Review Summary: Lady Antebellum become even more rigid in their songwriting.
Lady Antebellum is one of the four horsemen spearheading the pop country onslaught of the past five years. Along with Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, and cultural icon Taylor Swift, the genre known as “country-pop” or “pop country” has established itself as an immovable force in mainstream music. As of late, its popularity has soared to astronomical heights, forcing listeners everywhere to either applaud or cover their ears while seething with hellish fury. As one of the frontrunners of a still young movement, Lady Antebellum have unwillingly been bestowed with the responsibility of dictating the genre’s direction. Like ship captains, they can help guide pop-country through the storm that is the modern music industry, or they can watch helplessly as waves of criticism overtake their ship, their fickle audience rapidly loses interest, and they all fade into oblivion with other short-lived fads like the nu-metal craze of the early 2000’s. But with the way that Need You Now
exploded onto the scene last year and continues to dominate the airwaves, there is little reason to suspect that the end is nigh.
Oh, but how the calm before the storm looms ominously. Fresh off the deafening applause that accompanied Need You Now
, Lady Antebellum finds themselves in cruise control. Their latest album, Own the Night
, sees a band that has grown comfortable with success. They know what styles work for them – what they can do, what they can’t do, and most importantly, what sells
. Unfortunately, it appears that Lady Antebellum has opted mostly for the latter, almost exclusively aiming to write ‘Need You Now Part II.’ And who can blame them? If you were rolling in the benjamins, you wouldn’t be risking your financial empire to impress a couple of hipster schmucks tanning by the glow of their computer monitors. Ironically though, it is Lady Antebellum’s complacency that gets them into trouble with Own the Night
, an album that could have really benefited from even a few
brief shots of energy.
It’s no secret that the catalyst behind Need You Now
’s success was the title track of the same name, and since then Lady Antebellum appears to have been hard at work honing in on their ballads. From the smoothly intertwined duets on ‘Just a Kiss’ to the gentle strings that subtly drive ‘Heart of the World’ forward, Own the Night
is all about tender, heartfelt odes. Pianos are abundant, the drums rock to and fro like a lullaby, and acoustic guitar strums are everywhere to surround you with a calming sense of familiarity. While those could all be strengths with the aid of tempo changes and structural variation, this album instead opts to numb you with colorless continuity. It is consistency of the worst brand – like a car alarm or a leaky faucet – and unless you eat, sleep, and breathe down tempo country-pop, it will undoubtedly leave you in a haze of tired indifference. At twelve songs in length, Own the Night
features a horrid one-to-six ratio of upbeat songs versus ballads, and when the majority of the slow songs follow the exact same musical progression, it is hard for the duo of ‘Friday Night’ and ‘Love I’ve Found In You’ to save this from being anything more than a tedious exercise in repetition.
Even as Lady Antebellum goes through the typical motions, they come up surprisingly short in their comfort zone. A song as infectious as ‘I Run to You’ or ‘Need You Now’ is nowhere to be found, and if you can imagine what those songs would sound like without any hooks, then you already have a pretty good idea of what to expect going in. The lyrics haven’t changed much, with song meanings that revolve around love, faith, and heartbreak – all topics covered in their prior two endeavors. In other words, if you weren’t moved by lines like “It’s a quarter after one, I’m a little drunk and I need you now”, then nothing here will pull at your heartstrings either. The best moments on here come when Lady Antebellum mixes up the pace, such as the title track and the country-twang exuded by ‘Friday Night.’ Normally, this wouldn’t be the primary determinant of an album’s success, but the sheer lack of musical curiosity that plagues Own the Night
limits its perks to a pitter-pat drum fill, a quirky vocal inflection, or, god forbid, the brief appearance of electric guitar. Lady Antebellum has dried out their pool of ideas, and if they ever want to gain new fans, they will eventually have to pour a bucket of water in there instead of standing around and praying for rain.
Own the Night
’s insipid tendencies shouldn’t come as a surprise. Their affinity for predictable ballads was made well-known long before this, and considering their standing as one of the most popular country bands in mainstream music, they will only continue to drive home their award-winning formula. The noticeable lack of catchy songs may lose them a few fans, but this album is not risky enough to be alienating. It just plods along, packing one identical song next to the other. As far as our metaphor goes, Lady Antebellum has fallen asleep at the wheel. Here’s to hoping they wake themselves up, as not to get jolted into consciousness by the sounds of thunder on the horizon.