Song Review: Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You”

I’m confused: Did anyone actually look at this song before they went and recorded it?

Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris married back in 2018, but nobody has ever confused them for a Nashville power couple. Sure, Morris has had some big hits like “The Middle” and “The Bones,” but her single releases are pretty inconsistent (her last one “To Hell And Back” only made it to #32 on Billboard’s airplay chart), and Hurd has only managed to be consistently mediocre (his #22 single “To A T” remains his best showing, and “Every Other Memory” barely cracked the top fifty). Now, the pair has teamed up for a new single “Chasing After You,” and it’s about as bad of a clash of ideas as I’ve seen in a long time: The singers and the producer clearly went into the studio thinking “sensual love ballad,” so why in the world are they recording a song about an on-again, off-again romance that will never work out? Instead of trotting out the cheesy clichés and doing their best Tim & Faith impression, Hurd and Morris leave the listener feeling mostly confused, wondering why the heck they chose to deliver such a song in such a way.

On its face, I don’t actually mind the production that much—I just find it to be an incredibly awkward fit for the song’s subject matter. There isn’t a whole lot to this arrangement: It’s a simple electric guitar backed by a deep, sparse drum machine and wrapped up in some spacious synthesizers (eventually a real drum set joins in on the first chorus). It’s lacks instrument diversity and the riffs are mind-numbingly simple, but the slower tempo and deeper guitar and drum tones actually do a decent job of creating a sensual atmosphere (this sounds far more sexy than most of the attempted country sex jams I’ve heard over the last few years). The problem is there really isn’t anything sexy about the song: Sure, the narrators engage in some implied “physical activity,” but the crux of the song is that the relationship never holds up and the pair eventually separates, and there’s nothing sexy or romantic about a Groundhog Day-like breakup loop. It’s almost as if the song is trying to convince the listener to ignore the writing and get lost in the sound, but the twist on the chorus is impossible to ignore, and it leaves the listener confused about what the song is trying to say. It feels like the producer and the writers are working as cross-purposes here, and it leaves the listener feeling very little at all in the end.

The mismatch between the sound and the subject matter puts Hurd and Morris in a tough spot, and while both decide to throw their weight behind the producer, it’s still not enough to paper over the song’s inherent conflict. Hurd is clearly the weaker of the two artists here: He’s a product of Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line (stick anybody else behind the mic, and this song sounds the exact same), and his soundalike voice and limited charisma do little to convey the passion within the sound. Morris’s voice is both more distinct and more emotive, but her role is a bit more limited (she’s the one always stuck on harmony duty when the pair sings together), and she doesn’t bring a lot of power to the table on this track, causing her to be drowned out by the added instrumentation on the second verse. I think the pair has some decent vocal chemistry and could actually make a romantic power ballad work, but this isn’t that kind of song, and trying to turn it into that song takes a tool on both their believability and their ability to transmit their feelings to the audience. It’s not a great look for anyone involved, and unlike the narrators, the listener is more than ready to move on after hearing this track.

The writing here tells the sad story of a couple who just can’t seem to find the magic formula for love, but can’t seem to stop looking for it. I’ve never been a fan of these kinds of songs, because it paints the speakers in a negative light: If the relationship has crashed and burned so many times, why don’t you show some self-control, stop beating a dead horse, and move on? Much like the relationship, the story never progresses either: We get a drunken night together, a few TL;DR statements about how the relationship cycles, and some lines about how the narrators can’t stay apart because “it feels too good” (which implies that the attraction is purely physical and not based on any meaningful feelings). It would be different if the narrators were doing something—anything—to change the outcome each time, but we get no indication that they do anything but drink and make out. (Even the “guess I love chasing after you” hook feels born of resignation more than anything else.) The whole thing make the song feel incredibly pointless: The narrator’s aren’t happy with the on-again, off-again status quo, but they’re too comfortable with it to do something about it, and thus they’re trapped in an unappealing cycle that the audience would rather avoid altogether.

