PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

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
Amazon
iTunes

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.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.