When Brett Eldredge released his soul-tinged 2015 single "Lose My Mind," he played up the love-crazy aspect of the title so much that the video put him in a straightjacket.
His latest release - "Somethin' I'm Good At," No. 41 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and No. 36 on Country Airplay in its fourth charted week - is its caffeinated successor. Sonically, "Good" uses the same punchy backbeat as Diana Ross & The Supremes' "My World Is Empty Without You," applied to a start-and-stop arrangement that breaks down and reignites, not once, but twice in three-and-a-half minutes. Lyrically, Eldredge sputters through a collection of odd phrases and made-up words, confessing a ream of shortcomings. Combined, the quirky sound and odd verbiage create an off-kilter portrait of a man whose only real talent is loving his woman.
"It's finding a girl that loves you for the fact that you are bad at all these things, and that makes her laugh," says Eldredge. "She knows you're trying, and she knows you're doing [your best] for her, and just being yourself like that makes her smile."
The lead single from Eldredge's next album, still in production, the offbeat "Somethin' I'm Good At" is appropriately the result of two songwriters venturing outside their comfort zones. Eldredge had planned during a spring 2016 appointment with Tom Douglas ("The House That Built Me," "Livin' the Dream") to write a ballad that took advantage of Douglas' piano skills. Hours into the process, the song they started wasn't coming together, and Eldredge decided to break out of the rut. He segued into a brisk chord pattern on the guitar and put a deadline on the day's project.
They decided "to write a song in an hour - [we] literally put a timer on," recalls Eldredge, adding they didn't want to "overthink ourselves, [but] just go with the vibe."
The first made-up word, like all the rest, filled out a rhyme in the song's first two lines: "I'm a real bad liar/I'm a burnt-toast kind of guy-er." It was just enough outside the box to untie the creative knots, and they never went fully back into the box for the next 60 minutes.
"One of the reasons that it does sound kind of wacky and free-spirited is because that's kind of who Brett is," says Douglas. "It's really all his personality."
The character's penchant for burning toast was just the first flaw they uncovered. He can't dance, can't swim, drinks too much and "can't keep up the pace-r." And in the ultimate admission to a lack of machismo, he opens the chorus by pointing to his poor automotive skills: "I can't change the world, no, I can't change a flat." In the end, the guy's weaknesses are part of what makes him so lovable.
"Deep down most of us know how flawed we are," says Douglas. "We kind of identify with the anti-hero or the broken hero a lot more than we do the superhero. Even those superhero movies we watch, all those guys have an Achilles heel, and that is always displayed early. We're all flawed, and it's very refreshing when somebody shows that side."
The words are merely the start of the peculiarities in "Somethin' I'm Good At." A goofy guitar solo, played by Derek Wells, appears at the 1:37 mark, well before the halfway point in the song.
"That is not a normal spot to do that," says Eldredge.
And the bridge that follows goes in the wrong direction. With a wordy set of verses, one would expect it to have elongated phrases and provide a bit of a counterpoint. Instead, the lines come even faster.
"We gave it a shot of Red Bull," jokes Eldredge. "Took a steroid shot right there on the bridge and said, 'Let's go crazy.' "
And they went even crazier at the end of that bridge. Eldredge ends the last line on a low note, then slides an octave or more upward back into the third chorus. The only time that vocal effect has been used on a country hit previously is likely Garth Brooks' "Ain't Goin' Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)." In Eldredge's case, the slide extends six seconds at full voice - and it's tacked on to the end of the previous phrase.
"Talk about holding your breath for a long time," says Eldredge.
"I don't know how he's going to do that live," adds producer Ross Copperman (Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen).
The second bridge name-checks Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" and The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," sandwiching "I got my shades on" - coincidentally, the opening line of Cole Swindell's "Chillin' It," though neither writer was intentionally referencing that song. They put together a crude iPhone worktape after finishing the song by the one-hour deadline, then sent it to engineer-musician Andy Skib, who oversaw the demo.
"He took a really ordinary work tape," says Douglas, "and spun it into gold."
The demo was so good that Copperman used the core of that session as the foundation for the end product.
"The appeal of the song was the craziness, so I wanted to keep all that rocket-like, wild, crazy stuff," says Copperman.
The tracking musicians played along with the demo at Zac Brown's Southern Ground Studios last December, in what was the final session before the holiday break for many of the participants.
"There was no pressure other than just to have fun," says Eldredge. "That's the [essence of the] song. Like, don't worry about how it's supposed to sound on a record, just have fun with it."
Drummer Fred Eltringham layered a real kit on top of the programmed percussion, and it set an amped-up atmosphere for the rest of the crew.
"He's like an animal in the wild when he plays drums," says Copperman. "I knew he would just crush all over this beat."
Eldredge provided some extra countermelodies while doing his own background vocals, and he, Copperman, Douglas and Skib all contributed gang vocals. At the final note, Eldredge blurted out "Cut!" - almost like a Hollywood director barking orders on the set - and though there was no rhyme or reason for it at the time, it stuck in the final version.
"It's like a three-minute movie of madness, and you want to go back and watch that movie again," says Eldredge.
"Somethin' I'm Good At" made its concert debut Feb. 16 in Huntington, W.Va., with the crowd picking up on the beat despite their unfamiliarity. Released to radio through PlayMPE on Feb. 24, it was the most-added single that first week and logged the highest debut of his career at No. 32 on Country Airplay.
Its continued ascent suggests the audience has bought into its oddball stance, as the song laughingly embraces the anti-hero in us all.
"My purpose in life is to move people through music and to tell them it's all right to be a little bit off," says Eldredge. "We're all a little bit off."