REVIEW: Chris Young – ‘Losing Sleep’

Ah, Chris Young. Everybody loves a bit of Chris, right? Cuddly, smiley Chris Young. Recently inducted into the Opry family, great set at this year’s C2C Festival and with ‘Sober Saturday Night’, he is the singer of one of the best Country songs of modern times too. The thing about Chris, for me, is that he has always been a ‘greatest hits’ artist and by that I mean there are always 3-4 outstanding songs on every album he produces. ‘I’m Comin Over’ had the title track, ‘Think of You’, ‘Sober Saturday Night’ and ‘Underdogs’. ‘A.M.’ had ‘Aw Naw’, ‘Lonely Eyes’ and ‘Who I am With You’. On ‘Neon’ we got ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Save Water, Drink Beer’ and ‘When She’s On’ and maybe the title track too. These are quality songs, sung with a passion and emotion often lacking in today’s modern artists but what Chris has yet to do is produce an album of outstanding quality all the way through, or come out of leftfield with something different – lyrically he has always been about love songs, about the redemptive power of a beautiful women, about drinking and about heartbreak.

Yes, I can hear you Youngophiles cry, but doesn’t that sum up about 97.4% of all Country songs? And you might be right, but I’ve always wanted just that little bit more from him, I want him to capture the passion of ‘Sober Saturday Night’ and the umph of ‘Underdogs’ on everything that he does, I’ve always felt he has played it safe when it comes to his lyrics, he hasn’t opened up and shown us his true self in that brutal way that Country music is designed for. New album, ‘Losing Sleep’ doesn’t change any of that I’m afraid and whilst it isn’t a bad album in any shape or form it is simply another Chris Young album. Yes, it has three absolutely wonderful songs on it that any artist releasing an album this year would be proud to have, but there is little new on offer here so if you are an existing fan and you dig what Chris does, you are going to love this album to bits.

Let’s accentuate the positive and talk about what Chris has done well. ‘Losing Sleep’ is Chris’ shortest album at just ten tracks so it’s clear he has gone ‘punk’ for this one!! At a running time of just over 30 minutes this is a ‘wham bam, thank you mam’ type of affair and that is no bad thing. I sometimes yearn for the days, pre-CD’s, when vinyls came in chunks of 45 minutes. The advent of the CD and the need to fill that 80 minutes of space has resulted in some dreadful filler being shoved onto albums recently as they have stretched from a listenable 10 tracks up to 15, 16, sometimes 17 songs. You can listen to ‘Losing Sleep’ in one sitting, like an album should be listened to and it does have a flow and a cohesive feel to it. It is well produced and contains three of the best songs you will hear on any recording this year.

‘Radio and the Rain’ begins against the backdrop of a storm and a moody electric guitar. Chris’ voice kicks in, deep, passionate and resonating with feeling. The song breaks out in the chorus as Chris sings, ‘Making love to the soundtrack of the radio and the rain.’ We need to get one thing out in the open, therapy style, before we go much further – Chris has got a serious case of ‘the horn’ on this album!! He is relentlessly, overtly sexual on a number of the songs on ‘Losing Sleep’ and to be honest it gets a bit wearing at times however, ‘Radio and the Rain’ is FM radio-gold and will be an awesome addition to his live set. It’s big, bold and dark and he sings the hell out of it.

The following track, ‘Where I Go When I Drink’ is the stand-out song on ‘Losing Sleep’. It begins with the type of Meat Loaf-esque dramatic piano that reminds me of ‘Sober Saturday Night’. It’s a heartbreak song of the very highest proportions and I would go as far as to say this is a top ten song of the year. Young’s breathy vocals convey heartache better than the majority of Country singers out there and in this piano-driven setting it works marvellously. Familiar lyrical tropes, like rain, are employed for maximum drama but I’ll forgive him that on such a beautiful song.

The third great song on ‘Losing Sleep’ is album closer, ‘Blacked Out’. A simple, quietly acoustic song this one packs the type of emotional punch that I’ve been wanting more from Chris. It’s a heartbreak song of the highest quality that relies on nothing but a simple guitar line and Young’s vocals to carry it and boy do they!! “With all this pain, she left me with, so I’m getting gone, so I can get blacked out, like Elvis in 1968, like Johnny Cash any given day, blacked out.” What we have here from Chris is originality, is passion. It’s something different and new from him and it works brilliantly. Sometimes I think Chris could do with someone around him saying, ‘You know what, big guy, sometimes less is more. Rein it back a little dude and don’t come on so strong.” Well, with ‘Blacked Out’ he does and it’s simply outstanding.

The title track of ‘Losing Sleep’ is also worth mentioning in terms of what he does well this time around. A funky little guitar line and some handclap percussion drive the some forward in its early stages before the chorus breaks out in an explosion of guitars and huge vocals. Again, I can’t fault Chris for his delivery or passion on this song, in-fact ‘passion’ is in evidence everywhere on this album as Chris really goes to town on his sexual references in a big way. ‘Losing Sleep’ itself is about having sex, obvs! “Every single touch is something special when we’re wrapped up those sheets, we’re winning when we’re losing……when we’re losing sleep.”  On ‘Leave Me Wanting More’ he suggests cancelling the dinner reservation and just going to bed. “You don’t have to get dressed up for me tonight to get me staring at you,” he sings, walking that fine line between romantic and slightly creepy. On ‘Woke Up Like This’ he sings ‘Just me and you and the sun coming through the window, is all he have on,’ as we get to hear more about his romantic conquests and bedroom activities.

‘Trouble Looking’, ‘She’s Got a Way’ and ‘Hangin’ On’ are all pick up songs, set in pubs or clubs, as Chris becomes fixated by the women in-front of him. He references the dancing, the drinks, the hair and other clichés that go along with songs like this. Maybe his army of female fans like this sort of thing but it seems a little relentless in terms of his obsession with the female form and his willingness to do anything to impress upon the women in his songs just what princesses and goddesses they are. Again, maybe his ‘target’ demographic really like these sentiments but in late 2017 with the Harvey Weinstein stuff happening lines like, “Girl, I know you didn’t come here, just for the free beer, you came to put some jaws on the ground and turn this place upside down,’ sort of have me reaching for the word ‘objectification’.

None of the above referenced songs are bad songs. They are well sung, they are well produced with big choruses and big guitars but they are one dimensional in their lyrical ability to say nothing more than, ‘look how much I love you, girl, you make me horny, you’re so hot, shall we go to bed?” It all gets a bit terribly relentless, over and over again which is why songs like ‘Blacked Out’ stand out so much. All of this overt sexualisation seems a little at odds with Chris’ public perception. It feels like he is trying a little too hard to impress upon us just what a vibrant and sexual person he is. Is he trying to shake off his ‘nice guy’ image? I’m not sure but one thing is for certain, for me, it detracts from the overall quality of the album as I encounter another song about a hot girl and what she does to him. Yawn. I want more from such a talented and honest performer and he is hiding or holding it back from us. Until Chris decides to be honest with himself and with his fans he will forever be a ‘greatest hits’ artist – capable of producing Country music of the highest quality for a wider audience than he is currently aiming yet. The talent is there, the quality is there and the voice is there – ‘Where I go When I Drink’ is testament to the guy’s ability, but on ‘Losing Sleep’ he’s settled for just OK when he could have pushed himself for so much more.

James Daykin
@rockjames