Lady Antebellum: Own the Night

As the music manipulates our musical memories, the lyrics give memory as central a place.

Lady Antebellum

Own the Night

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2011-09-13
UK Release Date: 2011-10-03

In appearance, the Grammy-winning, millions-selling country-pop trio Lady Antebellum can seem perennially fun-loving, even goofy. Think of the video for last year’s hit “Our Kind of Love”, with them joking around on playground equipment, or past songs like “Lookin’ for a Good Time”. They’ve built their success -- and they have been hugely successful, more so with each album -- on a good-natured, "universal" appeal. Their biggest hit so far, though, was the moody drunk-dialing ballad “Need You Now”, the title track of their second album. Their third album, Own the Night, takes its cues from that song more than their others, perhaps wisely. Its mission seems to be to expand upon the melancholy demeanor of that song; to take the waiting-room soft-country ballad and make it gloomier; to make sadness stylish, like on the album cover, where they’re at a beach dressed in black, Hillary Scott’s dress billowing like a harbinger of death.

On that front, they succeed. While their songs are conventional love ballads, their stories of love and its loss familiar ones, there is a palpable sense of foreboding throughout the album, starting with the first track. While the album title reads like encouragement to listeners to “own the night” or (if you read the band name and album title together as a sentence) like a statement of accomplishment that alludes either to the success of the band or their current bleak-as-night approach, the song title is “We Owned the Night”, and it’s a lament, a look backward at a fleeting relationship to ponder what could have been. The way Charles Kelly sings about the night as a dream, after asking us, “Have you ever wanted someone so much it hurts / Your lips try to speak / But you just can’t find the words,” makes you wonder if it really happened at all, if what he’s describing isn’t just what he wanted to happen. Is he describing a one-night-stand, or his imagined vision of one? The perspective makes the potential for something more seem like it might never have really been there, which perhaps makes the song seem even sadder, one of human misperception.

Throughout Own the Night, perspective is the subject. The duet form is used to present two perspectives on what happened, especially in the goodbye songs. There are seven songs where a couple has split or is about to split; though two of the relationships were brief, the others were apparently not. In all of these songs, it seems like the lovers were on a different page, and still are. On the Taylor Swift-ish “Wanted You More”, both Scott and Kelly diagnose the problem of a relationship with the same words: “I guess I wanted you more.” Can it be true for both? On “When You Were Mine”, Scott sings of looking back, trying to understand why things turned out differently from how she imagined they would. It’s about broken promises and what-ifs, but also the way time makes us change our perspective, or not. She’s ready to give him one more try, still. “Cold as Stone” has two people each reconsidering their failed relationship, too, but we’re listening to their thoughts when the split just happened, which means they’re still in a state of shock, wishing they could just ignore what’s happening. As they travel away from each other, they’d rather not feel anything than feel what they’re feeling. “All I know is I don’t want to breathe,” goes a memorable line.

“Somewhere Love Remains” and “As You Turn Away” get us even more present in the moment of decision, finding our lovers at the precipice. The latter song dramatically gives that instant an image; with each step he takes, her heart breaks more. “The door is closing / And I just can’t change it,” she sings, the piano and her singing making it the album’s most poignant moment. Then, “Nothing more to say / Nothing left to break” is sung before the music thunders in, representing the flood of emotions that comes when the door closes for good.

Musically, the group’s tricks here are sad piano, ‘80s pop/rock guitars, and ponderous movie-theme strings. These all play off our memories of music past, and the sentimental feelings these musical styles play off of, manipulate even.

As the music manipulates our musical memories, the lyrics give memory as central a place. On “As You Turn Away”, the lovers can’t be friends because she knows memories will haunt her. Memories haunt throughout, tied in with individual perspective. On “Dancing Away With My Heart”, the two people likely have different memories of the time they danced together in high school, different feelings attached to it. Memories are made static in our brains, but are also always changed. “For me you’ll always be 18 and beautiful / And dancing away with my heart.” He’s still capturing her heart each time. It’s no longer an actual person from an actual time and place that’s being recalled, but an idea, a feeling, a desire.

The song where the lovers just dance comes right after the song where they just kiss (first single “Just a Kiss”, which might be taken as a virgins-wait-for-marriage anthem). Elsewhere on the album, Lady Antebellum do sing about “making love”, but in a grinning way that seems awfully chaste, not related to their bodies. On “Singing Me Home”, the couple drives in a car, listening to a song about making love on the radio. “I know just what she’s thinking / And I can’t wait,” Charles Kelly sings, in the nerdiest loverman voice ever. But then he does get lustier for a moment, honing in on her tanline, her “damp hair”, his hand on her leg. Flirting that much with real physicality makes us want them to get unexpectedly filthy, just to throw us for a loop.

The way that human beings use words to cover up complexity and messiness -- in this case, mainly of love -- is prominent throughout Own the Night. There are more things unsaid than said, and when they do talk about love, they’re using the most conventional language. Yet there is a dark heart in the silence and between the clichés. Lies are being told. Even the message song “Love Is the Heart of the World”, where they’re tying religious faith into the love of newlyweds (because referencing faith is what you do at the end of a country LP), has a sad tone.

The first time I listened to the album, I had my iPod on shuffle by accident. On that listen, the album ended with “When You Were Mine” and its broken promises instead of the message that love is the heart of the world. On shuffle, the album fluctuated more between infatuation, betrayal, bliss, devastation -- ending the album with the lie of love, with how what you said then always differs from what you’d say now. What we say about the present when it’s past will keep changing, even as the memory of the time itself and what happened solidifies, becomes a story.


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

​'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

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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

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