“Chasing After You” is a song that is unsure of its true purpose in life, and when it tries to be two separate things, it ends up being neither of them. The writing is an uninteresting tale of woe from two people who aren’t bothered enough to change the ending, the production is more suitable for a sex jam than a melancholy song like this one, and Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd fail to make chicken salad out of the chicken you-know-what they’re left with. It’s the sort of unengaging track that’s only suitable for background noise, and I’m not sure even Morris’s star power is enough to make this one leave a mark on the airwaves. I think the there’s enough chemistry shown off here that the couple should try this trick again, but only if they learn from the mistakes of the protagonists here and make the changes necessary (stronger material and a more-consistent approach from everyone involved) to do better next time.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t go chasing after this one.

Song Review: Ryan Hurd, “Every Other Memory”

Mark McGwire didn’t talk about the past, but Ryan Hurd is a little too eager to do so.

When last we heard Hurd, he was limping to a mediocre #22 airplay peak with “To a T,” earning a dishonorable mention on my 2019 half-year worst-song list in the process. Hurd and RCA Nashville have sat out much of 2020 looking for the perfect moment to reintroduce the artist to the world, and apparently the success of Matt Stell’s “Everywhere But On” has convinced them that now is the time to bring out Hurd’s next single “Every Other Memory.” It’s a similar song covering a similar subject, but I would call this one the weaker of the two tracks: Not only is it equally uninteresting, but it also doesn’t convince the audience that the relationship is worth lamenting in the first place. Hurd still doesn’t do enough to distinguish himself here, and given the reaction so far (this appears to have been released back in May, but is only breaking into the Mediabase Top 50 now), this doesn’t appear to be the song that will his get his career unstuck from neutral.

The production is only distinguished by being indistinguishable: It’s a conventional guitar-and-drum mix infused with an extra dose of lethargy for good measure. The electric guitars are slick but punchless, the drums have a bit more presence but the same lack of energy (and they’re so methodical that the producer might as well have used a Garageband drum loop), and everything else here (some background keyboards and guitar riffs) is little more than white noise floating around in the background. The instrument tones are kinda-sorta dark, but the overall vibe is surprisingly neutral (it just doesn’t feel all that sad despite the lost love), and instead of adding energy to the song, the plodding tempo and simple mix construction actively drains it away, leaving the listener unengaged and waiting for the next song to come on the radio. You can’t be this boring when you’re trying to make a name for yourself, and the producer does Hurd no favors in that department.

I compared Hurd’s voice to Devin Dawson in my last review, but since no one remembers what Dawson sounds like anymore (he hasn’t released a single since 2018, and he’s barely noticeable on HARDY’s “One Beer”), he comes across as a watered-down version of Morgan Wallen now (which isn’t exactly high praise). Unlike the production, Hurd at least seems to be trying to inject some emotion and feeling into the song, but unfortunately “trying” and “succeeding” are two different things. He’s competent enough from a technical perspective and song doesn’t test his range or flow much, but he lacks the presence and charisma to draw folks to her performance, and he gets drowned out by the bland sameness of the production. I said last time that “there’s just nothing interesting or distinct about his delivery that would make me stand up and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to hear more from this guy!’,” and that still holds true todayin fact, he makes me sad thinking about all the better vocalists he’s taking airtime away from. He simply fails to give the listener a reason to pay attention, and until he does, he’s not going to find much success on the radio.

The lyrics tell the sad (but not terribly novel) tale of a narrator who can’t get the memory of a past relationship out of their lab (it comes up in “every other memory”). I’m not a big fan of songs like this in general: I get that the narrator is sad and all, but spending all your time moping around about a relationship that doesn’t appear to be returning (especially when the narrator is whining about the situation rather than doing something about it) isn’t terrible productive or sympathetic—they need to put the past behind them and move on already. What’s worse, however, is that the description of the relationship makes is sound like little more than an ephemeral summer fling: The narrator claims that “every other memory is you and me wrapped up in the summer,” it references the Fourth of July, concerts, and beach sunsets, and the memories are mostly limited to boilerplate activities like partying, making out, and driving down back roads. Despite the explicit reference to October, the song makes the pairing feel more like an extended hookup than a serious relationship. (It also doesn’t talk about why the relationship ended, leaving it up to your imaginationdid someone do something to cause the pair to separate, or did the fall simply cool off a hot summer romance?). I hate to break it to this guy, but summer relationships fall apart all the time, and the writers do nothing to convince the audience to waste their time caring about this one.

