When it comes to a career reviver, you’re better off going all in than doing things halfway.
If you asked me who the Zac Brown Band is, I’d say “A candidate for an intriguing deep dive.” Since their controversial genre-blending album Jekylll + Hyde (and in particular their EDM-influenced track “Beautiful Drug”), their chart performance has been in freefall, from a pair of #14 singles in “Castaway” and “My Old Man” to a gag-inducing #55 peak with their latest single “Leaving Love Behind.” The group is officially standing on the edge of viability staring into the abyss of irrelevance, and they’re trying once again to recapture their old formula by closing the book on The Owl and bringing out a brand-new single in “The Man Who Loves You The Most.” It’s a fairly-standard ode-to-my-daughter song, but it’s hindered by poor execution at nearly every turn, leaving it as generally uninteresting and forgettable.
The production is reminiscent of “Leaving Love Behind” in that the band’s original sound serves as the foundation, but its includes a number of more-recent influences that seem unnecessary and mostly get in the way. The opening acoustic guitar does a nice job carrying the melody and establishing the typical warm, reflective atmosphere, but the drum machine and electric guitar that join in on the second chorus are a little jarring and give the mix a slicker feel that doesn’t suit the mood nearly as well, and the incorporation of a full drum set is another rough transition that disrupts the song’s flow with its added volume and punch. (The relegation of the fiddle to background noise and a few scattered riffs feels like a wasted opportunity to both complement the acoustic base and give the sound a more-distinct feel.) The overall vibe is suitably heartfelt, but the issues the mix has when bringing in more pieces to build momentum blunt its impact rather than enhancing it, and the result is a listener who shrugs, says “That’s nice,” and moves on.
Brown himself is usually a strong vocalist with some decent charisma, but he’s plagues by some technical issues on this track. More specifically, the clarity of his voice seems to vary throughout the track: It starts out a bit fuzzy (and almost sounds distorted), clears up quickly, and then falters on the last line of the track badly enough that it makes him sound like a completely different person. While his range and power are fine otherwise, these vocal inconsistencies disrupt the song’s flow much like the production does, keeping him from feeling believable in the narrator’s role. Unlike “My Old Man,” Brown doesn’t make the song feel personal enough to interest the audience in his tale (despite the fact that he has four daughters in real life), and the song ends up as more tepid than touching as a result. (The band doesn’t add a whole lot here either, and the sounds blends in a bit too well with everything else on the radio.) It’s not a terrible performance, but it’s not the kind of career-resuscitating ballad Brown and his team really needed.
The lyrics come across as a bit weak because they don’t go far enough to make the song moving or memorable. The story follows a man and his daughter as life separates them through work, college, and eventually death, and while I like the way the story progresses, there’s not enough detail in each of the vignettes to let the listener picture the scene, and the details that are present feel a bit too cookie-cutter and saccharine, a pencil sketch that feels more like a tracing than an original piece. The chorus declarations of seeing seven wonders and sailing seven seas feel more awkward than they should, and the hook turns the song into a watered-down version of Heartland’s “I Loved Her First” without taking the time that Heartland did to outline the history between the father and daughter and give the listener a sense of why the bond was so strong. In other words, the track is a Cliff notes version of a better song, and its message is substantially weaker as a result.
“The Man Who Loves You The Most” could be classified as a disappointment, as it feels like a great song that the Zac Brown Band undermined with a series of unforced errors. Neither the production nor the vocals nor the writing do enough to elevate the song into something emotional enough to draw the audience in, and thus the song winds up as a merely okay addition to the airwaves. It’s certainly not enough to save a career as off-track as the Zac Brown Band’s has been over the past five years, and will do little to silence the critics who consider Brown and company turncoats for their Jekyll + Hyde transgressions. The song was a good start, but when my inevitable analysis of this band’s career appears sometime in 2023, this song likely won’t warrant a mention.
Rating: 6/10. Give it a spin, but temper your expectations before you do.