If there’s one thing you need to know about this song, it’s beautiful chaos. I’d like to just leave it there, but perhaps I should explain my position. As soon as the song began, I immediately started dancing (resistance is futile), and the initial melody, imitated in Brad’s vocal, is SO catchy, it puts all those catchy country/pop tunes to shame (I’m struggling to stop dancing along to write this review, in fact). Not that this is country/pop however, there are still remnants of Brad’s signature style with the bluesy distorted guitar solo which is so characteristic of his recordings. It appears a little more erratic than normal, however, and that is a pretty apt description for the rest of this track.
There is too much going on in the mix for me to give a kind of laundry list like I usually do with a single, but the interplay between the electric guitar riff and the plucky banjo loop, that fills the intro and underlies the rest of the song is flawless, and that’s what makes the song so addictive, fundamentally. I’m no aural genius, but to my ear the four chords that are used sound pretty basic (which is more than can be said for some of Brad’s tracks... C# minor anyone?), which is makes it all the more amazing that he can make the song sound so interesting, and, on one level, a bit radical. There is so much contrapuntal going on (lots of different melody lines and sonic tidbits playing at the same time), that I’m shocked they’ve been able to make it work. It’s true, there are times where it feels like certain parts are clashing harmonically, but it’s enough to be creative without moving into the realms of bad music.
The key to this song is rhythm, and Brad and his team don’t shy away from technology (as has been the aesthetic tradition within country music), as delayed vocals (shrouded in a frankly greedy amount of reverb) jump into a brief instrumental pause. The space given is shortlived, however, as instantly the song is back on track. As a good song should, it slowly and totally unnoticeably builds up over time, but the song manages to do what usually Brad only manages in 5 or 6 minutes, in taking a journey. I couldn’t believe it was only 4 minutes long. Choirs chip in every so often in a call-and-response method that is foolproof and the chorus brings it all together is a standard sing-along country summer melody that so punctuates country radio and the musical landscape in Nashville for those hot and sunny months.
The bridge is another interesting section all its own, dropping down and making Brad’s harder rock influences clear, guitars abundant with tons of chorus effect and reverb flying around like it’s candy. It seems like Brad covers so many bases musically with this track that again the surprisingly average length is a mystery to me, however it may have something to do with the fairly speedy fade-out that occurs. I usually feel like this is a bit of a cop-out, and I do wish it hadn’t been used here, especially as it creeps up strangely quickly, however I understand the issues of length for getting played on the radio, etc. It’s a small price to pay for the sonic exploration of this song.
Lyrically it could easily be ignored as another summer love song, but it turns the cliché on its head and detaches itself from it. Instead of enjoying a summer love or looking back on it and missing it, the narrator is experiencing the summer love but feeling it slipping away as it turns into fall, knowing he will never get anything better than this, and it’s almost done in a gently comedic, tongue-in-cheek way. In some roundabout way the lyrics are making fun of the popular country music trend of summer love songs, turning around and exposing the ‘thing’ for what it really is. The single artwork too – concept but based on the theme of the album cover – built on the lyric about hourglasses. So much effort has gone in resulting in a genuinely creative and interesting piece of artwork.
Overall, ‘Beat This Summer’ is a melting pot of influences, while still staying true to Brad’s signature style and country music as it stands in 2013. Far from following other less-than-savoury recent musical trends, Brad goes his own way and does very well at it. The one thing that makes this song so amazing for me, however, is Brad’s previous claim that they didn’t use technology to ‘help’ out. In other words, everything on ‘Beat This Summer’, ‘Southern Comfort Zone’, and the rest of ‘Wheelhouse’, was played. No adding bits, no correcting (and I’m guessing) no looping, all played. That’s what totally floors me about this song. It’s far, far better than almost everything else I hear on the radio, yet a hell of a lot more hard graft and pure talent has gone into writing it, playing it, recording it, putting it together, and even designing the artwork.
So why are we wasting our time with anyone else?