Single Review: Brandy Clark, “Girl Next Door”

“Girl Next Door”
Brandy Clark

Written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Dillon and Shane McAnally

Brandy Clark has been responsible for some of the best songs in country music this decade – much of them from her extraordinary debut album, 12 Stories (2013).

“Girl Next Door” is not in this league. The first single from the singer-songwriter’s forthcoming album, Big Day in a Small Town (out April 1), is a surprisingly conventional effort from an artist who has displayed a knack for defying convention.

The song does have its merits – especially the chorus, which is a torrent of words, images and abrupt swings in tempo.

“If you want the girl next door
Some Virgin Mary metaphor
Your cardboard cutout on the wall
Your paper or your Barbie doll
With perfect hair and a perfect dress
I’m really just the perfect mess
And I ain’t nothing less or nothing more
So, baby, if you want the girl next door
Then go next door and go right now
And don’t look back, don’t turn around
And don’t call me when you get bored…”

A chorus like this could overwhelm many vocalists. But Clark lands every note. Her singing never seems forced. She never needs to convince us that she can embody this persona.

Jay Joyce’s production is standard rock-leaning country, though it does contain some nice, nervy riffs. The arrangement churns and thumps but never competes with Clark’s vocals.

Working with frequent co-writers Shane McAnally and Jessie Dillon, Clark is clearly aiming for the bold comic spirit that defined the great 12 Stories single, “Stripes” (which also features Clark and McAnally as co-writers). “Stripes” brilliantly subverts the well-worn formula of the gun-toting woman taking aim at her cheating man. Who can forget those lyrics?

“The only thing keepin’ me from losin’ my head
Is I hate stripes and orange ain’t my color
And if I squeeze that trigger tonight
I’ll be wearin’ one or the other
There’s no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion…”

“Girl Next Door” doesn’t crackle with this kind of wit and inventiveness. There are bits of creative wordplay, but the most memorable line isn’t memorable for the right reason. (“Sorry I ain’t sorry…That I ain’t your Marsha Brady.”)

The narrator never develops into much more than a stock character. There’s very little evidence of a living-breathing personality here. The song seems more like an exercise in style – group of writers trying to scratch out zingers and rhymes rather than create some semblance of a realistic relationship. It’s like seeing the wires that carry Peter Pan into the sky.

The song’s bridge comes the closest to offering plausible insight into this character and relationship. But all is lost when Clark and company import a long-overused image: “The thing that turns you on is what you wanna change,” Clark sings. “But you have a better chance of slowing down a train.”

Still, Clark’s attitude and natural charisma are contagious. These qualities – most apparent on that genuinely fun chorus – might help “Girl” become the commercial breakthrough that has eluded Clark thus far. It certainly sounds like a lot of songs in regular radio rotation the last few years. “Stripes” and other shoulda-been hits from 12 Stories would’ve elevated country radio. “Girl Next Door” just kind of fits in.

Grade: C+

9 Comments

  1. Definitely an underwhelming effort from Clark. I think my biggest reservation toward the songwriting is that it devotes too much description to what the narrator is not, and not enough to what she is, which keeps the character and relationship from feeling believable to me. But I’m optimistic that the rest of her new album will be stronger.

  2. Great point, Ben. It speaks to why I have trouble connecting with the character even if I’m dazzled by aspects of the song.

  3. If “Girl Next Door” had been on “12 Stories”, it would have competed with “Hungover” with its monotonous melody for weakest track on the album. As you indicate, Girl doesn’t compare to “Stripes”. (While I love “Stripes”, my favorite songs on Stories are still “Hold My Hand”, “What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven” and “Just Like Him”.)

    I love Clark’s vocals. As you say, she lands every note and her singing never seems forced.

  4. The problem here for me is that all these constructs are beginning to sound the same. “Girl Next Door” has very little to distinguish it from the type of song Kacey Musgraves has been singing over and over again for the past three years. There’s nothing fresh or exciting here. Even the clever wordplay has grown annoying.

    Larry, your last two sentences are spot on. I join Ben in still being optimistic about the album. I just hope the label isn’t trying to mold her by suppressing all the qualities that made 12 Stories so special.

  5. I mean, it’s great for a dated 80’s dance track. And the whole “I’m such a rebel/outlaw/special snowflake” shtick sounds as tired as the production.

    I’m not feeling any sort of compelling attitude or charisma from Clark here. She sounds miserable. The whole thing is an aggressive assault on my ears. If it had some levity, I might be able to get behind it. But as it stands, this is a great big F from me.

  6. Bob,
    I’m glad you mentioned those three songs. They’re really the soul of the record – beautifully sung, beautifully told, like great short fiction set to music. I was surprised and happy that the Grammys recognized “Hold My Hand” as a Best Country Song nominee even though it was not released as a single. Actually, I love “Hungover.” It’s the kind of empowerment anthem that could’ve become a crossover hit – clever, funny and moving, and it sketches a very believable heroine. There’s a gimmicky quality to the song but it doesn’t upstage the story unfolding and the swell of emotions.

    Jonathan,
    I understand what you’re saying. I’ve had a hard time connecting with the latest Musgraves album. Many of the songs feel all-too similar -similar to each other and songs from the previous album. The content on Pageant Material is more varied than Same Trailer, but I can’t get past the sameness in the style and the structure. “Girl Next Door” is the first Brandy Clark song that feels formulaic. There could be a strategy at play: Put out a song that caters to radio trends to raise the artist’s profile and get the masses excited about the forthcoming album. Yet the single could end up an outlier when the entire set of songs is revealed.

  7. Late to the party here, but I’m fond of this song. A little production muscle might be what she needs to break through, kind of like Mary Chapin Carpenter did with her second album, State of the Heart.

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