Sugarland – “Tonight”

Blake Boldt | April 18th, 2011

SugarlandSongwriters: Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush and Kevin Griffin

This is where the machine needs a little more oil. On the third single from The Incredible Machine, Sugarland trades bare emotional honesty for bad inspirational goop that hardly satisfies those who look to the duo for their humorous and heartfelt recordings.

“Tonight” centers on one of country music’s most reliable subjects: unrequited love. There’s such promise in hearing Jennifer Nettles’ declaration of devotion in the opening lines (“If words could make it real/I’d tell you how I feel”) that what follows is a disappointment. Only rarely does she fully describe the pain of being separated from her beloved: “A lifetime for a day would be an even trade,” she sings in one passage. An odd admission, but one that might begin to divulge her devastation.

“Tonight,” with its mix of weighty emotions, is consistently dull in content. The repeated uttering of the title line, each more impassioned than the other, grows grating as the song ticks past the two-minute mark. On 2008’s Love on the Inside, Sugarland also employed a number of sparsely-worded choruses based on emotion rather than poetry. The effect makes “Tonight” feel unfocused, without an anchor.

Even Nettles, one of the most capable singers in the genre, gives a below-par performance. Surrounded by the intense arrangement, she feels smothered and made to sing above the noise. The drum sections here are sterile, and lend an anonymous quality to the recording. The elongated vowels and gentle sighs of Nettles’ twang have always been her hallmarks as a song stylist; now she forgoes finesse and grace for powerful fury.

As the duo (Kristian Bush is largely absent from “Tonight”) progresses through this album cycle, country fans can catch up to their dizzying array of musical tricks. “I’m waiting for, waiting for you,” Nettles begs on more than one occasion. She could be singing as much to her audience as to her man. The response might not be what she was wishing for.

Thumbs Down

  1. Jon
    April 18, 2011 at 6:29 am

    Surely the thumbs-up is a mistake? That’s a thoroughly negative review.

  2. Thomas
    April 18, 2011 at 7:56 am

    …i somewhat fear the day, when people refering to traditional country music will use this song as an example. however, on a stand alone basis, it’s a fine tune for…a broadway musical.

  3. MR. ROBERTS
    April 18, 2011 at 8:32 am

    The picture shown of this poor-excuse-for-a-duo pretty much says it all.

    As far as the “thumbs up” review goes, it’s almost as if the reviewer is paid by the record company for this one. Something like, “Say what you want but give it an up at the end.”

  4. Jon
    April 18, 2011 at 8:39 am

    As far as the “thumbs up” review goes, it’s almost as if the reviewer is paid by the record company for this one.

    Or it’s almost as if it was a mistake. But hey, why not put the worst possible light on it?

  5. Thomas
    April 18, 2011 at 8:41 am

    …new name, same old story, waynoe. it almost looks like the creationists could be right – there seems to be no evolution.

  6. Barry Mazor
    April 18, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Sure; Lets jump to asssume bad faith, bribary and prostitution amoing writers here at the earliest opportunity. It’s the simplest explanation–bless your heart.

  7. Brady Vercher
    April 18, 2011 at 8:45 am

    My fault on the rating, guys. I couldn’t see past the stacks of dollar bills on my desk.

  8. Ben Foster
    April 18, 2011 at 8:54 am

    It’s been a little whilte since I’ve listened to this one, for a reason I believe. I do remember disliking Jennifer’s performance on this track, which was disappointing considering what a talented singer she’s proven to be in the past.

    Seems like there were only two good songs on The Incredible Machine, and they’ve both had their chart runs already, so now I’m even more eager for them to move on to the next album.

  9. Jon
    April 18, 2011 at 9:20 am

    My fault on the rating, guys. I couldn’t see past the stacks of dollar bills on my desk.

    Where’s the “like” button on this site?

  10. Jonathan
    April 18, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Of all the puzzling choices in production and styling made on The Incredible Machine, this is the most tame. I don’t dislike the song as much as most people do, in the context of the album it isn’t that bad.

