March 30, 2011
How to put it? I would listen to this man sing about IBS. I would listen to him sing a long-form denunciation of my value as a human being – possibly my mother’s and little sister’s, too. Young’s baritone is like the aural incarnation of warm fuzzies, and most everything it touches/fuzzes goes down easy – even those lame, creaky-hinged Music Row assembly songs scattered across his first two albums.
So, granted: This single was probably going to sound all sexy-cool no matter what. But we can all enjoy with a little less cognitive dissonance this time, because “Tomorrow” makes a serious play at substance. Young is finally a radio star, and he’s using his powers to inject some actual psychological complication back into the format.
Synopsis: Tomorrow, he’s leaving his lover for good. Tomorrow, he’s going to sew himself up and let the healing begin. The two want each other so bad, but their relationship is never as strong as their attraction to it. So tomorrow, he’s out. But tonight, he’s going to indulge like there’s no – heyyy, I see what you did there!
It’s probably as fresh of a twist as you could wring out of such a stale idiom, and the song’s premise is standby country. I love that there’s room for doubt as to whether this will really be the last time, too. Unlike “Voices” or even “The Man I Want to Be,” this song feels fully attuned to the complexities and ambiguities of the human experience. You trust it not to judge you for yours.
Where “Tomorrow” comes up short, as those predecessors also did, is in its chorus melody – which barely exists. The whole section is basically a boring two-note progression repeated over and over while lyrics are spewed out at double-time. It’s listenable because the production wills it to be (and, of course, because of Young’s fuzz factor), but imagine it performed acoustically and the song collapses. It’s the kind of tossed-off stuff you might expect from an especially dull Trace Adkins or Craig Morgan release, but here, it’s a dead weight pulling a potentially great single down from the heights of its theme and performance.
My fear is that we’re going to be hearing more and more of these tune-challenged songs as writers collectively sort out what mainstream country will sound like moving forward. Unhummable afflictions like “This” and “Crazy Town” and “Love Like Crazy” – heck, even the clumsy moments in otherwise-pleasant singles like “Mary Was the Marrying Kind” and “Amen” – give me the impression that we’ve lost touch with what made the classic songs work structurally, that maybe our basic sense of aesthetics needs sharpening.
But that’s a bit of a tangent. Here’s the point: Yes, Chris Young, I’m going to buy your new album, Neon, and yes, I will try to sing along to “Tomorrow” when it comes on in my car. And if you musically ask me to, I will delete this whole review and replace it with a cute YouTube video of your choosing. But until then, please go listen to some more Gretchen Peters and Alan Jackson (or, heck, Neil Sedaka and Carole King). And study up.