Country Jukebox Jury LP: Cheat Codes – One Night In Nashville

Nashville is a city built on commerce: firstly Bibles, and now tourism based on commercial country music. Kids are flocking to the city, where income tax doesn’t exist(!), either to party or to work in the industry. As happened in Vegas, commercial dance music has come to Nashville, with first Diplo and now Cheat Codes putting out albums with plenty of country vocalists.

I didn’t like Diplo’s album whatsoever, which I called ‘background music for bachelorettes, made by men in suits to make money’. I thus had similar reservations about One Night In Nashville, released by the trio from LA who hit paydirt with No Promises in 2017. Other guest vocalists on their tunes have included Little Mix, Tinashe, Sofia Reyes and Kim Petras, as they do whatever makes money for their label 300 Entertainment (founded by Lyor Cohen, one of the main funders of rap music in the early 1990s).

Unlike Diplo, this is a straight pop album with country voices past and present, and should be considered on those terms. In 2021, the first stirrings of this project came with Never Love You Again, which drafted in British singer Bryn Christopher and the up-for-anything Little Big Town, who worked with Pharrell for a bit of a laugh in 2016. The song is a slice of euphoria (‘sorry but I blame the chemicals’ is a good line) which is streets ahead of much of the album, and it points to a future for the band because, as happened with Cher and Kylie Minogue, acts tend to go disco when they hit 50.

Lee Brice and Lindsay Ell answered the call for How Do You Love, the second collaboration to be released. It’s driven by an urgent submerged riff over which our vocalists sing about love and stuff with Cheat Codes producing the hell out of it. Enough with Johnny walking the line, already, though!

That was followed by six other teasers for tracks on the album. There was I Remember, with Russell Dickerson and (for money reasons, probably) as a bonus remix featuring Internet personality Dixie D’Amelio. Our narrator reminisces about Third Eye Blind’s Semi Charmed Life playing while he made out with a girl wearing his jumper. The music crescendos in the chorus and hits the breakdown in that typical dull way.

In fact, there is a formula to every track on this album, many of which match secondary radio stars with a lyric that works with an 18-34 demographic. There’s One Night Left, a carpe diem dance-pop number tunefully sung by Mackenzie Porter. There’s Lose You, a carpe diem dance-pop number tunefully sung by Jimmie Allen, while Matt Stell sings the romantic When You Know, on which he warns ‘them haters, naysayers’ to shut up! Mitchell Tenpenny growls his way through What’s It Gonna Take (‘to get over you’), which quotes the line ‘just turned 21’ from the much better Hunter Hayes tune.

All four of these tracks run out of steam halfway through and are instantly forgettable. Ditto opening track Something’s Coming, featuring Lady A who can be found in what Grady Smith calls The Valley of Blah in spite of its best efforts to sound like Avicii’s Wake Me Up, and You Ain’t Been In Love (‘til you been loved like that’), written and performed by Nate Smith.

Adam Doleac is on We’ll Break Up, a sub-Wallen concoction about love told through the metaphor of impossible things (‘vacuums don’t suck, eggs don’t come in a dozen’) which is so blah it makes me think Cheat Codes should have just remixed Adam’s track Whiskey’s Fine. Already Hungover, written by Nicolle Galyon, Amy Allen and David Garcia, has Maddie & Tae singing a tale of Tylenol and being ‘so sober I cold cry’ with ‘emotions…over ice’.

Ross Copperman was one of the writers of Hurt That You Gave Me, a melodic break-up song on which Brett Young takes the vocals. Its third word is ‘drink’, which makes sense because this album is basically Now That’s What I Call Bachelorette Spring/Summer 2023. Sippin (‘on your love too long’) has no guest, as the trio take vocals themselves. They sound better than Chainsmokers but not as good as Calvin Harris, if we were to rank singing dance acts.

The interesting guest vocalist, as if to give kudos and stardust to a project that desperately needs it, comes on Bets On Us: HRH Dolly Parton, who must also be there to get people asking ‘isn’t that…?’ Extra pizzazz comes in the brackets where the name James Newman (nul points for the UK at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest) can be found. He contributes to lyrics with a card-game theme: aces, high rollers, ‘gambling on this game of love’. The production deadens any of the atmosphere in the song, and even the banjo solo sounds ‘in the box’ rather than played by a human being.

‘It sounds very five years ago’ was the verdict of my partner, completely unaware that that’s how country music works. The critic Andrea Williams once said it was a ten-year town because if you look at the pop charts ten years ago, you’ll find the sound of country music ten years in the future. Maybe it’s a five-year town now!

Ultimately, this is music designed to be talked over while people order birthday drinks on Lower Broadway. It is as functional as the benches and booths those clubbers sit on but costs a lot more to put together.

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