Written by Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson
“Starting Over” is an appropriate title, given that Chris Stapleton hasn’t released a proper studio album in three years and that his last single, “Millionaire,” peaked in March of last year.
But Stapleton is also the perfect embodiment of the disconnect between country fans who still rely on country radio for new recommendations and those who don’t – an album artist whose single choices have ranged from tolerable to downright absurd (his last lead single, “Either Way,” for instance), and rarely reflect his actual best material.
Which, basically, is where I’m at with new single, “Starting Over.” Given the teaser video Stapleton posted on social media that hinted at gnarlier blues-rock textures and an overall darker sound – which I wouldn’t have minded, for the record – what we actually get here isn’t bad, so much as it is fine and underwhelming.
Here’s the thing, too: I’d argue Stapleton’s more subdued cuts require a greater vocal effort than his electric-driven southern-rock tunes, which can support themselves well enough as they are with firm basslines and hints of harmonica. His other cuts have certainly brought the pure firepower and heft to the table, but they’ve largely reflected how Stapleton has only picked up hints of subtlety with time and experience.
That’s a benefit to this particular record, and having wife Morgane on backing vocal duties is always a plus, too. But while the sparse mix of acoustics, organ and the sneakily supportive bassline sound bright and chipper to suit the content, the tones also feel too brittle to render themselves memorable. I’m not sure if a lack of instrumental diversity is an issue or if I’m heavily nitpicking what is only supposed to be a lighthearted tune, but there’s something empty about this record, even if it often sounds nice in the moment.
Of course, that’s a note on the content, too, where the theme of “starting over” certainly sounds great, if familiar – what with this year and all – but often leans on generic platitudes in the actual framing and progression. And when Morgane is already right there on the record, why not offer her a verse to better shape the circumstances? As it is, it’s very one-dimensional in framing it as the narrator’s choice to leave and force his significant other to skip town with him. There’s effectively simple, but this isn’t clearing that bar.