    What I could never get past was Jennifer’s holding of the note when she sings the title of the song. She holds the note far too long and the song loses all its energy. I can usually get passed stuff like that after repeated listenings but didn’t have such luck this time.

    I’m also wondering why this was released as a single now. It’s a very slow ballad and not the most appropriate choice as we head into the summer months. I don’t think fans will gravitate toward it because it isn’t a song you can turn up and blast from your car as you head to the beach or what not. I think it’s too serious for this time of year.

    Unfortunately the uptempo songs on the album aren’t very good, either which is probably why none were chosen as the third single. The only one with any potential is “Every Girl Like Me,” but the rap-inspired bridge will turn even more fans off than “Stuck Like Glue” did. But that song has always seemed a bit infectious to me in the same vein as Dido’s hit “Thank You.” Which isn’t saying much for country music, because I’m not comparing it to a country song. But I would’ve chosen “Girl” as the third single.

    They may be turning too serious for their own good here and isn’t going to be a rich payoff. Maybe their label will finally open their eyes to this project once this single performs below expectations. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

  11. Napthali
    April 18, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Below-par performance? You’ve got to be kidding me. This is almost as annoying as when someone said their album sounded like it was put together by pseudo-record producers in the 7th grade. Sure, it wasn’t an overall great album compared to their earlier releases, but get real. Honestly, sometimes I feel the writers on this site are writing negatively just because it’s fun.

    Well, at least Malec hasn’t been active. That’s a plus.

  12. Barry Mazor
    April 18, 2011 at 9:31 am

    writiting negatively just because it’s fun?

    That’s an idea. Then we could add sadism to bad faith, taking bribes and prostituion. It could make a career!

  13. Napthali
    April 18, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Jonathan:

    I also believe ‘Every Girl Like Me’ has high potential of being a successful single. But I disagree with the ‘rap’ bridge being an issue. It doesn’t sound like a rap at all, at least to me. She keeps sustained notes in the vocals and never ‘speaks’ like she does in ‘Stuck Like Glue’. Just the beat and style sound unique. Not to mention it only lasts for about 15 seconds vs ‘SLG’ lasts for 40 seconds.

    In short, I don’t really think it would be an issue at all. It’s very minor compared to their first release from this album.

  14. Napthali
    April 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Barry:

    No, no…don’t do that.

  15. Blake Boldt
    April 18, 2011 at 9:50 am

    All this talk about an upturned thumb? Let’s get back to raising our middle fingers like we usually do in the comment threads.

  16. Rachel
    April 18, 2011 at 9:52 am

    You know Sugarland has made a mistake in a single choice when I agree with a 9513 review. Well, some of it anyways. I agree with Napthali – this is in NO way a below par vocal performance. In fact, that is the ONLY thing this song has going for it. My least favorite song on the album, hands down. I like it, but can’t jump on the bandwagon of fans that love the song. “Tonight” definitely feels unfocused.

  17. Matt B
    April 18, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I only wonder if this were a pop/ac blog if they’d not like the song a wee bit more…

  18. Jonathan
    April 18, 2011 at 11:48 am

    NAPTHALI:

    You make a very valid point. The bridge is very unique sounding. And I do like it. Maybe it is a non-issue for people. I just thought that since “Stuck Like Glue” was so polarizing, this song might be as well because it takes liberties away from country music. But it does keep the song interesting!

    But I agree with everything you said. I think it has a great chance at being a huge hit for them and so wish it was the song we were talking about here and not “Tonight.” Their label made a big mistake with their choice of single.

  19. Napthali
    April 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Jonathan:

    Yep. ‘Tonight’ is a song that, for me, works. But I think it’s better as an album cut.

    I think ‘Every Girl Like Me’ would have thrived, especially given the current timing and season. It is an up-beat and optimistic song that is perfect for the high morale atmosphere of summer. Look at ‘Summer Nights’ by Rascal Flatts. Although I don’t care for them or their music, it was a great and strategic release for mid-may (regardless if it was a #2 peaking song).

