Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Joanna Smith – We Can’t Be Friends

We wonder why Jonathan hates excellence…


Sabina Tang: It’s meant as a pop country ballad, I think, but the sad, pristine acoustic arrangement is all Mid-Second-Wave Coffee Era: Beth Orton, Gigi Leung… One expects back-handed recrimination, given subject matter, but there’s no resentment in Joanna Smith’s never-raised voice. She’s handling this maturely, on the neutral ground of a Starbucks exactly halfway between their apartments, and one suspects it’s the guy who’s losing it.

Patrick St. Michel: It’s not called “I Don’t Want To Be Friends,” because Smith’s sighing vocals make it clear the narrator of this song wants to be way more than friends.  She sells the song just right, finding a middle ground between sadness and joy — check how her voice gets just a bit more excited after she pictures the accidental hand brush, and how by the end of the line she sounds a little deflated that those things can’t happen (presumably again). The music is just as understated, the only moment of indulgence coming from a superfluous Spanish-tinged guitar late in the song. Acceptance is a tough emotion to pull off, but Smith does it extremely well here.    

Iain Mew: A combination of the backing vocals and weird swallowing of the start of the word “hug” had me hearing this as saying that they’d “fuck too long” the first time. That’s obviously where Smith is gesturing to with “that ain’t too far from waking up right where we’ve always been” anyway, but it was weird because the whole point of the song is its lingering on all of the things which go unsaid but hang in the air anyway, painting an agonising stand-off. It’s something which its slow ache does very well, though actually spelling out “It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I love you way too much” is uncharacteristically clumsy.

Katherine St Asaph: Faith Hill via Lady A, or if you want to classify this as country becoming adult contemporary, Sophie B. Hawkins via “As I Lay Me Down,” probably via A Walk to Remember: pretty, but I’ll be more excited when Miranda records “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover.”

Alfred Soto: Sounding like the middle sister of Kellie Pickler and Lee Ann Womack, Smith is exactly what this identikit adult contemporary country ballad needs: a rue that’s touching if monotonous.

Brad Shoup: Sometimes, you have to tell rather than show. The details in the verses — all the ways exes trap each other — are outstanding. The chorus is some Lady Antebellum mush. The song begs to display yearning, but maybe there’s a deep cut to flesh it out.

Jonathan Bogart: It’s a well-constructed song about the heartbreak of cutting ties with a lover in order to be fair to their new relationship. She doesn’t communicate either the heartbreak or the lust at all, though, just giving a somnolent reading that could work equally well at a child’s funeral or a sixtieth anniversary, and the instrumentalists behind her disappear into their professionalism.

Anthony Easton: The self-control is haunting. It kind of reminds me of Taylor Swift’s last single, without the ego or the anger, or maybe “Jolene” without the self-loathing. The low voice, the small details, the listing of desire thwarted: it becomes another way of marking territory, when one is never sure if that marking is a good idea or if the territory is as dangerous as you fear. 

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