Song Review: Mitchell Tenpenny, “We Got History”

You and I have a history too, Mitchell Tenpenny…and it hasn’t been pleasant.

In my lightning-round review of “Truth About You,” I declared “I really don’t see why Riser House and Columbia keep trying to make [Tenpenny] a thing in this genre,” and I stand by that statement even after the track’s semi-success (it spent roughly ten months on the airwaves just to settle for a Mediabase-only #1). Where I saw persistent mediocrity, however, Riser House and Columbia saw a potential breakthrough moment, using the song to push out an album This Is The Heavy (um…isn’t this the Heavy?) and bringing out “We Got History” as the follow-up single. Unfortunately, the song is another uninteresting stuck-in-the-past lost-love track in the mold of Sam Hunt’s “23,” and Tenpenny is nowhere near good enough as a performer to make this thing worth hearing.

The production here is a really awkward fit for this track, because they try to put an upbeat, energetic spin on a breakup that the narrator can’t get past. The tom-tom-heavy percussion calls to mind the “drum beat carries on” part of Nickelback’s “When We Stand Together,” and the spacious synth tones, serious piano, and washed-out electric guitars do their darnedest to spin the song as some sort of empowering anthem, when in reality this guy is stuck on “Memory Lane” as much as Old Dominion is. (The instruments also all run together on the choruses to create the dreaded wall of noise that no one looks forward to.) This feels like the absolute opposite of the atmosphere a song like this should be aiming for, and the lyrics have so little to say on the subject that there’s not a heck of a lot for the sound to support in the first place. This appears to be a case of the producer trying to turn a song into something completely different than the writers intended, and the results ends up confusing the audience more than interesting them.

As far as Tenpenny, he is the absolute last person you want behind the mic for a song like this. We don’t get a ton of detail from the writing about the breakup (more on that later), and with Tenpenny, a man with “absolutely no charisma or credibility,” the default assumption is that he was the problem in the relationship. His turns as a sleazy, angry dudebro still cling to him like the scent of a cheap cigar, and he brings an extra dose of smugness to the lines that reference the memory of his ex (as if he’s lording the fact that he will forever remember the good times over the other person) that turns my stomach a little. Throw in a voice that lacks power and is only slightly less raspy than Kip Moore, and you’ve got a situation where putting literally anyone else behind the mic would be an improvement (heck, even I could do a better job with this track). With so many artists in this lane, I see no reason why anyone would give Tenpenny the time of day on an unremarkable track that he absolutely fails to sell.

Speaking of that unremarkable story: The narrator here has gone through a traumatic breakup, and are left to revel in their past escapades to avoid confronting their lack of a future. The writing here is defined mostly what it lacks:

  • It lacks detail: We get very little information about either the good or bad times in the relationship, so we’re once again left to speculate about what went wrong (again, not a good thing with a lummox like Tenpenny involved) and can only assume what went right (we only know the locations: Pensacola and a Toyota Corolla).
  • It lacks maturity: Okay, so we can make some decent assumptions about what went right based on the clues we have (“Drunk and singing Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Told me, ‘Baby, don’t you stop kissing me, kissing me'”), which boils down to…alcohol and sex. It’s the sort of stuff a young kid might latch on to from a breakup, but it doesn’t strike me as a great foundation for a long-lasting relationship (and if Tenpenny is still longing for their ex at his age, he needs to grow up and move on).
  • It lacks appeal: Even we if ignore the fact that this trope has been overdone over the last few years, there’s just nothing here to hook the listener and draw them into the song. The previous two bullet points render the narrator’s fantasy land impotent and uninteresting (in a way, you kind of understand why the other person moved on), and by the second verse you’re ready to move on to the next track on the playlist.

It’s just not that enjoyable or moving of a story, and none of the other pieces here can save it.

“We Got History” is a boring song that fails to justify its own existence. The writing has too little to say, Mitchell Tenpenny proves to be the wrong person to say it, and the producer tries to save the whole mess by turning it into some awkward arena-ready power ballad. At this point, I’m pretty much done with Tenpenny: He’s had years to prove himself to be a competent, interesting artist, and he simply hasn’t done it. There are so many artists in this lane right now, and Tenpenny is easily one of the weakest of the bunch. Perhaps “We Got History,” but it’s not the kind we’ll want to reminisce about down the road.

