If being against LANco makes me a “Rival,” then just call me Gary Oak.
I’m starting to notice a disturbing trend in country music: Artists are stepping up to the mic with a palpable “f*ck you” mentality, releasing a bunch of pent-up anger and declaring that one day their enemies will suffer a grim fate, as if they were a child lashing out after being bullied one too many times. Anger can be a powerful force in music if it feels justified or at least understandable (see: “Rearview Town”), but most of the rage I’m hearing now feels baseless and excessive, with artists swearing at shadows and drawing bright red lines between themselves and their supposed haters. I’ve heard it on awful tracks like “REDNECKER,” “The Bull,” and “God’s Country,” and now LANco is trying to add their name to the list with “Rival,” the presumed-leadoff single for the sophomore album. I say “trying” because this song is the weakest attitude song I’ve heard in a while, with neither the sound nor the singers bothering to match the passionate defiance of the writing, and the whole thing feels like a hollow shell of an angry song that no one wanted to hear anyway.
The production is the least impressive effort I’m heard from LANco thus far, as they scrap the acoustic/retro style that helped distinguish them from their peers for a generic, conventional sound that’s indistinguishable from the rest of the genre. The song opens with the acoustic guitar and banjo that you would expect from the group, but the hard-rock electric guitars, spacious choral “whoa-ohs,” and in-your-face drums quickly jump in, drowning out the acoustic guitar and making the banjo as token as one from a Florida Georgia Line track. (Oh, and the producer felt the need to throw in a bunch of repeated phrases slathered in vocal effects, which are more annoying than anything else.) Despite all the noise in the mix and the attitude in the lyrics, however, the producer makes the bizarre decision not to lean into the anger and instead relies on brighter tones for the sonic foundation, making the song sound more like a recycled Bro-Country party track than a chest-pounding “come at me bro” statement. While it’s admittedly the lesser of two evils in this situation, this discrepancy in the “what” and “how” of the track leaves the listener wondering what the fuss is all about, not to mention wondering why they should bother to pay attention in the first place. The whole thing winds up as nothing more than a wall of noise, offering empty sonic calories for those crazy enough to care.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of lead singer Brandon Lancaster, but this has got to be his worst performance to date. Whatever charisma and earnestness he showed off on “American Love Story” and “Born To Love You” is tossed out the window for a placid performance that feels way more monotonic and mailed-in than it should. (Seriously, we have to wait until the closing line of the second chorus before Lancaster proves he has a pulse and starts to put some feeling behind his delivery.) His range and flow are enough to keep the track moving, but he’s equal parts unsympathetic and unconvincing in the role of a swaggering, my-way-or-the-highway narrator, and his performance pushes his audience away rather than drawing them to his side. (For their part, the rest of the band doesn’t provide a whole lot of cover with their run-of-the-mill harmony work.) Lancaster and LANco should probably stick to the Dan + Shay lane and lean on slower, emotion-laden ballads, because trying to be some weird hybrid of Florida Georgia Line and HARDY doesn’t suit them at all.
Lyrically, the song features yet another loud, aggrieved narrator who’s just itching to throw some shade at their faceless haters because they’re supposedly going straight to the top, and if you aren’t with them, you’re against them:
I rumble, and I roar
I’m winning, I ain’t even keeping score
It’s a movement, a revival
And if you ain’t with me, you’re the rival
First of all, given that unimpressive #18 airplay peak from your last single, you might want some Ex-Lax to get that movement going again. Second of all, who are these haters and why are they hating on you? The narrator claims that they stand for something and that people oppose them, but they never actually tell us what or who that is, hoping that the listener can fill in the blank with their own experience. Instead, the protagonist wastes their time ranting into the void, declaring that “I’ma get the last laugh” and that “you can shut your mouth” if you don’t agree with them. Their needless fight-picking, laser-focus on their enemies, unjustified grievances, and over-the-top declarations of victory just make the guy sound bitter, unconvincing, and even a little unhinged, and the audience spends most of the track slowly backing towards the exit, hoping to escape before the song finishes.
“Rival” is nothing more than a bad song executed badly, featuring an angry, aggressive narrator than neither the producer nor LANco seems terribly committed to following. What’s more unnerving to me, however, is the trend this junk represents: There’s a lot of anger in the world right now, and people are looking to emphasize their differences and lash out at anyone who they think isn’t part of the home team. Nashville doesn’t push its chips to the center of the table like this unless it’s confident there’s a market for its product, and with “Kumbaya” songs falling out of favor (has anyone else noticed that “Love Wins” seems to have stalled on the Mediabse charts?), 2019 is fast becoming a year of drawing lines, picking sides, and flaunting your purity and superiority. I don’t like this trend, and I don’t like this song.
Rating: 3/10. Nope.