Album Review: Lady Antebellum – Need You Now
While neither surprising nor necessarily unwarranted, the buzz surrounding Lady Antebellum is reaching deafening levels. They have become country’s first great hope for 2010, and Need You Now tries valiantly to live up to that mantle. Fittingly ambitious but only fitfully inspired, it’s a huge record that sounds expensive, slick, and strategized. With its Bon Jovi guitars, U2 choruses, and Coldplay pianos, Need You Now is calibrated for broad appeal, and at times the human musicians seem a bit overwhelmed by the behemoth that Lady Antebellum has become.
Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, and Dave Haywood prove themselves to be inventive studio artists. The gravelly guitar that opens “Perfect Day” coalesces into a tectonic bassline that lends the song its danceable rhythm, and “Stars Tonight” indulges arena-ready chants and shamelessly goofy guitar riffs that suggest the band are AC/DC fans.
In this regard, the title track is a stand-out. After the gimmicky voicemails that open the album, the song locks into an elegant acoustic shuffle complete with bursts of George Harrison guitars. Everything highlights that million-dollar chorus, and Hillary Scott sings the hell out of it. A capable vocalist who is just now showing the true reach of her interpretive talent, she finds a way to channel both desire and despair. The way she sings the word “need” is a hook in and of itself.
Scott gives a commanding performance. Charles Kelley… not so much. When he sings lead on the second verse, the song loses some of its power. Kelley is the Kristian Bush of Lady Antebellum: a guiding music presence who is thoroughly overshadowed by his leading lady. It doesn’t help that he gets the worst song on Need You Now, a trite, plodding anthem titled “Hello World.” Sticky with symphonic sap, the songs builds carefully and patiently into a bombastic finish that probably works a lot better live, in front of a sea of lighters or cell phones. On record, though, it’s pretty ridiculous–especially sequenced mid-album–and Kelley sounds boorishly self-serious.
What makes “Hello World” so egregious—not to mention so out of character—is that Lady Antebellum clearly know how to deliver a country power ballad that is both smart and emotional. Closer “Ready to Love Again” and “If I Knew Then” display real poise and restraint, highlighting the vocal interplay between Kelley and Scott’s harmonies. In fact, as Need You Now progresses, Lady A jettison some of the rock experiments in favor of a more modest sound. Rather than diminishing their idiosyncrasies, it actually highlights the songwriting and singing.
“Perfect Day” in particular rushes by with a fresh momentum, as Scott describes an afternoon swimming at the lake and an evening listening to “all those feel-good songs.” What makes it more than just a calculated weekend ham (there are hundreds of similar songs) is the bittersweet realization that such joys are fleeting, that the next day will necessarily be less than perfect. “What I’d give if I could find a way to stay lost in this moment now,” Scott sings wistfully.
That’s a poignantly life-size moment on an album that could use many more. Too often Need You Now sounds studiously anonymous in its eager-to-please enormity, as if any hint of down-home personality might preempt its crossover appeal. They’re taking risks, but also playing it too safe.
- Scooter: I agree Holly Williams can do no wrong in my eyes. Such a good album and great to see live …
- Carrie Mclaughlin: Your my Hero Mr. Jim Lauderdale!!! Come to Alaska Please? hehehehe
- Jeremy Dylan: You should check it out Dave D. It's from the first (and strongest) season.
- Leeann: Wow! I love that Holly William's cover of "No Surrender"! She's gotten to be so good.
- luckyoldsun: I made it through a minute of that "Girl In a Country Song Video." Man, that sucks.
- lindsay thomas: Wife and I saw these guys last Thursday night, (7-24-14) at the Ryman in Nashville. What a show. …
- Donald: I'm guessing that is meant to read 're-release' Detroit to Wheeling, as the double album originally appeared on Pinecastle in …
- Michael A.: Has anyone else had a difficult time trying to get the free download from the Reba site?
- Dave D.: I can't believe that I never saw the Willie Nelson Monk episode - and it was a Sharona episode, as …
- nm: Taylor Swift was on CSI once. Not only was Steve Earle on The Wire, in one episode Omar quoted him about …