  20. Peter
    April 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I miss Jim Malec

  21. MR. ROBERTS
    April 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I don’t miss him.

    @Blake – Simmer down and quit being so defensive. A little sarcastic humor never hurt anyone. By the way, I don’t disagree with the review. I’m on your side on this one, and that should make you really worry.

  22. Blake Boldt
    April 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    @Mr. Roberts/Waynoe: Maybe I should have put (tongue in cheek) after my post. :)

  23. Leeann Ward
    April 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    If a little sarcastic humor is okay for you to do, it should be okay for Blake too, except his was funny.

  24. MR. ROBERTS
    April 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    @Blake – I understand. No harm no foul on my end. I still think you should worry about me agreeing with you. Don’t want to stain your reputation.

    By the way, I still thik the picture says it all.

  25. Carla
    April 18, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Would’ve been a perfectly good forgettable single for Melissa Etheridge in 1988.

  26. Noeller
    April 18, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    @Carla — good call on the Etheridge. Dead on. This song isn’t the least bit Country.

  27. Rickster
    April 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    The problem seems to be that Jennifer Nettlesome has grown too big for her musical britches! In her arrogance she now assumes she can foist whatever she wants on her adoring fans and they will buy into it regardless of the merit or quality of the music. Its a good thing for Sugarland that AirHead Country Radio earns its nickname over again every day as they will likely turn this single into a hit. Just pathetic…

  28. Naphtali
    April 18, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Rickster:

    Well at least I know not to give any thought in what you say from now on.

  29. MR. ROBERTS
    April 18, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    @NAPHTALI – I will give even more thought to Ricker’s statements from now on based upon the post. I agree with him 100%.

  30. Ben Foster
    April 18, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Arrogance? I could be over-reaching hear, but it is possible that Jennifer actually thinks The Incredible Machine is good, and may even be genuinely proud of it. I doubt that she’s knowingly throwing crappy music at us just for the sheer fun of it.

  31. Paul W Dennis
    April 18, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I liked the first to Sugarland albums – this one is a mess from start to finish with few bright spots. This song isn’t one of those bright spots

  32. Naphtali
    April 18, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    I guess my problem is I see all these comments as painfully one sided and sharply biased. I get you people don’t like the album. I get you people don’t like the single choices. But how you can morph your own personal opinions into assertions that one of the most beloved and successful artists in the genre today is arrogantly throwing out crap music to audiences because she knows they won’t pay attention to the quality of the work is simply obtuse and beyond me.

    And, I’m sorry, Ben, but that comment just makes me upset. Not everyone found the album to be bad. It’s pretty much a 50/50 tie between positive and negative reviews throughout the board. I feel I can compare this to a paint artist. Insinuating that it’s absurd that the creator is proud of their work and actually thinks it’s good is, in MY opinion inappropriate. (That’s how I read your comment)

  33. Gena Miller
    April 18, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Why are you guys so hard on Jennifer Nettles and Sugarland? They write all their songs, fill huge venues to capacity and have an enormous fan base. Oh, could it be that they don’t “work or live” in Nashville. Well, I grew up in Nashville and I know how hard the music business can be but these guys are true artists, songwriters and genuine people. I don’t give a damn where they live. They are refreshing, fan-loving and entertaining. I’m sorry you don’t like the song “Tonight” but when she sings it “live” it brings the house down!!!

  34. MR. ROBERTS
    April 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Success does not mean I have to like them or their music. There are many successful artists that I do not care for, just as there are many who have not been so successful that I really like.

    However, in recent times, I have disliked few more than I have Sugarland.

  35. Donald
    April 18, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    Etheridge? More like Steve Perry and Journey circa 1981.

    I liked the one comment above (okay, more than one, but I’m referencing a particular one)from Ben that read “but it is possible that Jennifer actually thinks The Incredible Machine is good, and may even be genuinely proud of it. I doubt that she’s knowingly throwing crappy music at us just for the sheer fun of it.”

