Music

Lady Antebellum: Golden

Sometimes they tweak and prod clichés; others they repeat them as if they’ve discovered some new truth. It’s often hard to know if they can tell the difference.


Lady Antebellum

Golden

Label: Capitol Nashville
US Release Date: 2013-05-07
UK Release Date: 2013-05-06
Amazon
iTunes

There was an overarching sense of foreboding, an at times almost Gothic (at least for them) mood, to Lady Antebellum ‘s 2011 album Own the Night. If it was a Fall/Winter album, then their follow-up Golden is a Spring/Summer album; bright in tone. The opening number “Get to Me” sets a relaxed, sunkissed tone, musically, though Hillary Scott’s singing still carries a fair amount of desperation. It’s a full moon, which means she needs someone, now: “You know this is the time I get a little bit lonely and I can’t fight it, can’t hide it.” She wants him to shoot through her like a lightning bolt and light her on fire. What is this, a Harlequin Romance?

Lady Antebellum’s M.O. has always involved clichés; at their best they manage to elevate them, or string so many together that the abundance feels ridiculous enough to no longer seem like a cliché. They get close to the latter on “Get to Me”. She wants him to spread his wings, to be a drop of rain, to be air for her to breathe, etc. Lady Antebellum have always trafficked in clichés. Sometimes they tweak and prod them; others they repeat them as if they’ve discovered some new truth. It’s often hard to know if they can tell the difference.

On Golden the songs most likely to put slightly interesting spins on clichés, or at least to inhabit them in a vivacious enough way to grab your attention, are those with lead or co-lead vocals by Hillary Scott. The album’s first single, “Downtown”, allows her to get lustier than usual. She’s singing about partying and wanting to get back out there again. But of course it’s really about sex. At its most obvious: “I got a dress that’ll show a little uh-huh / but you ain’t getting uh-huh if you don’t come pick me up.” She adds, “you might be tired / but I’m not!” She sings with a little bit of R&B swagger, but then will echo that with a more clean-cut teenager’s voice.

Youth is the angle of their songs – in the characters or the scenarios – but underneath there’s always adult concerns. It’s hard to know if they put youth forward in an attempt for an audience or if it’s a more purposeful artistic dichotomy they’re trying to present, capturing that split between our aging bodies and the young people we all think we still are. “Ain’t It Pretty” starts with a powerful, and in some ways classically country, scene where Scott’s character gets dressed up, goes to a bar, sits there watching the happy people, and dwells on her heartbreak and depression. “It ain’t pretty / when a heart breaks," she concludes. There’s a point about a minute and a half into this mixture of booze, tears and desire where she suddenly admits, “I just kissed a boy”… and you think, “A boy? How old is she?”

Of course mixing clean-cut, fresh-faced surfaces with subtexts of lust and pain is nothing new for Lady Antebellum; look at one of their most acclaimed songs, the 2009 drunk-dial single “Need You Now”. There are duets here with a similar form, where Scott sings a verse from the woman’s perspective and Charles Kelley sings his verse from the man’s perspective. None are quite as interesting. There’s a Bon Jovi-ish power ballad where both halves of a split-up couple claim to be acting out of love (“All for Love”). “Nothin’ Like the First Time” continues their streak of songs about the way past lovers exist in your mind in a preserved state, as they were then. The opening scene, at a coffee shop, at least gives Scott the chance to again sing pain under a pretty surface: “You said ‘how you been doing?’ / I gave you the typical line / ‘I’ve been fine’ / but I was lying / dying." The songs gets into teen-romance tropes fast, though, like the couple under the stadium bleachers; and adult love-song ones too, like that idea that teenager years are always at the forefront of an adult’s mind.

The mainly Scott-sung “Long Teenage Goodbye” hits on that same theme, that we’re all sad we’ll never get back those great teenage birthday parties where our tattooed boyfriend grabbed our hand and said come with me, let’s not think about tomorrow, and then took us to beaches where they shoot off fireworks and to karaoke bars where they have to kick us off the stage at last call. It’s hard to know who they’re shooting for here, audience-wise, the young people who imagine their adult selves will envy them or adults in the midst of their midlife crises, ready to divorce their spouses so they can try and chase down those teenage summers they never really had.

“Goodbye Town” covers the same ground, though by connecting heartbreak with place it’s somewhat more convincing in its memories, while also perhaps fitting in contemporary country’s larger storyline of leaving small towns behind. The song also contains the only moment on the album where either of the male singers surprises me – no, it’s not the weird sports-stadium “oh oh oh oh-oh-oh” singalong part. Right after that, Kelley’s vocal riffing about how he’ll always exist in her memories sounds eerily similar, in a powerful way, to Paul Buchanan of the Scottish group the Blue Nile, to his singing on the 1989 Hats album in particular. It’s an unlikely connection, but a potent one for those of us who remember the Blue Nile as having a singular power to join cities to emotions.

Lady Antebellum reserve their biggest surprise, if you can call it that, for the last song, the vaguely pop-reggae-ish “Generation Away”. Add it to your list of unintentionally hilarious (and fascinating for it) country songs of the year. Ostensibly about the way generations make sense of the ones they came before them, or about the way we need to preserve the present so other people can make sense of it, the song strings together simplistic and/or plain wrong generalizations about the past at rapid speed. It starts, “If I was a summer / I want to be ’69 / I’d be chilling / listening to Dylan / holding up a peace sign." Hmmm … what else? If he was a prison he’d want to be Folsom, because Johnny Cash played there. If he was a preacher, he’d want to be Dr. King, because he had a dream. And they’d like us in the here and now to make memories like these too. We need to live our lives now, so future generations can whitewash our meaningful events into meaningless, sentimental nonsense. Why should we make memories? Because God loves us. Wait, what? Yes, the song ends up dissolving into their own version of the bible-school classic “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands”, but with an extra call for us to dance and some hip-hop callouts at the end. God wants us to throw our hands in the air, basically.

It’s a befuddling way to end an overall sedate, relatively predictable album; it’s kind of a wake-up call that says, hey, we can do crazier stuff than you think. If they follow that muse awhile, who knows what they’ll come back with next time. Oh, who am I kidding, they haven't run out of high-school clichés yet.

5

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

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

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

rating-image