Mainstream country radio is an outmoded and lumbering dinosaur working off of business models and practices implemented some 30+ years ago that are so stodgy and insular, it makes your local DMV look ultra modernized. We knew when Dierks Bentley released the terrible lead single “Somewhere on a Beach” from his upcoming album Black that it was just like a serf paying his penance to his lord so he could then get bestowed the freedom from his label to do what he actually wants. He even thanked radio programmers at the Country Radio Seminar, or CRS earlier this year for playing the song so he can release his record and “get some heavier stuff out there.”
It’s like politics. Everybody knows the system doesn’t work, but there are too many fat cats personally benefiting from the inherent unfairness that has metastasized throughout the the system that nobody can do anything about it. Meanwhile the entire terrestrial radio model is getting pulled underwater by a massive anchor of debt. Even Chase Rice is out there apologizing to fans before his lead single hits the airwaves. Does anyone in the country music business think any of this bodes well for the genre moving forward?
If you were worried what direction Dierks Bentley’s new Black album would take after hearing “Somewhere on a Beach,” all you had to do was wait. Dierks (or really, his label) sure don’t make it easy on his fans, but those who’ve stuck with Dierks through “Drunk on a Plane” and others know he’ll always come back around to releasing music that sets the bar for substance in the mainstream.
“I’ll Be The Moon” is not a world beater, and it does still have some of those buzzy mainstream identifiers like “girl” punctuations at the beginning of phrases behind a formulaic melody, and excessive references to cellphones. Even the snare drum beat, though organic on this particular track, is the similar dry rhythm digitally programmed by producers like Ross Cooperman behind many modern-day “country” songs.
But unlike so many commercial country singles that either must be wrapped up with a nice little bow by the end and stay positive throughout, or that use the spite against a cheating lover or some other perceived offense as the springboard to launch into a self-absorbed narrative riddled with jealousy and other menu items from the most unsavory and base emotions of the human experience, the story of “I’ll Be The Moon” remains unresolved, and says more about human emotion by letting the complexities of love and relationships tell their own stories so the listener can come to their own individual conclusions.
“I’ll Be The Moon” is not especially country in style, but it is in substance in the way it broaches the eternal country theme of cheating, and does so in a unique way. Though the verses feel like filler, the chorus hook is quite effective, and almost haunts the listener in the way the protagonist resolves himself to the cheating as long as it means he still gets to spend precious moments with his heart’s desire. Up-and-coming country starlet Maren Morris joins in to make “I’ll Be The Moon” a collaboration that might get some attention come “Best Vocal Event” time in the next awards show cycle.
The video doesn’t follow the script of the song exactly, but apparently it is the first installment of a multi-part series. I don’t particularly need to get horny on my lunch break just because I want to check out the new Dierks song, and some of the imagery is probably a little too risque for a “country” video. But Dierks’ is trying to tell a story beyond one song, so the effort should probably be applauded more, and poo poo’ed less just because it doesn’t fit in a strict definition of “country,” even if this ultimately costs “I’ll Be The Moon” style points.
Radio is at a crossroads and could be facing extinction soon. The recent wins by Chris Stapleton should be a harbinger to radio of where things should be headed. If it had any good sense, it would be playing songs like Bentley’s “I’ll Be The Moon,” and be leaving things like “Somewhere on a Beach” on the shelf. But the good news is Dierks has not sold out. He’s just pulling the same bait and switch on country radio that has become one of the signatures of his career.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7/10)
“I’ll Be The Moon” was written by Matt Dragstrem, Ryan Hurd, and Heather Morgan.