“Every Other Memory” is just another ho-hum retrospective on a relationship that only matters in the narrator’s mind, featuring checked-out production, flimsy writing, and a vocalist in Ryan Hurd who just isn’t strong enough to put his stamp on the track and attract any attention. It’s a lateral move at best from “To A T,” and leaves Hurd without a persuasive case for making room for him in a genre that’s already littered with faceless young male singers. Hurd and his team need to find both some stronger material and a way to distinguish his music from the rest of the fieldotherwise he’ll never be Hurd from again.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Song Review: Ryan Hurd, “To A T”

Ryan Hurd might have “got you down to a T,” but I’ve got him down as a generous C-.

The latest product to roll off of Nashville’s young male assembly line is Michigan native Hurd, who had kicked around Nashville for a few years as a songwriter (his biggest hit being Blake Shelton & Ashley Monroe’s “Lonely Tonight”) before signing with RCA Nashville early in 2017. Sony Nashville chairman Randy Goodman is on record saying Hurd would be “one of our new breakout artists in 2017,” but that potential has thus far only translated into a self-titled EP and a pair of flop singles (one barely made Billboard’s top fifty, while the other didn’t chart at all). Now, Hurd is being foisted upon us once again with a brand new single “To A T,” an uninspired retread of a love song that simply doesn’t make a case for letting Hurd hang around in the genre.

The first question you’ll ask upon hearing the production is “Why the heck are all the instruments underwater?” The initial drums and synths are drowned in a sea of fuzzy audio effects, and only an acoustic guitar and the occasional pedal steel riff are allowed to emerge (the drums get pulled up out of the water and then shoved back down like they’re being tortured. Come on, what did that drum machine ever do to you?). It’s yet another example of a country mix trying to slow things down and create a sexy, sensual atmosphere, and ultimately failing to pull it off. The drums are too soulless, the guitars aren’t spacious enough, and the mix counters whatever brightness the instruments have by using a bizarre mix of minor and suspended chords. The whole thing just feels too cold and clinical to properly set the mood, and serves as yet another example of why most country artists should leave sex jams to the professionals.

Vocally, Hurd reminds me a lot of Devin Dawson, except that Dawson has a lot more interesting things to say in his material. While Hurd is solid from a technical perspective (his range and flow sound fine, although they’re not really tested by this track), there’s just nothing interesting or distinct about his delivery that would make me stand up and say, “Hey, I’d like to hear more from this guy!” I’m sure the narrator feels strongly about the person he’s serenading, but Hurd just doesn’t have the charm or charisma to be able to transmit this passion to his audience, leaving them a passive observer to his romantic antics (and making them wonder why they’re paying attention in the first place). Stick any of the faceless singers from Nashville’s assembly line behind the mic here, and the song would sound and feel about the same as it does here, which is to say you wouldn’t feel much at all. For a singer still looking for his big break in the business, this is pretty much a worst-case scenario.

Lyrically, the narrator is telling their significant other that they can just relax and be themselves, because the narrator knows them so well (“to a T”) that both parties will experience maximum sexual pleasure this evening. The whole “down to a T-shirt” hook is not terribly clever and has been done to death in the genre lately (Jordan Davis’s “Take It From Me,” Thomas Rhett’s “T-Shirt”), and despite the promises of a long, comfortable sexual evening, the details we get don’t talk go too far beyond the explicit ones. Sure, the guy will “dot every I” (yeah, not a ton left to the imagination there) to some Marvin Gaye, but where’s the foreplay? There’s no holding, no kissing, no  “I love you”…it’s just two people tangled up in sheets 69ing. In fact, aside from the narrator’s assertion that he knows the other person so well, there isn’t a whole lot separating this from your typical “we just met, but you’re so awesome we should totally get jiggy with it right now” tune that’s been plaguing the airwaves lately. Throw in a “meh” performance from both the producer and the singer, and you’re left with an unsexy sex jam that’s utterly forgettable.

“To A T” ends up being an awkward fit all the way around, and nothing from the sound to the writing to Ryan Hurd himself comes across as either sexy or memorable. It’s nothing more than radio filler, and while that might be enough to make some noise in the current weakened state of the chart, there’s not enough here to sustain a long chart run and become the breakout hit Hurd and company have been looking for since 2017. Despite his previous songwriting success, this artist appears fated to be seen and not Hurd.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t go out of your way for this one.