Kenny Chesney—“Come Over”
The mindless “Feel Like a Rock Star” to the contrary, in many ways Chesney has matured as an artist, and he’s become especially effective at songs like this, which emphasize a sense of regret while hinting at a barely restrained longing and sensuality. This may be more a matter of craft than sensibility—Chesney knows his stuff better than most anyone else in country—but it works as long as you don’t listen too deeply and catch the mechanics at work. I doubt he’ll ever top “You and Tequila”, but this is in the same ball park. Enough records like this and I may learn to tolerate him.
J. Cole featuring Missy Elliott—“Nobody’s Perfect”
Cole is a good rapper, but his ideas are so confused that you’re never sure where he’s going or what point he’s trying to make. The beat is above-average but not great, and Missy Elliott, though always a pleasure to hear, provides only enough quality to maintain her reputation and nothing more. The only thing that’s noteworthy is the second reference to Plato to make the Hot 100 this year, but it’s a throwaway; Cole doesn’t build the whole track around it like Jay-Z and Kanye West did.
Gym Class Heroes featuring Ryan Tedder—“The Fighter”
Ryan Tedder has appeared on God knows how many records, but as far as I can tell he’s written only two actual hooks, recycling them from song to song while changing the words and varying the arrangement just enough to cover his tracks. The good thing is that Tedder’s plaintive sentimentality forces Travie McCoy to act like a human being rather than a wind-up snark toy, making him far less irritating than usual. Not that it prevents McCoy from throwing out one of the worst ever examples of hashtag rap: “That’s when you press on/Lee Nails”. It’s so stupid and meaningless and so belittles the song’s message it’s almost disrespectful, especially coming from a guy who says he does it “for the kids”. I’m sure the twelve year olds who think he’s funny appreciate the effort.
Love And Theft—“Angel Eyes”
I have no problem in general with power pop influenced country, even if it necessarily leans toward Tom Petty. The Band Perry, for instance, does very well with the idea, as does the more rock influenced Eric Church. But Church and the Perrys both dig into the emotional side of the form, while Love And Theft are nothing but machines. They get the sound right, the structure, even some of the clever lyrical turns, but they’re far more interested in technical perfection and hitting all the marks than expressing emotion. The result is a well-constructed song that is built from one tired trope after another and adds nothing to them: Songwriting 101 personified. The smartest thing they’ve done is name themselves after a Bob Dylan album, though I doubt they’ll ever live up to it.
Dustin Lynch—“Cowboys And Angels”
In country, if you string enough well-worn clichés together with a decent title hook, you’ve got a song. Find a singer with an air of rough sincerity and enough gravel in his voice to be taken for a real cowboy, pair him with an arrangement that touches all the right buttons, and you’ve got a hit. Here’s another one.