Thankfully this isn’t the disjointed mess that Painkiller was.
For the most part though, I’m kind of at a loss for what to truly say about this album. It’s the sort of record that doesn’t have anything inherently wrong with it, even if it’s not truly connecting with me for some reason.
For someone who’s heard Jay Joyce do some pretty weird stuff with his production techniques (like this group’s last album), this is probably one of his most tame projects yet.
Now, I don’t mean tame as in lifeless, because that’s not being fair to this album, however, I would say this is tame in the sense of its mood. It’s relaxed, and quiet, probably better suited for Fall than it is in the dead end of Winter. If I had to compare, I’d say it’s got the same weathered feel to it that Brent Cobb’s debut album, Shine On Rainy Day did.
Now, that’s both an asset and hindrance to this album depending on the song. A track like the spacier “Lost In California” works by matching its mood with its subject matter – a moody love song that feels comfortably mellow. A track such as “Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old” doesn’t work as well for me. For one, it’s too repetitious by its end and two, it fails to deliver the spark that a song such as this needs. It’s a look at youthful vitality, so why is it going for the same mood that “Lost In California” is? Other than that, the one track here that completely misses the landing here is “Happy People” and that’s mostly on Jay Joyce’s horrible production job on the verses than it is on the band themselves (or the writers, Hailey Whitters and Lori McKenna – I’m happy with the number of McKenna cuts here).
Aside from that, my biggest nitpick with this record is that it can start to run together and feel boring after awhile, relying too much on those slower, moodier tracks and failing to even differentiate them from one another. Some of these songs are lacking any real strong melodies or hooks to really stick in your mind, and I won’t name them here since most of them also have attributes I like. Speaking of things I liked about this album…
The biggest asset of this album is Little Big Town’s focus on their harmonies. If you’re going to call yourself a duo, trio, quartet, band…etc, you need to really show what that means. Honestly, not only are the harmonies present, they’re excellent as well. “Night On Our Side” may be my favorite track here simply because of that (as well as having one of the strongest melodies on this album, seriously catchy song). You also get a sense for them on tracks like “Free”, “Drivin’ Around” and the title track.
The songwriting on this album isn’t always great, I’ll admit that, but much like Aaron Watson who I covered this week, lyrics really aren’t the main focus anyway. The main focus is on the harmonies. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re aren’t some excellently written songs here. Hell, the list of co-writers kind of exemplifies that. I’m not the kind of blogger that will tell you what each song is about and call it a day, but seriously, songs such as “Beat Up Bible”, “We Went To The Beach”, the title track, and “Lost In California” prove that the band are at their best when they focus on songs that speak to more wistful themes, because they also often imbue the necessary emotion to go with them.
Overall though, I’m really not sure what to think of this record still. I think it’s better than some will give it credit for, but at the same time I can’t honestly say I loved anything outside of “Night On Our Side” and maybe “Beat Up Bible”. I liked a lot of songs, but there were also some that didn’t sit as well with me. However, I do think this is an interesting album from Little Big Town, and while it’s hard to call it an outright country album, I would say it showcases that Little Big Town are one of the more interesting mainstream country acts out there today.
My personal ranking of the tracks: (from favorite to least favorite)
- “Night On Our Side’
- “Beat Up Bible”
- “We Went To The Beach”
- “Lost In California”
- “The Breaker”
- “Better Man”
- “When Somebody Stops Loving You”
- “Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old”
- “Drivin’ Around”
- “Happy People”