Song Review: Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart”

Sorry Parker McCollum, but this song doesn’t say a whole lot about you either as a person or an artist.

McCollum is a Texas native who’s been kicking around the local music scene for a while now, but only recently jumped onto the national stage when he signed with UMG Nashville last year. His first release “Pretty Heart” didn’t make much of an impression nationwide and only made it to #38 on Billboard’s airplay chart, so McCollum and UMG are going back now with his new release…wait, why are we getting “Pretty Heart” again? Was this thing not officially released the first time, or does the label think it’s got another “On The Other Hand” on its hands? I hate to break it to them, but Parker McCollum is no Randy Travis, and this song is the poorest excuse for a mea culpa that I’ve heard in a while. As heated as the chart competition has gotten, I don’t see this doing any better in 2020 than in did in 2019.

The production is the same sort of moody guitar-and-drum mix that half of Nashville’s been leaning on lately, and only partially fits the tone of the writing. That’s a lot to this arrangement, but it doesn’t feature much variety: The expected slick electric guitar is backed by at least two acoustic ones (one’s a bit higher-pitched, and I would have called it a mandolin if the video’s instrument listing had included one), with a drum set ending up as the loudest thing in the booth before the chorus. (A keyboard floats around in the background, but it’s barely noticeable until the final chorus.) The feel of this mix is…awkward, to say the least: I wouldn’t call it bright, but I wouldn’t really call it dark and somber either, and the whole thing is just fast, loud, and spacious enough to make the track feel more like an arena sing-along than a sad song. Something just doesn’t mesh with the subject matter here, and it makes the message feel superficial and disingenuous as a result.

Vocally, McCollum brings to mind a deeper-voiced Tucker Beathard (not a great comparison to begin with), and frankly, I hold him mostly responsible for the failure of this song. His technical skills are decent and mostly untested here, but his performance is utterly devoid of charisma or charm. The lyrics beat you over the head with the fact that the narrator is the bad guy in this story and is doing some serious soul-searching as a result, but I don’t get any sense that McCollum actually believes that line. Instead, he delivers his lines with all the warmth and charm of an evening newscaster, and the listener gets absolutely no sense of remorse from him about the situationin fact, he doesn’t sound sad at all! It’s a surprisingly wooden performance that makes it painfully clear that McCollum is just the guy telling the story, and he doesn’t own the narrator’s role and sell the sob story like he needs to. In the end, the audience is unmoved by McCollum, and moves on in search of an artist with an actual personality.

Then we get to the lyrics, which really should gone through a few more drafts before it reached this point. (If you can’t come up with anything better than “I stood there like a fence post” and especially “I’ve been drinking like a drunkard,” you need to put the pen down and find some real songwriters to craft your material.) Also, we got the message the first time you said you were the reason the relationship failedyou don’t need to beat that drum over and over for the rest of the song, especially with that repetitive, awkwardly-timed “what does that say about me?” question (and yet somehow you still managed to bungle the delivery). Everything else here feels paint-by-numbers simple: The narrator dropped the ball, they’re drowning their sorrow in cigarettes and beer, they wish they could go back, yada yada yada, repeat ad infinitum. The one thing that’s missing, however, is the road to redemption: Self-flagellation is one thing, but there should also be a resolve to better oneself and a proclamation that that they will never make this mistake again (see: Old Dominion’s “Some People Do”). This track is just someone halfheartedly blaming themselves while taking no effort to change the result the next time around, a lazy attitude that doesn’t curry any favor with the audience.

“Pretty Heart” is actually pretty awful, and doesn’t give me any confidence in Parker McCollum’s future as a member of the genre. The writing is repetitive and overbearing, the production is generic and forgettable, and McCollum doesn’t demonstrate the charm and personality to succeed at the next level. He seems like someone who could use a bit more seasoning on the Texas circuit to find his voice and hone his songwriting, because this song and this performance don’t even qualify as radio filler, and are lacking even by Nashville’s questionable standards.

“What does that say about me?” It says you’re not ready for the big time just yet.

Rating: 4/10. Don’t bother with this one.