Uncle Kracker – “Smile”

Karlie Justus Marlowe | February 25th, 2010


Since Uncle Kracker’s debut single “Follow Me” shot up the pop charts in 2001 and paved the way for artists such as Jason Mraz and John Mayer, the singer has straddled the lines between rock, pop, soul and country(ish) music.

That qualifying -ish reflects the lightweight fare he’s touched within the genre on “When the Sun Goes Down,” his duet with Kenny Chesney, and Kid Rock co-write (slash “Sweet Home Alabama” rehash) “All Summer Long.”

Country, he ain’t–in fact, it’s a stretch to even play fast and loose with the “mainstream pop-country” umbrella when describing his latest single “Smile.”

The tune appears on his fourth album Happy Hour, released in September from Atlantic Records and billed as a “breezy blend of country-flavored pop and rock and roll.” As a collection, it has softer, more dance-friendly fare than his previous efforts, despite some semblance of a rebel edge he tries to maintain by smoking a cigarette on its cover.

Without lingering on the tired “is it or isn’t it” debate, the greatest deficiency of “Smile” has nothing to do with its label. Instead, for an artist who made his name constructing interesting beats, arrangements and melodies, this tune is a bland, forgettable letdown.

A survey of its lyrics–which make his “All Summer Long” co-write sound downright Shakespearean–should look familiar to any fourth-grade teachers grading their students’ poetry homework: “You make me smile like the sun/Fall out of bed, sing like bird/Dizzy in my head, spin like a record/Crazy on a Sunday night/You make me dance like a fool/Forget how to breathe/Shine like gold, buzz like a bee.”

Born Matthew Shafer, the Michigan native got his start in Detroit as a DJ for Kid Rock. On this song, he exudes an easy, genuine charisma that’s all but signed, sealed and delivered in this summer-flavored, beach-ready package. But past the charm of its singer, whose quirky vocal imperfections at least stand out in a sea of auto-tune and power notes, the song quickly breaks down amidst the tinkling of piano keys.

If country music truly is the final frontier for displaced artists such as Uncle Kracker, this song doesn’t bode well for his staying-power on the charts. Like his friend Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker’s stab at a country music career doesn’t feel completely inauthentic. Both seem to possess respect for the genre and its history–it’s just a shame they don’t seem to have even half as much respect for its future.

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  1. Jay
    February 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I have to admit I really don’t think The 9513 would waste time on this song. The 9513 has a lot of great insights, but “Smile” has been a pop hit for a while now and I’ve even heard it on department store radios and soft rock stations. I don’t think this is a legitimate country release by any means, but more of a way of reintroducing Kracker to the world of music.

    I guess my point is he really doesn’t need country radio to make this song a hit thus far, so it’s not really the scinario of a displaced artist. Yeah he’s crossed over with kenny before and such, but i don’t think this was meant to be a country hit.

    I personally like the song, but agree its not “country”, thus I just don’t think it’s worth the time to review it as one.

  2. Noeller
    February 25, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Actually, they just released a so-called “Country” version with a steel ride and some fiddles. Sent to radio this past week. I dig it – it’s soft and easy, but I wouldn’t air it on my country radio.

  3. Thomas
    February 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    …doesn’t sound bad if it’s played on your average morning radio show. the way noeller describes it, i can see that it can be countrified, however, that won’t be enough to seriously lift it up from mediocrity.

  4. Steve Harvey
    February 25, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    So this isn’t the Charlie Chaplin song?

  5. Noah Eaton
    February 26, 2010 at 1:54 am

    I wonder why it took so long for this to be reviewed. Even before the country remix was issued, it managed to climb to #51 on the Country chart months beforehand.

  6. Bobby P.
    February 27, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Noah, the Detroit station WYCD was spinning it as an album cut long before it was officially sent to country radio.

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