Pros: The title track, one or two occasional glimpses of real country
Cons: Very cheesy, tries too hard, cynically commercial
The Bottom Line: An erratic collection from Fleetwood Mac with sequins
Lady Antebellum belong to - or at least have been parcelled with - the country rock/Americana scene and it was through some severe pushing by BBC Radio's Bob Harris (is the great whispering one on the LA payroll?) who played the hugely catchy title track on both his country and more general shows. For my money Lady Antebellum are Fleetwood Mac with pedal steel, or they would be if they would only get over their obvious reluctance to go too much down the country road. Instead they maintain the Fleetwood Mac vibe by employing a profusion of boy-girl call and reply vocals and throwing in plenty of rock guitar riffs and some mammoth solos to labour the point that they aren't really country, thank you very much.
While the Fleetwood Mac allusions just cannot be tamed, there are snippets that take you right back to the eighties with names like J Geils Band, Heart and Tom Petty springing to mind. This is such a "big" sound that it couldn't be anything other than American; this is road, trips, open topped cars, straight teeth and tanned faces. How many cliches can you cram into one album? Bruce Springsteen must be fearing his record is in danger! "Our Kind of Love" is a case in point with open highways, Freebirds and jamming on riverbanks making us all wish we were gorgeous, carefree Californians. Seriously, it's a terribly cheesy song but it hits its peak with a frantic bashing of drums before inexplicably morphing into rock bluegrass with some brilliant fiddle.
Having heard Bob Harris play the single "Need You Now" for what seemed like an eternity, I was hooked on the song but I was amazed to hear it played with even more frequency on Radio Slovenia International, a station famed not just for playing an eclectic range of mediocrity but for playing it non-stop for years. If you only knew how often Kid Rock's (frighteningly catchy) take on Sweet Home Alabama was played, years after it came out, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was riding high in the charts. It wasn't until I returned from Slovenia and looked Lady Antebellum up on the internet that I learned that - in the States at least - this album is massive. Their rise has been meteoric: selling one million albums in the first month of release alone is something many established artists would be chuffed to achieve.
"I saw a Cajun man with a red guitar, singing on the side of the side of the street; I threw a handful of change in his beat up case and said play me that country beat". Sing these lyrics to a slightly pepped up Sweet Home Alabama and you have the measure of track 5, "Perfect Day". This is one of those highly melodic tracks that seems to have been perfectly engineered to make good radio airplay and to be a big hit with live audiences with its stop starts and tempo changes which will allow for prolonged clapping and "na na na" sing-a-longs.
"Love this pain" which starts with a terrifyingly crass "C'mon" is another irritatingly catchy (but then again, so are scabies) song and it's perhaps the most insightful lyric-wise which isn't saying much in a world heavily populated by American music chart triteness. The overriding fact is that Lady Antebellum are pushing the mass market buttons, appealing to the herd instinct and throwing in plenty of opportunities for chanting and air punching. Take "Stars Tonight"; a song which proclaims that on this particular night we're all part of the band - I can see the nachos and corn dogs being put down for (just) long enough for some seriously yee-hawing and whooping when this number hits its climax at live shows (incidentally, I would love to know if anyone else thinks the intro to this song is "Nashville meets the Clash").
The other way in which Lady Antebellum scream seriously manufactured is in this heavy reliance of American themes: a love song is a love song in any language, it's just that Lady Antebellum's are peppered with Americanisms. Hell, Track 2 "American Honey" can only be a cynical attempt to ensure that music librarians everywhere pull this song from the archives every time some kind of celebration of America is required on television.
"When you got a good thing" is the track that hints that there might be a little more depth to Lady Antebellum. I adore the melancholic pedal steel, at last giving some justification for the country connections and for once the guitar sound is understated. The thing that is remarkable about the song is that it has an extremely positive sentiment yet it has quite a sad sound. Similarly "If I knew then", formulaic as it is, is a pleasing relief from the relentless Shania Twain tinged upbeat numbers but it all turns pear-shaped with the following track which starts off promisingly with some blue grass twang but descends into awful Bruce Hornsby piano.
The lady of the trio, Hillary Scott, is an undoubted talent and she has a powerful voice that is able to translate well across the genres. Her singing male counterpart, Charles Kelley, however, tries just a bit too hard for my liking and makes even the upbeat songs seem like hard work. There is a third band member, but I like to look upon him as Lady Antebellum's version of Andrew Ridgeley (George Michael's erstwhile sidekick in Wham!). I've read several times that he favours pearl buttons (make of that what you will).
Sadly Lady Antebellum don't match the promise offered by the title track. "Need You Now" is a song that will get regular airplay for the next decade at least but there is also a strong likelihood that Simon Cowell will force two of his 'orrible little protégés to cover it to death. If only the album was a little less calculating and concentrated on what the band do best - understated ballads with a tinge of country. Instead they have taken the easy - but lucrative - blanket airplay route with the speedy success that this achieves. A little less style and a bit more substance are all it takes. If only they could be a bit more plaid and a lot less leather they would have the makings of something long-lasting and successful. All in all, eleven tracks of mixed quality, but only one stand out number.
Check out the photos of the band on these pages: the first is what they should look like, the second what they unfortunately do look like.
Audio Mixer: Clarke Schleicher. Recording information: Quad Studios, Nashville, TN; Warner Studios; Warner Studios, Nashville, TN. Photographer: Miranda Penn Turin. Lady Antebellum prefaced the release of Need You Now by issuing its title track as a single; it reached the top spot on the country charts and stayed there for five straight weeks. It was their second number one, and they wasted no time following it with "American Honey," a mere two months before this set was in stores. This singing and songwriting trio -- lead vocalists Charles Kelly, and Hillary Scott with multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Dave Haywood -- understand how Nashville works, and how to work it. On their sophomore effort, they stick very close to the formula of their debut: a slew of mid- and uptempo love songs, a sad ballad, and a couple of rocked-up good-time tunes -- all self-written with some help from some of Nashville's most respected writers. Kelly's baritone is emotive, expressive, and deep in the pocket, no matt... Song List: Disc 1 1. Need You Now 2. Our Kind of Love 3. American Honey 4. Hello World 5. Perfect Day 6. Love This Pain 7. When You Got a Good Thing 8. Stars Tonight 9. If I Knew Then 10. Something 'Bout a Woman 11. Ready to Love Again