Review: Zac Brown Band, “Whatever It Is”

zac-bbFigures. Just as I was thinking I might forgive Zac Brown Band for making my least favorite track on The Foundation their first single, they go and release what might be my second-least favorite as the follow-up. Well, shoot.

OK, here’s the good news: the single does sound completely genuine in a way that most radio odes to That Special Woman just don’t. For one thing, there is a clear attempt here to detail specifics, some of which are actually pretty cool (“her pretty legs go to heaven every time” is either suggestive or just abstract, and either way it works). Brown’s understated delivery also helps keep things down-to-earth, which makes for a welcome reprieve from the “pump you UP!” mantra of so many of his peers. And the record is blessed by the distinct sound that the group have crafted for themselves; you’d certainly be hard-pressed to find a nicer set of violin fills on a country single released in the last year.

But “Whatever It Is” is also burdened by an inert, casual cuteness which ultimately renders it too nice to be completely memorable. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with positivity, and I can relate to the emotional rationale behind a deceptively simple line like, “every time I try to tell her how I feel, it comes out ‘I love you.'”

But without any palpable urgency to the expression of affection, nor a sense of past heartbreak being overcome (two attributes that much of Keith Urban’s similarly positive work, for example, has mastered), you’re just left saying, “well, that’s nice.” And then you move on. It’s the thing that separates decent songs like “Whatever It Is” from great songs like “Free” and “Highway 20 Ride” – you have to give your listener some reason to return to the story again and again, something that hooks them in a deep place even if your song happens to sound lighthearted and fun on the surface. “Whatever It Is” sounds like genuine affection to me, but the expression is too low-key to be particularly engaging and too one-dimensionally positive to offer a sense of meaningful reward. It just sits there being nice.

And that might make for another hit, but it won’t leave a very deep dent. I’ve grown to really like Zac Brown Band and think they deserve to see their current success continue, but here’s hoping that this and “Chicken Fried” are just the warm-up routine and that their best radio releases are still yet to come.

Written by Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette

Grade: B-

Listen: Whatever It Is

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16 Comments

Filed under Single Reviews

16 Responses to Review: Zac Brown Band, “Whatever It Is”

  1. Great review. This is actually one of my favorite songs off the album, but I can see your points. I’d say its simplicity and honesty appeals to me, but I would agree its lack of conflict could hurt its success.

  2. There really isn’t anything on this CD that’s bad (I like how they made their instrumentals ‘goofy’). That being said, I can see your points about this single completely. I do think this one’s headed to the Top 10 (a lot quicker than “Chicken Fried” did) and should allow us to hear either “Free” or “Highway 20 Ride” as the 4th single after either “Toes” or “Where The Boat Leaves From” are released as the obvious summer singles.

  3. Solid review, but I’d probably give it a C-.

  4. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    While I agree with you on the problems on “Chicken Fried” and this song, I’ll admit, too, that I’m beginning to like this band. I just can’t dismiss their cool sound. Great review.

  5. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    Thanks for the props, y’all. Trailer, I was hovering around the ‘C’ family at first (I’ve decided I’m frequently too nice with my grading on dispensable songs like this one), and if someone else had done it I think there’s a good chance I would have given it a ‘D’-something, because I could see this song sounding very, very bland as, like, a Kenny Chesney single. But I’ve grown to like the group’s aesthetic; they just sound authentic, even on throwaways like this. But I could very well change my mind if and when this becomes a hit and I have to hear it all the time.

  6. Stephen H.No Gravatar

    Good review. I hope more are on the way, as recently it seems discussions have become the majority (or at least plurality of posts). I came to this site originally since it reviewed basically every single out there, and I hope that someday the blog goes back to doing what it does best.

  7. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    We’re working to get back on-track Stephen – never fear!

  8. Stephen, you can always visit Roughstock for single reviews that aren’t here! (Hope the plug was ok).

  9. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I mean, a little shameless, but whatever.

  10. Not above shameless and I certainly visit y’all all the time! ;)

  11. I do single reviews too. xD

    I guess I’ll give this song a chance, though I hate “Chicken Fried” so much…

  12. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Okay, okay guys!:)

  13. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Nice review, …I really like the ZBB…I like Zac’s laid back, good natured, natural style. And the man LOOKS like a regular Joe, which is kind of refreshing in this day and age of so many anonymous cookie-cutter pretty boys..

    Not overly crazy about this particular song… It’s good, but I think I’m in the minority here in that I actually like Chicken Fried better. I like Chicken Fried because of it’s cool Country sound, and for the first few verses…the last verse seems like grafted-on patriotism to me…I think the patriotism is sincere and commendable, but it just seems like he had to make a stretch to make it fit the song.

  14. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I prefer the sound of “Chicken Fried” to this one too, but I share the same problem with it as you do, Steve. A good patriotic song is cool, but not when it seems like overreaching.

  15. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    If people are on the edge of checking out this band, you can’t really beat this price for the album at $5.00 right now on Amazon.

    The Foundation

  16. jjNo Gravatar

    I love ‘Whatever it is’,Its a good thing everyone has such different taste in music.That’s what makes the music sell.ZBB can make music to appeal to many preferences.