Reigning Male Vocalist of the Year or not, Chris Stapleton needs to try a lot harder than this.
Stapleton’s been on one heck of a run lately: In addition to the accolades and awards he’s earned over the last few years, his previous single “Broken Halos” finally broke through the radio blockade and became his first No. 1 hit. In a position to capitalize on his momentum and make the world of country music his oyster, Stapleton returns to the radio with “Millionaire,” the leadoff single from the second volume of his From A Room album series, and…wow, this is it? The song is a generic, uninteresting bore that may well win the award for the Most Disappointing Song of 2018.
On one hand, the production is exactly what you would expect from a Stapleton track: A bright acoustic guitar carrying the melody, minimal instrumentation in general (an electric guitar and real drum set jump in halfway through the first verse, and that’s basically it for the entire track), and a slower tempo without a lot of volume. (Unlike some of Stapleton’s prior singles, however, the vocal/instrument balance is perfectly done here, allowing the vocals and instruments to complement each other instead of one overwhelming the other.) This lack of tempo and volume, however, is a huge problem, as what should be a positive, relaxed track ends up feeling monotonic and lifeless, similar to David Lee Murphy’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” Despite the bright tones and happy subject matter, the song just plods along slowly without any energy or emotion. By the second verse, I’m looking at my watch waiting for the next song to start, hoping I can stay awake until then.
Stapleton is the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year for a reason, but something really feels off in his delivery here. The incredible voice with incredible range is still here, but its power is dialed back significantly, and while it makes the vocal/instrument balance better, it seems to keep Stapleton from connecting with his audience in the same way that “Broken Halos” or “Either Way” did. Despite all of the charisma and earnestness he’s demonstrated in the past, he’s just not convincing or believable here, as everything that’s made him so good singing sad or deep songs works against him on a light, fluffy track like this. I’m most struck by just how melancholy Stapleton sounds, despite the fact that he’s supposedly celebrating the romantic wealth he’s found. This is really the first “happy” single Stapleton has released, and given his struggles here, it should probably be his last one for a while.
The lyrics for this track are basically the narrator saying “I’m rich because I’ve found love, even though I have no money,” and it’s not as overdone as the old “love-as-a-drug” trope, it’s not that far behind. (I consider John Anderson’s “Money In The Bank” as the gold standard here.) The imagery isn’t particular vivid or novel, and and some of the comparisons feel tired and generic (“love is more precious than gold,” “eyes that shine…as a diamond mine,” etc.). While it’s intended to be a bright, cheery track that doesn’t really need to be deep or unique, it’s the sort of song that really needs an emotional anchor to back up the writing and fill that gap, and unfortunately neither Stapleton nor his producer can deliver here.
“Millionaire” is a surprisingly weak song from a strong singer who is capable of so much better. The lack of energy and depth from both Chris Stapleton and the production leaves the song feeling shallow and uninteresting, and leaves the listener feeling more “Zzz…” than “Aww…” While it certainly won’t stop Stapleton’s hype train completely, it’s likely going to squander whatever radio momentum “Broken Halos” had earned him.
Rating: 5/10. Stick with his previous singles, and leave this one alone.