Cam could very well be a modern country music one hit wonder. “Burning House” came out of nowhere to score a deuce on the charts and I’m still not sure anyone knows exactly why or how. But we all know the prospectus of a woman on country radio these days, and since “Burning House,” Cam has come nowhere close to capturing that same success. But her new single just may have the right sauce to put her back in the running for one of mainstream country’s most promising up-and-comers.
“Diane” is said to be sort of an answer song, or a continuation of the story of Dolly Parton’s iconic country music classic “Jolene.” Of course “Jolene” is about the Dolly worrying that another woman is going to steal her man. “Diane” is presumably about that other woman, recounting a remorseful tale about how she didn’t know her object of affection was a married man, and would give back her time with him if she could.
Though Cam and her co-writers Jeff Bhasker and Tyler Johnson deserve style credits for this continuation of a well-known and historical country music story, I wish they would have left the listener in the dark a little more, at least initially. Generally speaking, a song is better when it’s dependent upon the the listener to deduce the story themselves, allowing the narrative to mutate into whatever the audience wants it to be, with different conclusions for the same song resulting from our varied life experiences and the way we interpret certain things. If “Diane” is the other woman to Dolly’s “Jolene,” it not only sets concrete parameters around this song, it does so to “Jolene” as well. Why not just let it be a song about guilt, infidelity, regret, and forgiveness?
But I get why “Diane” is being couched alongside “Jolene.” These days, many mainstream listeners have been so dumbed down by Bro-Country, you have to hold their hand and guide them to understand what’s happening when a song actually has a story behind it. Besides, the press needs their little buzzy angles to generate clicks. Otherwise the Taste of Country and Whiskey Riff’s stories on “Diane” would be all about how spectacular Cam’s hair is looking these days. Oh and by the way, she just released a new song. Like Sturgill Simpson once said, “You ain’t gotta read between the lines, now you just got to turn the page.”
“Diane” avoids most of the pratfalls of modern country like drum machine beats and synth rhythms, and instead favors an acoustic guitar and driving beat. Kudos for the more organic approach, but it feels almost a little too Mumford & Sons in its earnestness, while the multi-layered harmonics feel like a machination of digital studio manipulations instead of the inspiring results of hiring an actual 4-piece singing quartet to capture the chorus in a live setting.
“Diane” puts together the exact same team of writers and producers that were responsible for Cam’s “Burning House.” And why not after the success that single reaped? Still, Jeff Bhasker is a pop producer known best for working with Kanye West, Jay-Z, Bruno Mars, and Rihanna, and not skilled in understanding the nuance, structure, or instrumentation of a true country song. “Diane” is a pop song with perhaps a very slight country flavor that would be more at home on KISS FM—the ties to Dolly in the writing notwithstanding.
Yet you’re not inclined to make a face suitable for an Edvard Munch painting when this thing comes through your bluetooth-enabled device (Edvard Munch is the guy that did “The Scream” composition, keep up people). So you know, congratulations to “Diane” for not sucking. Most importantly though, this song will very likely either make or break the career of Cam, and in that respect, could be an important bellwether in the grand scheme for all of country’s women.
I could see “Diane” being big. All the criticisms aside, it’s got a good energy to it. And let’s face it, Cam’s hair is pretty spectacular these days. But similar to “Burning House,” the accolades for “Diane” will outpace the actual quality.