Rating: 5/10. Zzzzz…

Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (March 2022 Edition)

With spring in full swing and a major turnover imminent on the country charts, it’s time to see what songs are preparing to take over the airwaves this summer. Will they be good, or will they be bad? …The chances are that if I’ve decided to shove them into a single post, they’re probably going to end up somewhere in the middle, which brings us to our first song…

Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”

Zac Brown and the crew get back to their sonic roots with this song, leaning on a swampy acoustic guitar and some punchy, bass-drum-heavy percussion to set the mood. They eventually mix in some electric guitars and the band’s trademark fiddle even gets a few licks in, but the resulting mood here feels overly dour and defensive. This song is a stereotypical “country” glorification track, bringing out the same old tired imagery we always get (tractors, two-lane roads, and booze-soaked Friday nights), and instead of feeling celebratory and proud, the vibe is defiant and forceful, as if they’re responding to an attack on their character. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Brown’s vocals, which are delivered with what can best be described as “controlled anger” as he methodically walks us through the various country tropes that make up life “out in the middle [of nowhere].” The edgy approach of both the sound and singer make the song more off-putting than appealing, and the hard truth is that the song is neither interesting nor memorable.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”

Are we really still releasing singles from Goldmine? Technically “Pick Me Up” is the fourth single from an album that’s a few months shy of two years old, but given that “I Hope” came out in the middle of 2019 and dominated the radio for a good year, it feels like this disc has been out forever. Sadly, you can file “Pick Me Up” under “more of the same,” and nothing here stand out to warrant your attention. The sound is dominated by a token banjo and washed-out reverb effects that dilute the whole mix into a bland wall of noise (even the steel guitar doesn’t really stand out!). The writing has its moments (“Watch the full moon crash on some sunrise wheat” is a decent line), but the story takes us along the same path as every other country song: a nighttime pickup ride “down a back two-lane” somewhere near the ZBB out in the middle of nowhere. Barrett herself is a decent vocalist, but she can’t tell a compelling story when there isn’t one to tell, and her restrained, understated delivery just doesn’t do enough to convince people to pay attention. She and her team would be better off hanging this album on the wall and bringing out some fresh material, because after “Footprints On The Moon,” crashed and burned, Barrett needed a much better rebound track than this drivel.

Rating: 5/10. Zzzzzzzzz…

Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You”

Believe it or not, this song has actually got a lot going for it. The production brings in both a mandolin and steel guitar, and manages to mix in their brighter tones without detracting from the serious tone of the song, and the writing at least tries to shine a positive light on the narrator (they wish their partner the best and that they want the bad blood between them to end, but they also bring a receipt or two to show that they hold the moral high ground). However, there’s one big problem here, and his name is Mitchell Tenpenny: The man has absolutely no charisma or credibility, and doesn’t come across as the least bit believable as he tries to tell his side of the story. Instead, there’s a malicious, even whiny feel to his delivery, as if he’s relishing the chance to throw some barbs at his ex. I really would have liked to see this song in the hands of an artist that could sell it (say, Dillon Carmichael?), and after listening to Tenpenny run this track into the ground, I really don’t see why Riser House and Columbia keep trying to make him a thing in this genre.

Rating: 5/10. Next!

Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”

Zac Brown and the crew get back to their sonic roots with this song, leaning on a swampy acoustic guitar and some punchy, bass-drum-heavy percussion to set the mood…except this isn’t the ZBB, it’s Maryland native Jackson Dean, who signed with Big Machine back in 2020 but is only dropping a debut album and a debut single. In truth, the acoustic guitar feels more raw than swampy here, and while the vibe here is overly grim and serious (the dude really doesn’t sound like he’s having fun with this lifestyle), the track comes across as more of a personal creed than a defense of a way of life, and thus it doesn’t feel as preachy or angry as “Out In The Middle.” The buzzwords are all here, of course (it seems like the narrator’s lifestyle revolves around beer, trucks, and “a mind in the gutter”), and while it does a good job pushing the protagonist as a free-spirited rambler, it really doesn’t a whole lot to sell the lifestyle (or the story) to the audience. The biggest difference here in Dean himself: He embraces the rough-edged persona and has enough charm and charisma to feel believable as a Ward Davis soundalike. He’s the biggest reason to bother tuning in to the tale, and if nothing else, given how badly Nashville keeps botching the launch of new artists, this feels like the closest they’ve come to success in quite some time.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see what you think.

Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (November 2021 Edition)

With the end of the year approaching and song reviews being some of the least-interesting posts that I make, it’s time to take a wider view of the genre and try to cover our bases for the end-of-year lists coming next month. I think the genre has improved slightly overall from the bland soundalike tracks we got for most of the year, but if the Pulse scores are any indication, there’s still a lot of uninteresting junk flooding the airwaves right now. So how does our latest crop of singles fare? Let’s start with the biggest of the bunch:

Adele ft. Chris Stapleton, “Easy On Me”

This song has dominated the Hot 100 basically since it arrived on the scene, and bringing in Chris Stapleton seems like a dream pairing of two of the best power vocalists in the business today…so why is my reaction to it so muted? Part of it is that the writing here is surprisingly weak and vague, as it doesn’t really make it clear who the song is aimed at (I thought it was at her ex, but apparently it’s for their son?), and the narrator’s story and explanation just isn’t that compelling or interesting (people making relationship decisions that they later come to regret makes up at least 25% of Nashville’s entire catalog). The two artists have decent vocal chemistry and it’s nice to see a Stapleton feature that actually uses him to push the song’s emotional boundaries (probably because Adele is one of the few singers in the planet he can’t out-sing), but he adds a rougher edge to the vocals (especially when he’s screaming them out on the bridge) that clashes with the softer, slicker feel of the piano (which is the only non-vocal instrument present here), and the tracks veers hard into ear-splitting territory when both singers turn it loose on the bridge. In the end, the song is okay, but there are a surprising number of tracks on the Mediabase chart right now that I’d pick over it.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few listens, I suppose.

Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never”

This song is trying way too hard to be something it’s not. The tale of two star-crossed lovers who just can’t seem to makes things work beyond the physical attraction is a tale old as time, and the song tries to use minor chords, dark, foreboding instrument tones, and loud, hard-edged guitars and percussion (which bounces between a drum set and a slicker beat) to inject a sense of drama and danger into the song. Unfortunately, the garden-variety off-and-on relationship in the lyrics simply doesn’t warrant the hype (it reminds me a lot of Travis Denning’s boring “After A Few”), and while both Lainey Wilson and Cole Swindell put their hearts into their performance (honestly, I like their vocal chemistry far more than Adele and Stapleton’s), they can’t convince the audience of the story’s importance. It’s just an oversung, overproduced batch of empty sonic calories, and I sincerely hope that Swindell and Wilson find some stronger material to work with the next time around.

Rating: 5/10. I’m pretty sure I’m never going to remember this one.

Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone”

Parker is a Georgia native who’s attempting to make to leap from songwriter to performer after signing with Warner Bros. in either 2020 or 2021 depending on the source you find, but he’s not going anywhere with his debut drivel. The song features yet another delusional narrator waiting for a traveling ex to come back and imagining how much she misses him (give it up bro, she ain’t coming back), and the fact that he occasionally admits the futility of his feelings (“maybe you really are long gone and I’m just fooling myself”) isn’t enough to make him a likeable or sympathetic character. Everything else here is cookie-cutter and generic: The reliance on a buzzword-filled waiting spot featuring beer and trucks in the evening (also, what’s the point of specifying that he has a “BP PBR”? It sounds as dumb as me saying I’m drinking a Hannaford’s Powerade), the bland guitar-and-drum production, and Parker’s undistinctive voice that could be mistaken for five other singers in the genre (put anyone else behind the mic, and the song wouldn’t change at all). The song offers no compelling reason to listen or pay attention to it, and I’m getting really tired of indistinguishable tracks like this, especially one that feature an annoyingly-presumptuous attitude from the narrator. I didn’t put up with it from Tucker Beathard or Taylor Swift, and I won’t do it here either.

Rating: 4/10. Pass.

Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait”

George Strait’s gotten enough name-drops in the last ten years to fill an encyclopedia, and has been around so long that this isn’t even the first song built around his song titles (forget Brad Paisley’s “Bucked Off,” I remember Tim McGraw singing “Give It To Me Strait” all the way back in 1994). I’m kind of torn on this one:

  • McCreery is a talented vocalist, but he’s not terribly believable in this role (he’s seven years younger than “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her,” so was it really his ex’s favorite song?)
  • The song is just a by-the-book lost-love song, but it does a decent job balancing the genuine sentimentality of a breakup and the tongue-in-cheek absurdity of hating a singer because of it.
  • The song title references are hit or miss: Some work okay (“Blue Clear Sky” is probably the best of the bunch), but some feel really forced (the “Give It Away” and “I Hate Everything” ones especially).

I think what sells me on this one in the end is the production: It starts as your typical guitar-and-drum arrangement, but once the steel guitar shows up it becomes the defining feature of the mix. It gives the sound some warmth and texture, while also helping it stand out from other tracks around it, most of which sprinkle the instrument in just enough to convince Billboard it’s “country.” It allows the song to pass the context test, as it wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Strait’s own material. That’s enough to elevate it above the mediocre masses for me.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see how it hits you.

Chase Rice, “If I Were Rock & Roll”

While McCreery paid homage to Strait, Rice tried to tip his cap to the latest member of the name-drop club, Eric Church…except Church’s material is far better than anything Rice could dream of putting together. From the filtered guitars to the textured drums to the restrained vocal delivery, Rice and his producer do their darnedest to copy Church’s signature country-rock style on this track, and while they end up with a half-decent reproduction in the end, the song falls completely flat thanks to its random, pandering, borderline-nonsensical lyrics: It uses an overly-simplistic “if I was X, I’d be Y” setup to work in references to Dale Earnhardt, the SEC, Johnny Cash, and Jesus Christ, it uses a bizarre flag-patch reference to shout out the military, and it throws in a grandfather/grandson bit that is both blatantly obvious and completely pointless. This is about a scattershot a track as you’ll ever hear, and its weak attempt to bring it all together on the chorus as a lost-love song doesn’t work at all (and the generally-upbeat production doesn’t help matters). The bridge is the closest the song comes to tying everything together, but it paints the narrator is an unflattering light: It lays out a blueprint for what he should do if he was “a smart man,” while at the same time insinuating that that’s exactly what he didn’t do. Listening to this track is an exercise in frustration, and the only good thing that could come of it would be for Church to sue Rice for trademark infringement and doing damage to his brand.

Rating: 4/10. Next!

Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar”

While this track is at least up front that it won’t be plowing new ground, it doesn’t make it any more interesting to listen to. My first question is why Mitchell Tenpenny was allowed anywhere near this thing: It wasn’t written as a duet, the presence of a second person adds nothing to the song, and Tenpenny’s weak, raspy voice is completely outclassed by Young’s solid baritone. Where McCreery passes the context test, this song really doesn’t, as its paint-by-numbers guitar-and-drum doesn’t fit in with either a classic bar setting or the 90s song it name-drops (“Brand New Man,” “Time Marches On”), and by taking a more-neutral and serious approach to a bar song, it deftly avoids all the reasons people actually listen to a bar song in the first place (i.e, it’s either to party hardy or cry in your beer). The imagery and scenes are exactly what you’d expect to see: Love being found, love being lost, bartender stories and (of course) lost and lots and lots of alcohol. By focusing on what happens in the bar, the song fails to give the place any atmosphere, or make it seem like somewhere that you would actually want to go. Toss in the fact that the song feels half-written with only one-and-a-half verses, and you’re left with a bland snorefest that exists merely for the sake of existing.

Rating: 5/10. There are way better beer-joint odes to spend your time listening to.

Song Review: Mitchell Tenpenny ft. Seaforth, “Anything She Says”

Hold on…why am I getting such a sense of déjà vu right now?

Consider the opening statement from my last Mitchell Tenpenny review:

“The bar for a young male singer fresh off of Nashville’s assembly line to score a ‘debut’ #1 is absurdly low, so the fact that Tenpenny’s mediocre debut ‘Drunk Me’ spent nearly nine months on the radio just to settle for a Mediabase-only #1…should have set off some warning lights over at Columbia Records.”

