Uncle Kracker – “Smile”
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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