The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – Nov. 24, 2021: Adele featuring Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs, and Cole Swindell with Lainey Wilson

Just as soon as I published a song review roundup last week, I somehow fell behind again. Go, uh, “easy on me,” folks.

Adele, “Easy On Me” (featuring Chris Stapleton) (written by Adele Adkins and Greg Kurstin)

I know, I know – I should be philosophically offended by this single release to country radio … but I am absolutely not. Heck, given how scattershot the format has been for what feels like forever now, there are songs off of Adele’s 25 from 2015 I could have seen working at radio even then. And the entity would have been better for it; it’s better than whatever drivel Dan + Shay or Sam Hunt have cooked up over the years. I suppose I do find it humorous that this is the second time within a week I’ve discussed a pop artist crossing over to the format on a song featuring Chris Stapleton, but it certainly gives me something different to work with, at least.

And I’ll say two things. One, that I was, sadly, underwhelmed by 30 as an album, but also that this was the easy highlight off of it. Two, that I actually greater prefer the solo version of this song to the duet being worked to country radio. For one, like with Taylor Swift’s single last week, Stapleton feels less like an addition to this song and more just like an afterthought – and this is probably the only instance where I can say he gets outshone by his collaborator. He gets to let loose a bit before the bridge and final chorus, but for the most part he just feels oddly distracting. And while my normal nitpick with duets is that they don’t often showcase both artists playing on an even level nearly enough, I’m not sure I would have wanted that anyway in this case. This is very much a song for Adele as she tries to grapple with the messy, complicated emotions of asking for forgiveness from her son and ex-husband for her unhappiness in her relationship and in the wake of her divorce – a case of loving too hard too young and too fast.

And that this is a spare piano ballad that Adele can simply make work off of her presence alone is a reason why, formulaic or not, she’s still in a category of her own on her best work. But I do really love how the framing doesn’t try to assign anger or blame toward anyone – hence the ironic choice, I think, to wrap itself more around major chords than the usual minor dourness that shades her other ballads in this sonic vein. Sometimes relationships just don’t work. And hell, if a divorce song can’t find room on country radio, it’ll be a damn shame. I still wish it was the solo version, though. Boom

Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (written by Drew Parker, Luke Combs, and Robert Williford)

I’ve generally liked Luke Combs’ output thus far, but I will admit his latest single choices have felt a bit safe and stale. Don’t get me wrong, I know that “Forever After All” became his biggest hit pretty much ever, but there does come a point where more of the same leads to diminishing returns. And as someone who knows Combs is capable of swinging for the fences … well, it provides an interesting case study ahead of his third album that I think will greatly determine his future trajectory. TBD on that one. As for right now, we have a single release that he debuted at the recent CMA Awards and is, to the best of my knowledge, not yet a country radio single – likely due to its four-minute length – but man, it absolutely should be.

The thing is, this works better than it should, because wish fulfillment songs in the age of social media, ravenous fan bases, and stan culture are typically designed to work solely for people within that core group. And yet, this feels more like a song for Combs himself, as he ponders a past question from an interview of what he’d be doing with his life if he wasn’t a country music singer. And given that he’s been a strong advocate for the independent country crowd, I like that he frames it as more of a wasted question – in that he’d still slug it out as best as he could, because he loves the music and sharing it with others too much to quit, and doesn’t see the actual level of fame as the desired end goal. Granted, I get how easy it can be for Combs to say this, given his stature, but it feels genuine in its approach and intent, especially when it’s framed as a dark piano and acoustic ballad that only picks up more passionate intensity as it progresses; you can tell he’s thankful just to be able to play. In other words, great stuff, and I hope that even if the current version doesn’t work, that we can get an edited version to radio eventually. Boom

Cole Swindell and Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” (written by Jessi Alexander, Chase McGill, and Cole Swindell)

So … not a cover of the Queens of the Stone Age song, then. Gotcha.

I think this collaboration is more confusing than either of the Chris Stapleton ones this month, mostly because Lainey Wilson has actually garnered some legitimate momentum for herself while Cole Swindell has mostly felt like an afterthought these days – and I say this as someone who likes him at times and knows he just had a recent No. 1 single with, sadly, a terrible song. But hey, it’s working for Jimmie Allen and Brad Paisley, so … uh, “never say never?” Sadly, though, this just isn’t a very good song, and the problems show up right away with the stiff and overmixed synthetic percussion that trades off between real drums anyway, meaning that this goes for dark, anthemic bombast and just feels completely overblown in its intent. While that’s mostly been a problem with Wilson’s work, you can tell this is mostly Swindell’s song based on how utterly plastic and sterile it comes across. I’m sorry, too, both artists just have zero chemistry together trying to sell the role of jaded lovers doing their best to break an on-again, off-again relationship, especially when this is an overused theme that isn’t bringing anything distinctive with the writing to help it stand out. In other words, not good. Bust.

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