This is what happens when you ignore the warning lights: Tenpenny’s toxic follow-up single “Alcohol You Later” was completely ignored by country radio and didn’t even crack the top forty on Billboard’s country charts. (The only list that tire fire has a chance of making is my “worst songs of 2019” list next month.) After taking some time to lick their wounds, Tenpenny and Riser House/Columbia are back with a third single “Anything She Says” featuring fellow nobodies Seaforth (who I straight-up forgot existed after reviewing “Love That” back in May), and…well, let’s let past Kyle sum things up:

“This song is an exact copy of a track I reviewed a mere four days ago…except that it’s appreciably worse in every category…”

Four days ago, I reviewed Dillon Carmichael’s surprisingly-good “I Do For You,” and what do you know? “Anything She Says” is pretty much the exact same song, and it’s also appreciably worse in every way. It would honestly be a little spooky if I wasn’t so annoyed by Tenpenny’s incompetent attempts at plagiarism.

Tenpenny better hope this surprise reboot of the Metropolitan sound sticks, because that’s the only chance production like this has got at getting any airplay. The arrangement is exactly what you would expect from a song like this: Choppy electric guitars greased up and tuned for maximum slickness and raunchiness, a Wurlitzer piano tries (and fails) to add some old-school R&B flavor and atmosphere, and a simple snap track that eventually gives way to some forgettable drum set work on the choruses and bridge. (However, I’ll give them a small slice of credit for the jingle bells on the “Christmas in July” line.) It’s yet another attempt to inject some sex and sensuality into a mostly-standard love song (seriously, the raunchiest thing the narrator and their partner do here is hold hands), but the thing that stands out the most here is just how incredibly boring this mix is. There’s no groove, minimal energy, and the instrument work is so basic and uninteresting that the listener struggles to stay awake through the entire song. For an artist in desperate need of some buzz and attention, this is about the worst mix they could throw onto a single.

Similarly, Tenpenny has absolutely zero presence behind the mic here, and completely fails to sell the audience on the story. On the technical side, while he’s got just enough range and flow to cover the song’s meager demands, his voice comes across as thin and raspy, and lacks the power and the emotive ability to allow the listener to share in his good feelings. I certainly buy that he’s madly in love with this other person, but he fails to convince me to actually care about this relationship. As far as Seaforth, I have one question: What are they doing here? It sounds like both Tom Jordan and Mitch Thompson get a turn on the lead vocals here, but the three singers sound so similar that it’s really hard to tell any of them apart, and Jordan and Thompson provide no more presence or charisma than Tenpenny does. (I mean, at least Justin Bieber raises the Q rating of Dan + Shay’s “10,000 Hours”; these jokers have less name recognition than Tenpenny does, and certainly aren’t going to help push records out the door.) It’s a good thing Gordon Ramsey isn’t here, because there are too many cooks in the kitchen here, and the main course is woefully undercooked.

On the surface, this song is the exact same as Carmichael’s recent track: The narrator has found the partner of their dreams, and they will drop everything to do “anything she says.” Dig a little deeper, however, and the cracks begin to show. Where “I Do For You” had some actual story progression and had a real sense of maturation to it, this track decidedly does not: Where Carmichael would “get a real job, move across town” and “grow up and settle down,” this guy will…go to the beach and go with their friend to “get drunk, get waffles at two-in-the-morning.” (Yes, the marriage twist is here just like with “I Do For You,” but it’s only briefly touched on and feels a bit hollow in comparison, as if it were just a throwaway lone for the bridge.) Outside of the waffles line, there’s nothing particularly interesting in the imagery here either (we’ve got the beach, we’ve got holding hands in an undisclosed location, and that’s basically it). It all adds up to a character that, while it seems like they’ve been in love for a while, doesn’t generate enough sympathy or interest for anyone to pay attention to their love story.

