The day has come for us to really tell who Kane Brown is. We can finally know who he is, what his background is like, who he was influenced by, why he decided to pursue music. Really, as long as we can find anything on him I’m satisfied.
Besides, all I really know about this guy is that he came up through the Internet. He didn’t pour his heart out to a handful of fans in some rinky-dink bar every night, nor did he even struggle to amass a large following while other artists have tried and failed.
At least I don’t think he did. Really, I’m not even knocking Kane for his unusual rise to stardom. I just there weren’t so many damn mysteries surrounding this guy. The question has been asked of how this guy came to be where he is, and another question surrounds around how he’s not a radio darling given that his sound fits the mold. You certainly couldn’t tell anything from his singles “Used To Love You Sober” or “Thunder In The Rain” (the former of which really isn’t that bad), and you couldn’t tell who this guy was other than some guy who came up through YouTube, or social media or whatever.
You see, I’m sure many of you clicked on this link hoping for me to crash down on Kane Brown and declare him a talentless hack, and the truth is, I think there’s more to him than that. I’m not saying this is a good album. Heck, I’m not saying it’s really even passable. However, the fact that it is bad is what frustrates me, because I truly think that Kane Brown could be a good artist if he wanted to be. When the time comes, he can be a writer who displays some level of maturity and emotional nuance, even despite his obvious vocal limitations. We don’t just don’t get very often on this album.
So before we get to the part I’m willing to defend, let’s talk about the bad parts. After all, that’s why most of you are still reading, right? Despite Kane’s ability to actually express some genuity and heartfelt sincereity in his vocals when the time comes, he’s still an atrocious singer. Thankfully, there’s no moments here that make his vocals standout the same way they do on the awkward flow of “Used To Love You Sober”, but Kane Brown as a singer is just not pleasant to listen to no matter which way you spin it.
Of course, if you want to talk about things that aren’t pleasant to then we have to talk about the production. For the most part, there’s many songs here that are overproduced and loud, and that’s mostly prevalent at the beginning of this album. The guitars sound oddly stilted all throughout “What Ifs”, and songs such as “Hometown” and “Thunder In The Rain” try to go for an anthemic sound only to get drowned out by the noise (although if I’m being honest, “Hometown” is kind of catchy). Once you reach the track “Comeback” the album sort of just blurs into a some real forgettable sounds minus “Better Place”, which I can at least appreciate for its sonic differences.
As you might have guessed by now though, the real stumbling lies in the lyrical content. To be honest, most of these songs aren’t bad from a lyrical perspective so much as just underwritten and suffering from some really bad hooks in places. I get the overall goal of a song like “Hometown” and how Kane wants his people back home to be proud of him for making it as a star, but the song is moving at too fast of a pace to really ground in on a story, sacrificing details to instead try to be this upbeat, good-time rocker that feels like a wasted opportunity. Really, if you want another example of a wasted opportunity, you’ll get it with “What Ifs”, a song that’s admittedly not bad, but I’m sorry, if you’ve got Lauren Alaina already there singing with you, why not give her a verse? Granted, screwing over duet partners regarding their roles isn’t exactly new to country music (I’ve seen it too many times this year), but hell, the song is about two lovers questioning whether they could be something together. Again, perfect opportunity for a decent duet that’s just wasted.
Aside from that, you have a song like “Comeback” which is just way too focused on getting to the hook of “making a comeback (that is, in their relationship) if you [the girl in question] come back” instead of focusing on delivering a less awkwardly framed song. “Rockstars” is a song focused on nostalgia and how these young’uns were badasses during the day despite Kane only being twenty-three (essentially, not THAT far removed from the stuff he’s talking about).
Of course, there are also some truly awful songs such as the misogynistic, sleazy “Pull It Off” which is the umpteenth song in country music about treating a female like a piece of meat. Sadly enough that’s not even the worst song here. That little “honor” goes to “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now”, a song that’s so riddled with bro-country cliches I could puke. Heck, it’s not even so much that it’s bro-country for why I dislike it, it’s just that it’s pulling the most cliched lyrics it can find in the dried up well to try and craft a “fun” song that just comes across as utterly stupid.
But what did I say before? I said that there are moments where Kane shows us something different from the artist we expect him to be. The best song here is “Cold Spot” by a mile and a half, and the reason for that is because, surprise surprise, we actually have a story present! Not only that, it’s coming from some place that’s actually personal for Kane as he reflects on a store that his grandfather owned and how that store (as well as his grandfather) was his source of protection from the outside world. Even though it eventually lost out to big business, all of his memories are still there. Moreover, the song actually moves at a slow enough pace to actually absorb everything going on! In addition to that, the production mostly stays the hell out the way, showcasing little more than Kane, acoustic guitar, and pedal steel. Heck, Kane himself doesn’t even sound bad here. I said before that he can really emote some heartfelt sincerity when the time comes, and this is one of those times. I’ll be honest, the chorus does enter into some checklisty territories, but if I’m going to overall give credit where it’s due, it’s here.
“Learning” is the other song that caught my interest, but I’m not as in awe of it as I was with “Cold Spot”. Don’t get me wrong, the song enters into some heavy (and I do mean heavy) territory with verses about how Kane suffered from physical abuse, racist comments and friends dying due to substance abuse. Moreover, his decision to forgive all of this is an admirable quality (even if you can’t really “let it go” necessarily), and something that’s rare to find these days. The problem with this song though is that this is not the type of song you cram into three minutes and just leave at that. It’s a moment where we finally get a glimpse into who Kane is, and despite how we can all make fun of his unusual rise to stardom, he’s got a story to tell. Unfortunately we leave with more questions than answers, and this just isn’t the type of song that should be played out as some carefree, breezy acoustic number. I’ll say right up front that if you’re looking for a country song, you’re not going to find it considering Kane mostly raps throughout. However, from a pure music perspective, this song isn’t bad at all, it just could have been more. Another song that I wanted to like more was the closer, “Grandaddy’s Chair”, but the song itself has too much going on in the production to hold my attention, and the sentiment displayed here was done much better on “Coldspot”
Overall, Kane Brown’s album intrigued more than I thought it would. I think he’s talented, and I do think he has it in him to cut some great songs. For now though, he’s wasting most of his time on meaningless songs that do nothing to establish him as an artist. This album isn’t as bad as some people will make it out to be, and believe it or not, Kane is far from the worst artist out there in mainstream country music. Like some mainstream country singers however, he’s wasting his potential. That’s a damn shame.