I often wonder what romantic comedies will do with their meet-cutes now that the strangers we encounter in the public sphere—say, sitting on park benches or riding public transit—are mostly fixated on the small, glowing screens of their phones. What cute pick-up lines does that lend itself to? The first track on Old Dominion’s debut album Meat and Candy might give one answer to that question. Lead singer Matthew Ramsey has pick-up lines for the iPhone generation. “Hey baby, I like the way you look in your baseball cap. Maybe later we can take a selfie together, about midnight? I promise I’ll put the photo on my lock screen.”
I’m poking fun, perhaps, but that song puts a lot of emotion into one image, her in her snapback. There’s a lot of longing in the romantic hopes he pins on this tattooed, Converse-clad stranger. (The mention of these style details remind us that it’s surface-level things that attract us to others, and the background we fill in about the person based on the cultural/socioeconomic associations we have with their fashion/lifestyle choices.) The music helps with that emotional side greatly. Their style of contemporary country-pop music, the kind that takes more cues from ‘80s pop-rock than anything else, but with the sound and style of guitar-oriented current country radio hits; think Keith Urban as one immediate touchpoint. Ramsey and Old Dominion traffic in pick-up songs more than anything else. Meaning songs built of pick-up lines, not songs involving pick-up trucks, though there are some of those.
One song I was thinking of actually doesn’t specify the vehicle type. In “Wrong Turns”, they’re driving around “in the middle of BFE”—a pleasingly callous reference for a genre that’s lately often romanticizing a vague rural scene without getting specific—and, alas, he realizes all these wrong turns are really the right turns. Not in the sense of right turns in life or even love; strictly speaking, sex is all the song is about. “She’s loving all the moves I make…I guess I’m making all the right wrong turns tonight”. That’s when you realize he’s not really talking about driving. What is “the road that we ain’t ever seen”? Inquiring minds want to know.
The other truck song, “Beer Can in a Truck Bed”, is lascivious too, and again a hook-up among strangers. Here is someone’s idea of a dream, though I’m not sure who. A tattooed woman in a sundress offers him Natty Light, and they end up trading metaphors and who knows what else. “I wanna roll around with you like a beer can in a truck bed” isn’t the prettiest of metaphors.
That is a grittier rendition of one of the forces driving the entirety of Meat and Candy: the masculine dream that every woman (or at least every woman that resembles the Def Lepard-loving, Converse-wearing, tattoo-sporting, wisecracking woman of his dreams) is just waiting for a man to ask her out. Song after song, they portray that dream but not without mocking it a bit. Through Meat and Candy, Old Dominion find entertaining, lightly touching (but not really) ways to depict and have fun with that scenario.
After all its hook-ups and attempted hook-ups, the album concludes with a more sentimental song about relationships, ultimately successful and not, that represent times when things went right. Something about his delivery of relationship memories resembles an Instagram feed - here we are in NY, here we are getting our first tattoos, and so on.
On the whole Old Dominion lives in the milieu of modern country—its musical style and cliches—and in our current era (selfies, phrases like “...said nobody ever”) while twisting country cliches just enough to make them feel fresh. And poking just enough fun at romance and human perceptions of it. For all the humor, there is still a bit of the bittersweet handing in the air. But that’s probably the natural result of so many attempted hook-ups. These many pick-up lines are bound to spawn a lot of rejections.
// Notes from the Road
"Philip Glass, the artistic director of the Tibet House benefits, celebrated his 80th birthday at this year's annual benefit with performances from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens and more.READ the article