    It brought to mind a thought I’ve recently had while reviewing several fair to muddlin albums: every album, no matter how bad I think it is, how derivative and unnecessary, had someone who thought it was worth releasing, had someone who laboured over it, had someone convinced that THIS is wonderful.

    It is a shame so many people are so misguided.

  36. Matt B
    April 19, 2011 at 12:14 am

    Donald, that’s because people have differing opinions on what is good or bad. And that’s as it should be. Otherwise we’ll have some sort of socialized musical system.

  37. Carla
    April 19, 2011 at 1:29 am

    ^^Sure. That, too. Melissa Etheridge is just what popped into my (apparently way off-base)head first. The point was that I can’t help but listen to this song and feel as though I am listening to a different ‘format’ from a different ‘era.’ But that’s not why I ultimately don’t care for the song. I don’t care for the song because it doesn’t particularly compel me. Plain and simple. If it compels others…awesome.

  38. Code
    April 19, 2011 at 6:52 am

    I like it but there’s way too much repetition in the song, that it gets kind of annoyin

  39. Thomas
    April 19, 2011 at 10:13 am

    @ gena miller

    …i think you’re spot on – “tonight” needs the dramatic environment of the stage to have full effect. having said that, this doesn’t make it an obvious choice to be released as a promising single.

    good points on their artistic merits, too.

  40. Donald
    April 19, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Matt, the after my final point was dropped when posted. Carla, I hear Etheridge in there, too; wasn’t arguing with you. Etheridge/Perry- doesn’t matter to me. It ain’t no part of nothin’.

  41. Fizz
    April 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Another “country” song that owes more to cheesy, slick ’80’s lite-rock than to anything Nashvillian or twangy. Looking into my cracked crystal ball, I see Sugarland doing an (even more annoying than the original) cover of “Should I Do It” by the Pointer Sisters.

  42. Ben Foster
    April 19, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    @Naphtali

    Apologies for any misunderstandings, but it appears that you and I are actually both attempting to make the same point. I too disapproved of people accusing Sugarland of making music that they themselves don’t consider good just because they can get away with it. I have no problem believing that Sugarlands holds a high opinion of their new music, and I do not consider that absurd.

    My expressions were tinted with sarcasm, which may have made the point unclear. I was sarcastically putting myself in the other’s position, and saying “Consider THIS as a possbility.” My point was that there’s no need to be making such unfounded negative assumptions of artists. I hope this reply clarifies things.

  43. Naphtali
    April 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Ben:

    Thank you for the clarification. And I’m glad you agree that she wouldn’t partake in such ludicrous behaviors

  44. Scottbug
    April 19, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Tonight is a great SugarLand song. Sorry some of you don’t like the song, and I’m sure I wouldn’t like some of your favorites.

  45. Cynthia
    April 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    I too am ready for the next album. In my family, I’m usually the Jennifer Nettles voice defender. I think she is so amazing and her vocal ability is outstanding. I’ve seen them live a few times and each time I’m more amazed. When I first heard this song, I struck by her vocal choices. For the first time, I heard what annoyed my sister about her voice. This song is boring and the way she sings it doesn’t help the song much. I hate to write something so negative, but I really did not like this album all that much and this song was my least favorite.

  46. klark
    April 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

    I found this one catchy but disappointing. How I wished that the lyrics have more much meat. uhrg.

  47. Jessie
    April 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    This is my favorite song on The Incredible Machine. So I am glad it is a single. But I do hope they release a new album and get back to their basics.

  48. Rachel
    April 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Klark – That is EXACTLY how I feel about the song myself. It’s gorgeous, but there’s no backbone.

  49. Del Rio
    September 29, 2011 at 9:43 am

    I like this song well enough, but it is a bit hokey. If he took her back in your arms like del rio it would be one thing. But this is like a broadway music song.

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