Hit Nashville songwriters-turned-satin-smooth and pillowy-soft county pop practitioners Daniel Smyers and Shay Mooney have never ever made things rough for themselves since becoming Dan + Shay with 2014’s “Where It All Began.” With that debut album, and its follow-up, 2016’s “Obsessed,” Dan + Shay showed their country cousins how to condense the bittersweet breeziness of Rascal Flatts-meets-Air Supply sop into merry, milky froth, without an ache or a sweat bead in the bunch.
The duo’s freshly released “Good Things” album – with its title track leading the way at the top of its track list — isn’t exactly a way-radical remake of the D+S formula. The duo is not suddenly hard-hiccupping or even raising much of a ruckus beyond a palpitating heartbeat when it comes to country. That beat, however, is accentuated a smidge, made crisper, and does happen to connects the dots to what was one of Dan + Shay’s most fragrant and coolly funky moments, the layered R&B-lite of 2015’s “Nothin’ Like You.”
With the title track, once you get past hearing the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” in its melody (and Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is,” too), the song’s rising, soulful harmonies, AutoTune tweaks and rushed rhyme scheme could sound right at home next to the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” in any mix. Only the track’s gentle, sleekly programmed tangle of comingled dobro and mandolin gives “Good Things” away as anything “country”-related. The brushed-denim “10,000 Hours” pairing of Dan + Shay with the Biebs now feels even more seamless in the context of this album than when it was first released as a single in 2019. Though you can spot Bieber’s wiggly vocal tics from miles away in any song, the sweet singers could pass for a well-heeled, sequenced-and-strummed trio… a Lambert, Hendricks & Ross without the weary wit or emotional complications.
The clipped vocal flip of “Glad You Exist,” though not exactly nu-R&B, certainly benefits from its slick inspiration as the track rehashes universal themes of C-19 loneliness and pre-Delta isolation amid cute, breezy acoustic strums. Concentrate hard on the flickering acoustic guitars of “Steal My Love” and they, too, provide a percussive punctuation to the soulful sway of Dan + Shay’s twin vocals and descending scale runs. The melody and its organ have a churchy country tone, but, its vibe is all over the place. And calling a track “One Direction,” albeit with no lyrical tips to Harry, Louis or Liam, is a dead giveaway that its chic-ly produced vocals could operate on any chart beyond country. Luckily, there is an aptly yawning pedal steel and a small, sleepy string section around to give “One Direction” its Nashvillian nuance.
That doesn’t mean that there is nothing “pure country” on “Good Things.” Along with the instrumentation of “One Direction,” and the simple smolder of “You,” the warm and shadowy “Irresponsible” (“It’s irresponsible to be this close after midnight”) is a homey, old-fashioned country cut where both singers lower their leads and harmonies to a reasonable octave and a dreamy baritone.
Still, it is that freshly patented, sleek, chic hybridization of Bieber-esque pop-R&B and soft country that makes the album’s best moments hum, as with the slowly escalating and dramatic “I Should Probably Go to Bed.” Starting off ripe, with its anticipatory piano leading the charge, the country-churchy ballad builds with ooh-ahh-ing, Beatles-worthy harmonies behind Shay Mooney’s woozy tenor. “I should quit while I’m ahead I should probably leave you alone / ‘Cause in the morning / I’ll be calling / Sorry for the things I said,” intones Mooney, before going into his top-teetering falsetto and an epic string-sawed bridge that out-theatricalizes any number of 21st century divas.
So, yes, for the most part, Dan + Shay have stayed soft on their fourth full-length album. But if this caramel-coated hybrid of country, R&B and pop is as hard as they get, that’s not a bad thing.