique of urban glitz and glamour.) In truth, the song feels more like a declaration (“this is what we do, darn it!”) than an invitation, making the frequent use of “we” ring a bit hollow. It’s just another “we do things different ’round here” kind of track, to which the listener’s response is a shrug and a brief “Good for you, I guess.” Even worse, this feels likes an argument that’s not worth having because their doesn’t seem to be any fun to be had at all here: There’s no barroom or bonfire atmosphere (at least Bryan gave us an idea of what the scene looked like), no activities to partake in besides getting sloshed, and no friends (or even interesting characters) to speak of to share the experience. There’s nothing here but alcohol (heck, there’s not even a reason to drink it), and if that’s all your selling, I’ll pass.
“Champagne Night” is just another nihilistic party song that fails to justify its own existence, and it kills me think they’re dumping “What I’m Leaving For,” a song with actual thought and feeling behind it, for this cookie-cutter schlock. The production is derivative, the writing is subpar and uninviting (if this is the best material that Songland can give us, they might as well just cancel the show entirely), and Lady Antebellum can’t deliver this worn-out pitch any better than Bryan or Paisley could. It’s discouragingly telling that even in the midst of a global crisis that has killed more Americans than the Vietnam War, country music can’t be bothered to sober up and pay attention. Instead, we’re encouraged to numb the pain by drinking ourselves into a stupor just like we’ve been doing for the last decade, and simply bide our time until we die.
I, for one, have no intention of going out like that.
Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.