Matt Stell may be a better version of himself, but he’s no more interesting of an artist than he ever was.
With Morgan Wallen booted off of country radio (personally I hope he’s gone for good, but I have a bad feeling that he’ll be back to haunt us eventually), the title of “Popular Artist Whose Popularity I Just Don’t Understand” now falls to Stell. Neither his voice, his charm, or his storytelling ability seem all that impressive, and yet he’s coming off back to back #1 singles (“Prayed For You” and “Everywhere But On”) to start his career. His latest single “That Ain’t Me No More” is more of the same: A boring love-lost lament that fails in its attempt to exhibit maturity and instead comes across whiny and shallow, contradicting its own thesis. It’s the latest example of mediocrity coming from Nashville’s faceless young male assembly line.
The production is the same old guitar-and-drum mix everyone leans on these days, but even these basic components don’t seem to mesh well together: The rougher electric guitar tones seem to clash with the crisper tones of the drum machine (the real drums that eventually appear on the first chorus help combat this a little). Beyond that, we get some simple steel guitar notes that add nothing to the mix (seriously, they could have left them out and gotten essentially the same sound for less money), and that’s pretty much it. The darker tones and slower tempo convey a sense of seriousness that matches the reality of the lyrics (the other person isn’t person no matter what the narrator does), but they also subtract more energy from the track than they add, and it ends up feeling like overkill when the lyrics dive into petty grievances. In the end, it’s a basic, lifeless sound that just kind of exists, and it doesn’t convince to pay any more attention than they have to.
Just as I proclaimed in my “Everywhere But On,” review, “Stell remains the same nondescript, uninteresting artist that he was the last time we heard him, and if you stuck any of the other faceless male singers coming out of Nashville behind the mic, the song wouldn’t sound any different.” His range and flow aren’t tested here, but there’s nothing distinctive or unique about his performance, nothing that would make you say “that’s a Matt Stell song.” Moreover, whatever charisma he showed on his prior singles completely deserts him here, and the narrator comes across as unnecessarily dour and completely unsympathetic. Instead of celebrating the other person’s happiness like Riley Green’s “In Love By Now” or his own accomplishments like Collin Raye’s “Little Rock,” he just grumbles about all the ways he’s hurt by not being in his ex’s life. While the lyrics certainly don’t help matters, a better artist would try to find the silver lining in the clouds and use their performance to acknowledge both the pain and happiness in the situation. Instead, we get a generic guy whimpering about what could’ve been, and the audience simply ignores them and moves on.
The lyrics here tell the story of a narrator who’s finally dropped many of the bad habits of their youth, but haven’t gotten over the loss of the partner who left them over those old habits. (The hook is that both the old narrator and the ex’s current partner “ain’t me no more,” but you could say the narrator has moved “everyone but on” too.) The double meaning of the hook is only moderately clever, and I get a real “Whiskey Glasses” vibe from the writing, as the narrator not only whines about the personal impact on himself more than anything else, but he also seems to get hung up on sexual considerations (the ex isn’t wearing his shirt after a night of lovemaking, the narrator isn’t getting to see “that knock-you-dead dress hit the floor”). It reflects a lack of maturity that the narrator is claiming to have gotten past, making them sound shallow and makes the listener root against them instead of commiserating with them. It’s a song that’s in desperate need of a refocus, because the narrator really gets on your nerves by the time it’s over.
Unfortunately, “That Ain’t Me No More” is exactly what Matt Stell is right now: Just another song from just another singer, featuring the same old sound and subpar writing. It’s a slight step down from “Everywhere But On,” and honestly makes me question Stell’s long-term viability in the genre. After a pair of major-label EPs, he and his team can’t seem to release anything but boring, mediocre material, and there are a million artists competing for room in this lane right now. If he doesn’t come up with something big and fast, he’ll soon be saying “that ain’t me no more” when people ask if he was a country artist.
Rating: 5/10. Pass.