“Anything She Says” is a song that utterly fails to justify its existence, especially in the face of far stronger material like “I Do For You.” The production is bland and boring, the vocals from both Mitchell Tenpenny and Seaforth are weak and uninspiring, and the writing lacks depth and detail. It does manage to clear the low bar that is “Alcohol You Later,” but it’s far from being a good or even mediocre song. No one affiliated with this track acquits themselves very well, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the whole kit and caboodle booted out of Nashville sooner rather than later.

Forget “a penny for your thoughts”I’d be more than happy to give Tenpenny ten pennies to keep his thoughts to himself.

Rating: 4/10. Pass.

Song Review: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Alcohol You Later”

Dear Mitchell Tenpenny: Don’t call me, alcohol you.

The bar for a young male singer fresh off of Nashville’s assembly line to score a “debut” #1 is absurdly low, so the fact that Tenpenny’s mediocre debut “Drunk Me” spent nearly nine months on the radio just to settle for a Mediabase-only #1  (Jimmie Allen swatted him away from Billboard’s top spot with an Embiid-quality block) should have set off some warning lights over at Columbia Records. Still, challenging “Best Shot” and anything Luke Combs releases is a tall order for any act, so the label decided to give Tenpenny a second chance with a second-chance single: “Alcohol You Later,” a song that was supposed to be Tenpenny’s “debut” single back in 2017 (in fact, it was his second attempt at such a breakthrough, the first coming in 2015), but it never charted and was completely forgotten in the wake of “Drunk Me.” I’ve had feelings of déjà vu before, but never quite this strong: This song is an exact copy of a track I reviewed a mere four days ago (Travis Denning’s “After A Few”), except that it’s appreciably worse in every category, from the singer to the sound to perhaps the most godawful hook you’ll hear all year.

The production here opens innocently enough, with some sparse acoustic guitar, some background organ swells for atmosphere, and a percussion line I can only describe as a tambourine and a typewriter. Once the first chorus hits, however, the slick electric guitars and drum machine jump in (heck, even the bass sounds like it was borrowed from 80s pop), and the whole thing turns into the same generic Metropolitan mess we’ve been putting up with for several years. The mix has an unexpectedly bright and energetic feel to it (especially on the choruses, which have a real “Keith Urban long song” vibe to them), which clashes with the supposedly-sad tone of the writing—the narrator and their ex can’t seem to end their relationship, but a dance beat and upbeat guitar solo don’t exactly scream “I’m not okay with all this.” This in-your-face, get-up-and-move arrangement takes the focus away from the lyrics and feels like empty sonic calories, as if the producer just wanted an excuse to make people get up and shake a leg. It’s a poor fit for the song, and leaves the listener unsure about just how to feel about the whole thing.

Frankly, I’m just not impressed with Tenpenny as a vocalist. His voice lacks any real tone (especially in his lower range, which is where the verses here trap him), and he’s only a step or two above Kip Moore levels of raspiness. (I’m not terribly impressed with his upper range either: He’s more comfortable on the choruses than the verses, but his falsetto portions sound a bit weak to me.) More importantly, he just doesn’t have the charisma to feel sympathetic or even believable on this track (heck, he was more convincing on “Drunk Me” than this thing). He delivers the lyrics no differently than he would a love song, and gives no hint of regret or remorse that he keeps ending up in bed with his ex. The audience is left thinking “Gee, this guy doesn’t seem too bothered about this on-again, off-again arrangement, so why should we care?” It’s the $64,000 question (or perhaps the ten-cent question in this case), and the song doesn’t have a good answer.

And then we get to lyrics, and good grief can we talk about this garbage hook? Sure, “alcohol” sounds slightly, vaguely, kinda-sorta like “I’ll call” if you squint at it and don’t think too hard, but there’s nothing clever or witty about it, and the listener’s reaction is just a raised eyebrow and a “Really?” Beyond that, the track is a carbon-copy of Denning’s “After A Few”: Narrator gets drunk, narrator meets up with his ex, narrator falls into bed with said ex even though, you know, they’re supposed to be an ex. Oh, and guess who’s the instigator again? Here’s a hint: It’s the person saying stuff like this:

I know I shouldn’t do it
Oh, but these shots I’m shooting
Make me not give a damn

So you’re combining the should-know-better nihilism of “After A Few” with the devil-may-care recklessness of Randy Houser’s “What Whiskey Does”? Yeah, that sounds like a winning combination.

