Tuesday, November 23rd, 2021

Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde – Never Wanted To Be That Girl

It’s time you had the talk…


Nortey Dowuona: The slightly off kilter lean of the guitars tells you you’re in the company of outsider Nashvillle: folks who have been trying and caring, which is now anathema to most country. And Ashley and Carly, both at the opposite sides of being betrayed by the man they lie next to each night, care and are trying, and it hurts them both to try, and you can feel that anguish in the low-key, soft edged bridge, where we hear Ashley’s ragged voice and Carly’s smooth one both wilt and tremble, almost as if they are about to crack — but don’t. 

Tim de Reuse: Powerful for its remarkable focus: a sparse arrangement (compared to most country music these days, anyway), matter-of-fact statements of feeling, and, most surprisingly, barely mentioning the villain of the story at all. I was surprised when the narrative stopped after a tiny, four-line second verse; there’s no shortage of songs in this genre that talk about revenge on unfaithful partners, either literal or fantasized or just moral, and most songwriters would have jumped at the opportunity to tie this little story up at the bridge, but here we just stew in the limbo these women are trapped in. It’s frustrating, and for what this song’s trying to do, that’s a good thing. I don’t think a line as direct as “God, this feels like hell” would’ve worked alongside any kind of catharsis.

Thomas Inskeep: A brilliant twist on the “two women getting cheated on” country song. As opposed to the genre’s gold standard, the titanic Reba McEntire/Linda Davis duet “Does He Love You,” in which the two women are rivals, or Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs,” in which the protagonists carry out revenge against the man lying to them both, in “Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” the women voiced by Pearce and McBryde are just sad. McBryde’s character never wanted to be the other woman; Pearce’s never wanted to be the woman getting cheated on. Their vocals, unsurprisingly, are incredible, and the lyrics, which are of course the key here, are spot-on (the song was co-written by Pearce and McBryde with Nashville songwriting king Shane McAnally). This is everything I could want in a contemporary country record in 2021.

Alex Clifton: You never plan on being the other woman — it’s something that arises from the blue when you suddenly discover you’ve been duped, that you’ve been handing your heart out to someone who then takes his home to someone else. It’s raw, dirty, and rotten, and leaves you unable to reconcile who you thought you were with who you’ve become. I love how plaintive and pretty this song is; it comes across as the cold realization you have while in the shower, thinking it all over. Since the re-release of Red I’ve been listening to a lot of breakup music and reliving some of the deep heartbreak of my college years. There’s a time and a place for melodrama and screaming “you call me up again just to break me like a promise,” but this subtly captures the quieter moments of heartbreak and self-hatred.

Michael Hong: Pearce and McBryde offer solid performances, but “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” spends too long making the unknowing other girl sound like a fault of themselves, a country trope that the pair knows is too old-fashioned if the standstill of the chorus tells us anything.

Samson Savill de Jong: The story is earnestly told with enough detail to feel authentic rather than generic, but I can’t say that “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” ever provokes a particularly strong emotional emotional reaction in me. It feels harsh even as I’m writing it because I don’t dislike the song, but it comes off to me more like people singing the words that were written rather than conveying something they really experienced.

Andy Hutchins: I am not a believer in American exceptionalism as a rule, but one exception I will make is for songwriting, especially really good country songwriting. “I thought this kind of lonely/Only happens to somebody else/And being the other one/When there’s another one?” is about as sharp as pen game gets on a bar-by-bar basis. Two good verses crashing into that chorus from opposite ends of the tunnel over some lush and forgiving Big Machine production gives “Never Wanted” momentum that is squandered on a too-simple bridge, however, and Pearce and McBryde have voices just slightly too similar to make this the sort of study in contrasts that was possible and probably a bit more compelling than pure lament. I’d buy a ticket for the sequel.

Alfred Soto: Duet partner Ashley McBryde scored a triumph with last year’s Never Will: rueful, taking no shit, aggressive about anti-nostalgia. Carly Pearce doesn’t go that far. But on an album tracing the disintegration of a marriage, I find “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” the equivalent of meeting a buddy you often find obnoxious at the bar for the sake of getting out of the house and loving the shit out of the experience. Thanks to aggressive bubbly guitars and the way McBryde’s thin sandy voice complements Pearce’s plummier one, this is a night out with no regrets.

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