Music

Lady Antebellum: Need You Now

There's a tone of melancholy throughout, remarkable because of how cheery the band’s countenance is, and how often they put sadness into songs that shouldn’t be sad.


Lady Antebellum

Need You Now

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2010-01-26
UK Release Date: 2010-01-26
Amazon
iTunes

Lady Antebellum’s second album is titled after the song “Need You Now”, a #1 country single last year. The main reason it stood out from the pack of soft-pop-leaning country ballads of attempted reconciliation is the late-night setting of inebriation. Drunk-dialing your ex is apparently something people can relate to. “It’s a quarter after 1 / I’m a little drunk / And I need you now”, Charles Kelley sings, alternating verses with Hillary Scott. The emphasis seems to be on the little, based on the level of self-analysis in the song. These are not people drinking to feel no pain. Scott sings, “I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all”, a striking line for the awareness shown within a supposed moment of irrationality and desperate passion.

The corollary to that lyric is the song “Love This Pain”, probably the catchiest of the album's up-tempo numbers. Opening with a playful “C’mon”, it is all about falling for someone who torments you. “It’s like I love this pain / A little too much / Love my heart all busted up”, is the sentiment. It’s about the prototypical on-again/off-again relationship, but there’s a point where we get past relationships, where the song’s narrator admits life is best when things are at their worst: “It’s like I’m just not me / If I can’t be / A sad sad song”.

That “c’mon” at the beginning of the song proves to be a we’re-all-in-the-same-boat move, a call to the audience to acknowledge they have felt exactly what he is singing. It’s very much a current-day country move, which means also an ‘80s arena-rock move, maybe a ‘70s singer-songwriter move. That’s the direction Lady Antebellum is coming from, just like Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, and country radio in general. One overt attempt at reaching the masses through identification is “Stars Tonight”. The song paints a scene of a night on the town, with everyone out to see a rock band, and then puts us both on the stage and in the crowd. In fact, the crowd = the band. With the crowd chanting “hey”s, Lady Antebellum proclaim “we’re all stars tonight” and “tonight we’re all in the band”.

Lady Antebellum are dressed-up and photographed to look either like superstars or wanna-be superstars on the cover. (They should be considered more the former than the latter, I suppose, since the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, and their first album was a massive hit.) That photo gives the sense that they consider this, their second album, as a chance to push themselves up to the next level. The way to do that in mainstream country music isn’t to try something new so much as to have the most hit songs, which is probably why the album feels groomed in that direction. Need You Now consists of sturdy, built-for-radio material, trafficking in nostalgia with a tinge of patriotism (“American Honey”), love as freedom (“Our Kind of Love”), social observation as a reason for proclamations of faith (“Hello World”), live-in-the-moment (“Perfect Day”), male tribute to womanhood (“Something ‘Bout a Woman”), starting over (“Ready to Love Again”), and regret for choices made or not made (“If I Knew Then”). That last song is one of the album’s more exquisite ballads, almost jazzy in tone and direct in its details of backseat passion that our singer now thinks could have been the love. The song is also a conundrum. He describes love as something that swoops in and takes over, leaving you speechless. At the same time, it’s something he wishes he had chosen to do: “If I knew then / What I know now / I’d fall in love”. Can it be both an unstoppable force and something you can choose to ignore?

The most interesting aspect of Need You Now is the tone of melancholy throughout, remarkable because of how cheery the band’s countenance generally is, on stage for example, but more so because of how often they put sadness into songs that, on the surface, shouldn’t be sad. “Perfect Day”, the perky live-in-the-moment song, is mostly about trying and failing to carry that feeling beyond one passing moment, about the knowledge that the moment always passes. Scott sings that she’s not worried about tomorrow, and then she worries about it: “What I’d give if I could find a way to stay / Lost in this moment now”. Before “Hello World”’s ending, where our sad-sack narrator decides that his suburban-family-perfect life is beautiful, he declares, “Sometimes I feel cold as steel / Broken / Like I’m never gonna heal”. It's a song aiming for poignancy, one trying to balance pain and contentment. But its ending feels like a cop-out because the set-up of pain was convincing. He feels broken, unable to heal, but oh wait, that moment has passed, I remembered my family and my faith and now everything is OK. As overblown as the song gets, that initial impression that he's hurt and broken sticks around even as he declares his happiness.

Melancholy piano lurks at every corner, coloring the mood. When the vocalists proclaim their happiness, the mood evokes doubts. The saddest-sounding happy song on the album is the duet “When You Got a Good Thing”. As the title indicates, it’s a song of satisfaction and comfort, a declaration a couple has found a great love. The tone, though, is completely downcast. Everything about the song musically states dissatisfaction. The more that atmosphere sinks in, the more we start to hear unhappiness in their words, the more the clichés (“I need you now even more than the air I breathe”) seem like cover-up, the public face. When they sing to each other, “Baby when the ground starts shaking”, we imagine it’s shaking now for them, hard.

A gossip-centered-reading of the dissatisfaction they load into songs about how good life is would wonder if there’s an extended-hiatus and solo albums in the band’s future, just as they’re rising to the top. My preferred read is that the melancholy adds a little extra depth to even the most by-the-book of their songs. A little extra depth -- like being a little drunk, I suppose.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Up-and-coming indie folk artists introduce captivating new layers of sound to "Hot Scary Summer" in their rendition of this cult favorite tune from Villagers.

When Villagers first released "Hot Scary Summer", it felt like a revelation. Not only did the indie folk outlet develop a truly captivating melancholy atmosphere with their music, nor did they just appeal to the heartstrings by singing about the negative feelings associated with aching loneliness. Rather, songwriter Conor O'Brien went beyond to highlight personal struggles of being called out in public and having threats thrown out by very homophobic individuals.

Keep reading... Show less

Chary’s 15 minutes may be a little too pop to be post-punk, a little too post-punk to be pop, but the satisfaction gained therein cuts deeper and more succinctly than many of 2017’s full-lengths.

The word “chary" may be a substitute for “cautious", but Courtship Ritual's new EP of the same title is anything but. The one-two sass attack of “Down Low" and “Blunt as Naive" makes this much clear from the start. This pair of songs serves as the perfect, attention-getting opener for Chary's nuanced five-song ride.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image