Beyond this, the lyrics are the same old story told in the same old locations with the same lack of interesting details (I liked the “changing names on my speed dial” line, and that’s it). As unimpressed as I was with “After A Few,” I’d listen to it a hundred times before I’d give this drivel the time of day.

Put it all together, and “Alcohol You Later” is a pretty poor excuse for a song on all levels. The paint-by-numbers production doesn’t fit the song’s message, the writing’s one distinct feature is its lazy excuse for a hook, and Mitchell Tenpenny brings absolutely no charm or charisma to the table to tell his tale. There are much better ways out there to hear the same darn story, and I don’t see this song making much more of an impact the second time around than it did the first. Tenpenny better hope for better luck in the future, because with junk like this, he won’t get another second chance.

Rating: 3/10. When this song calls, don’t bother answering.

Song Review: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me”

Tenpenny is an apt name for this artist, because songs like this are a dime a dozen in country music these days.

Mitchell Tenpenny is a Tennessee native who has been releasing music via his own independent label for some time now, but he decided to expand his reach by joining forces with Sony Music Nashville and releasing a self-titled EP earlier this year. While other tracks drew the public’s attention/ire, it was “Drunk Me” that was selected as Tenpenny’s official debut single. The choice is both an understandable and inexplicable one: It’s an inoffensive, time-tested formula that blends in seamlessly with the rest of country radio…which also makes it a generic, forgettable track that give you absolutely no reason to pay attention or care.

If I had to describe the track’s production in two words, they would be “aggressively generic.” The mix is dominated by slick guitars and synthetic percussion, with a few real instruments (piano, dobro, real drums) added in a futile effort to add some flavor. The song tries really hard to establish a groove and inject some energy (especially on the choruses, when the background guitars ramp up the volume), but the only feeling I get is that I’ve heard this song before, and done better. The confusing mixture of bright instrument tones and minor chords don’t help matters, as they only amplify the mixed signals sent by the lyrics and leave the listener completely confused about how to feel. (It begs the question: Is it worse for production to not complement competent writing, or complement incompetent writing? Because this song is definitely the latter.) There’s just nothing here that sticks in the listener’s mind and makes the track memorable, which is perhaps the biggest sin a debut single can commit.

Vocally, Tenpenny tries to do his best Chris Stapleton impression here, but his voice is more raspy and lacks Stapleton’s tone (especially in Tenpenny’s lower range, where the song traps him on the verses), and his delivery feels a bit labored when his tries to climb the ladder and add some power on the choruses. His biggest failure here is his failure to take a stand and clarify the song’s message, as his tone shifts back and forth between happy/hopeful and sad/mournful at various points during the track (the transition between the first verse and chorus is especially jarring). It’s hard to evaluate an artist’s charisma when you can’t tell what they’re trying to sell you, but being unable or unwilling to step up and point the listener in the right direction isn’t a great indicator for this guy’s future.

The writing is the root of this song’s ailments, as they fail to set a consistent tone for the song. More specifically, the first verse pulls a head-fake that throws the track into chaos: The song opens with some vague statements about hitting bottom and becoming sober (complete with uplifting production)… and then the narrator spends the rest of the track crying over a lost love that he can’t get through a drink without trying to resurrect. While such misdirection tactics can be effective (see: Thomas Rhett’s “Marry Me”), this one just puts the listener in an uncomfortable position: Should they feel happy for the narrator because they “started cleaning up [their] life,” or sorry for them because someone “broke their heart in two?” Unfortunately, the boilerplate nature of the topic (oh yeah, I haven’t heard the “love as a drug” allusion a hundred times before) and the imagery (the only real details we get are bottles and bedsheets) means that there’s nothing here to really interest the listener in the narrator’s plight, so instead of trying to decide whether to feel good or bad, they just shrug and walk away.

“Drunk Me” is just another song by just another singer, which makes it a disastrous choice for a debut single. It’s only outstanding feature is how obfuscated it feels, leaving its audience unsure of how to feel and uninterested in wasting time trying to figure it out. Mitchell Tenpenny better have some better material on his EP or up his sleeve, because otherwise his last name will also describe the value of his career.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.