Leon Bridges’s Good Thing is filled with exaltation and struggle, uncertainty and pride. There are excerpts from the stories that built him and glimpses at a love he might hold onto. He creates tension between the good thing he has and the dreams he wants to come true.
If Good Thing has a timeline, Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand may be flashback and premonition. Its sound even tinkles at beginning and end, making it easy to imagine as cinematic setting. Its story is a bundle of dreams, choices, and hurt.
He says he can’t risk his hand—the dreams he’s chasing—for the prospect of love. “I better slow down” is him fumbling through explaining that (in a way that reminds me of “When I don’t want a girl, I want a girl who understands that”). The best he can imagine of their future is less than what he’s imagined for himself. “I can’t keep letting this wave carry me away” is a sexy way of saying she’s not the plan.
There’s passing acknowledgement that his calculation might be wrong (“Don’t wanna wonder what we could’ve had”). But “Don’t get your feelings broken for nothing” sounds like self-interest disguised as care: stay if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In the outro, though, he slips in a confession late and low: “I’ve been hurt before; don’t wanna hurt no more.” It suggests his real fear is the risk of too-familiar heartbreak. And that’d make this song—his fast life, his concern for speeding past her—a thin cover for his fragility. It also explains why several songs later, in Lions, he vows to never be preyed on again (“You pray you’re not prey”).
The hand he’s been dealt in Bad Bad News (“Ain’t got no money that runs long”) is familiar. Money that runs short sure sounds like a lack of generational wealth. But that hand has value anyway, like the ability to “see right through a powdered face on a painted fool.”
It’s the story of our people. “I hit ‘em with the style and grace, and watch their ankles break” is how we survive. It’s less kill-them-with-kindness than it is kill-them-with-our-humanity.
Shy is moments that probably happen before Bet. The liquor’s set in, has him feeling frisky (“Hard to keep my guard up”). “I’ve been lovin with no meaning—running from a feeling” and “I don’t need nobody, but for you I might” reiterate Bet’s confession. He disclaims vulnerability, but soon concedes it’s ruse.
I love Beyond’s play on fools rushing in. There’s a betterment theme: “She shine me up like gold on my arm” has an Upgrade You vibe; that “the shoe might fit” is Cinderella’s come-up. But his fear of it—that he sees it as a gamble—is important (“Don’t wanna get ahead of myself;” the “will she” questions in the chorus).
Images of the family matriarch blessing his choices (“I know that grandma would’ve loved her like she was her own”) stir sadness that melts into familial embrace. But it’s just not obvious he’ll choose love. Even his plea at the bridge (“I give up; I’m in love, crying out to you”) seems more like what-do-I-do than for-you-I-will.
The most curious part, though? How he burdens love. “Space and time in the afterlife.” Does she have to be that to be worth it? When paired with his reluctance to be hurt again, I wonder whether he’s building walls so high that, even if scaled, they’ll lead to disastrous falls.
Forgive You is the fall from Beyond and the hurt from Bet. It’s also probably about young love: “I didn’t make it a thing; your mama didn’t know.” Its challenge is that forgiveness can be genuine and incomplete. He’s not better, he’s coping. He admits that via “I want you to know we’re ok.” It’s a song about forgiveness that says little about his own heart, except for “Won’t ever be the same.”
From the time If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be) starts until You Don’t Know ends, it’s time to dance. In Feels Good, “Live from the funk; it’s hotter than Texas” creates a world. And maybe he doesn’t recognize love: “Love I ain’t used to.” But while slowing down is something that’s not supposed to be possible for him, in You Don’t Know, here they are (“Time moves slower when I’m in your galaxy”).
In Mrs., this good thing has teeth: “I tried to let go; we end up on the floor.” The title suggests she could be The One, and I wish he’d realize that what they have is his hand too. I worry that he overloads the bet by considering their now only in terms of their future. I want him to fully admit his feelings for her aren’t any more or less a gamble than chasing the dreams he has. He comes close—“If we get it right, we’ll be together for life”—but if Bet really is flashback or premonition, maybe not close enough.
His mom’s journey from NOLA to Georgia set up his own from ATL to Texas. And there are lessons on those roads from Georgia to Texas, like “Had no green, but the love was strong.” He’s got dreams to remember, trying to be worthy of his family. Here’s hoping he knows, realizes, or learns that avoiding the risk of hurt isn’t the way home.
May 4, 2018
King Garbage · Nate Mercereau · Niles City Sound · Ricky Reed
Austin Jenkins · Austin Michael Jenkins · Curtis Mayfield · Dana Meyers · Dan Wilson · Eric Frederic · Joshua Block · Justin Tranter · Leon Bridges · Nate Mercereau · Ricky Reed · Steve Wyreman · Teddy Geiger · Todd Michael Bridges · Victor Dimotsis · Wayne Hector · William Shelby · Zachary Cooper