“Girl Next Door”
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.