The short version: “Rival” is nothing short of an unfortunate disaster.
- Writers: Brandon Lancaster, Tripp Howell
- Rating: 3/10
The long version: When you try to please everyone, you usually end up pleasing no one.
LANCO is a band that’s hard to pin down as far as sonic cohesion is concerned. While their debut single, “Long Live Tonight,” owed more to the bro-country era, they managed to find stable footing in 2017 with the folk-inspired “Greatest Love Story.” And you could always tell the band was taking notes on what did and didn’t work with their sound. They followed up their aforementioned huge hit with “Born To Love You,” once again focusing on a solid melodic foundation and breezier instrumentation.
In other words, LANCO has played it smart and morphed into what they are now. But there’s a limit to how far they can stretch into new territory while simultaneously sticking to what’s worked thus far. As such, their new single, “Rival,” tries to blend a little bit of everything together and ends up being a disaster.
The unfortunate part is for the most part, “Rival” didn’t need to be as bad as what it became. The band still focuses on crafting a song with an anthemic chorus and a (somewhat) tight melody line, but that’s about where the compliments end for this song.
The song begins with some earthier, swampy banjo, a good sign before unfurling into a mess of loud, muddy instrumentals, and an electric guitar line shoved to the back in favor of pushing the percussion to the front. It’s not often that I say a song gives me a literal headache, but trying to detect everything going on in “Rival” certainly does that for me.
Of course, this isn’t helped by Brandon Lancaster himself. No, I’m not just referring to the vocal filter that makes the song sound like it was recorded in a trash can. When I mentioned the band’s previous singles, it was also to highlight how big of a part Lancaster himself played in the development of said tracks. His usual laid-back, wistful tone suited both of the band’s previous singles nicely, but here, that same attitude comes across as lazy and uneventful.
But that also ties into the lyrical content as well. The band hasn’t been known for crafting incredibly smart songs up to this point, but with the tighter focus on the other elements, it’s not like they always needed to do that anyway. But “Rival” tries to say something. It’s a song that tries to be a self-independent anthem that anyone can relate to, but it’s a classic case where that broad appeal equates to generic metaphors to get the point across, meaning that it ends up relating to no one.
You want to root for the narrators in other current country singles such as Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More.” But with “Rival,” Lancaster weirdly tries to alienate his audience by telling them they’re his rival if they try to understand him, which sort of belies the actual point of it.
In short, “Rival” is akin to a Band Perry-level disaster for LANCO, with only a decent spirit driving the track to save it. The instrumental and production mix is awful, the writing coasts on machismo rather than tact, and Lancaster himself is oddly unlikable in this mold. Let’s just hope the band rights this ship soon.
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