This is a name I hadn’t expect to see, and frankly, after listening to this track I wish I hadn’t seen it.
Clay Walker may have peaked early by scoring five No. 1 singles with his first six releases back in the early 90s, but he was a consistent hitmaker throughout the decade, and he even managed to score the occasional Top Ten in the 2000s before finally petering out as the Bro Country wave hit the genre in the early 2010s. While he has continued to release official singles over the last ten years, he had been far enough out of the spotlight that I considered him a potential deep dive candidate…until he suddenly appeared on the Mediabase chart this week with “Need A Bar Sometimes,” a song released last August that I had pretty much ignored despite its occasional appearance in a Country Aircheck ad. After listening to the song, it turns out that ignorance was bliss: This is a pointless drinking song with a dated (and jarring) Bro-Country sound, and does more to ruin Walker’s legacy than burnish it. I called Tim McGraw’s “Neon Church” “as disingenuous an ode to an old-school barroom that’s you’ll hear today,” but frankly, this song takes that title away without much of a fight.
The production on this track is probably the most aggravating part of the song: With its deliberate tempo, token banjo, and heavy reliance on synthetic beats (yep, Grady Smith’s favorite clap track is here too), the mix makes the song come across like a Bro-Country reject that would have sounded out of date five years ago. A steel guitar is brought in to fill in the occasional dead space, but it’s drowned in so many audio effects that it sounds like it’s underwater, and beyond that it’s the same old guitar-and-drum mix you’ve heard a million times before. Worse still, while electric axes on a song like Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” (yep, that’s the first song that came to mind when I heard this, and it makes me sad) tried to force the issue by getting in your face and with a little power and attitude, the instruments here feel weak and watered-down by comparison, and don’t even compel the listener to look up from their drink. Finally, much like “Neon Church,” this mix completely fails the context test: For as much as it talks up the barroom experience, this is the last thing you’d expect to hear as a classic beer joint (honestly, they should have called this “We All Need A Club Sometimes,” because that’s the image it brings to mind with that drum machine). In short, this is a terrible sound for the subject matter, and whoever produced this drivel needs to get back in their DeLorean and return to 2012.
Vocally, Walker doesn’t quite have the fastball he had in his 90s heyday (his voice seems a bit thinner now and lacks the presence it had before), which means he’s not able to impose his will on the song and shape its impression on the listener (instead, the awful production winds up as the song’s defining feature). He handles the occasional technical challenge of the lyrics without any trouble (rapid-fire lyrics aren’t really his thing, but he manages to cram in all the extra syllables without seeming too rushed), but his delivery is very matter-of-fact and doesn’t really sell the song—instead of lauding the barroom atmosphere, the bar just kind of a thing that exists, and he really doesn’t convince anyone that they’ll actually need it sometimes. (Personally, who needs a bar when I have Walker’s Greatest Hits album and a decent stereo system?) To be honest, the biggest issue I have is that Walker brings nothing distinct to his performance—stick any current member of Nashville’s faceless young male assembly line behind the mic, and nothing changes. Instead of a Clay Walker song, the song comes across as nothing but a vehicle for its awful Bro-Country sound, and both Walker and his audience deserve better.
The lyrics here…well, they really don’t say much at all: “We all need a bar sometimes” to cheer up, chill out, or just drink a beer. It’s an incredibly scattershot song, trying to achieve broad appeal by saying that anything can happen there (you can be happy, sad, chill, rowdy, etc.) and hoping that one of these clicks with the listener and that they can fill in the details. By itself, however, the place they (barely) describe in the song doesn’t seem that appealing at all. Outside of beer and cigarettes, there’s no sense of the atmosphere or character of the bar: No mention of regulars, no mention of recreational activities, and not even a mention of drink selection beyond beer and tequila (I’m surprised there’s no mention of Jim, Jack, Johnny, or Fireball here, given how country songs love to drop those names). If you don’t already find a bar interesting, there’s nothing here to make you say “Hey, that’s where I want to be!” If this is all a bar offers, then I’d rather stay home.
Clay Walker is an underrated star of the 1990s and I would encourage people to check out his discography, but “Need A Bar Sometimes” is one of the weakest songs I’ve ever heard from him. The writing feels vague and incomplete, Walker’s sales job is unconvincing, and the producer tries to turn the whole mess into a generic Bro-Country throwback. The song is nothing but radio filler that’s forgotten thirty seconds after it ends, and given country music’s age bias, I doubt it will make much of an impact on the charts. If Walker is really hoping for a late-career comeback, he’s going to need better songs than this to make it happen.
Rating: 5/10. Skip this track, and dive into Walker’s older material instead. Here, I’ll help get you started: