Sugarland, <em>Love on the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)</em>

Sugarland
Love on the Inside
(Deluxe Fan Edition)

All of the seeds of potential that were scattered among the first two albums by powerhouse duo Sugarland have fully blossomed with Love on the Inside, their deep and richly rewarding third set. The significant artistic growth this time out is a wonderful surprise, given the incremental improvements that their second album made over their charming debut disc.

The album opens with the omnipresent lead single “All I Want to Do”, and while many have framed it as a “love it or hate it” song, I find it to be just a likable opening to an album that steadily builds. “It Happens” has their signature “Something More” spirit that they also revisited on “Settlin'”, but the lyrics are much sharper this time around, with crisp attention to details, like the “walk of shame” one takes when they're late for work, or the off-hand reference to her car as “trusty rusty.”

It's the little details that make the songwriting so strong on this record, like on “We Run”, where doing things you know you shouldn't is compared to “a string on a sweater that you pull, but you know better.” On “Joey”, co-written with Bill Anderson, the story of a drunk driving death is told through a series of questions tinged with regret, with the survivor wondering if all of the little things that could've happened differently would've changed the tragic outcome.

The album's theme comes into full focus with “Love”, where the slow-burning verses explode into a majestic chorus that fully showcases the power of lead singer Jennifer Nettles' voice. Duo partner Kristian Bush is also prominent, a trend that is repeated at other times throughout the album, and greatly enhances the sound of this record. Whereas it had seemed on Enjoy the Rid

e that Kristian was going to play Kix to Jennifer's Ronnie once they became a duo, they sound more like an equal partnership this time around.

Love on the Inside is chock full of charming, uptempo numbers like “Genevieve”, which could have been a dreary ballad, given its subject matter, and “Take Me as I Am”, which turns in the sharp as a nail line, “I ain't sayin' I'm perfect, but I promise I'm worth it.” The raucous “Steve Earle” is the first country song to make me laugh out loud in a very long time, with the music stopping completely while Nettles rattles off a rambling soliloquy revealing her true intentions for the titular singer.

But it is a pair of ballads that are the strongest tracks on the album. “Keep You” learns all the right lessons from the success of “Stay”, giving another portrait of a lonely character dealing with the aftermath of poor choices. “Very Last Country Song” is the best thing they've done to date, a collection of simple truths that captures what the very best country music does in the chorus, while giving a perfect example of it in the verses.

That the album pivots from the laugh-out-loud funny “Steve Earle” to the tear-jerking “Very Last Country Song” without causing emotional whiplash is no small feat, and it left me wondering about the last time I heard an album that appealed to such a wide range of emotions so effectively. The jangly sound of the album is reminiscent of Kim Richey's debut album, though Nettles' arena vocals add a contemporary sheen that is as mainstream as anything else on country radio, even if the bulk of the material here is smarter than anything currently in rotation (including this album's lead single.)

This is the best mainstream country record I've heard in a long time, and that's without factoring in the five solid bonus cuts that are tacked on to the Deluxe Fan Edition. In an era of country music where you can predict what most artist's albums will sound like before you even hear them, Sugarland joins Miranda Lambert and Keith Urban as one of the few artists on the radio who are making innovative records. Love on the Inside is easily the best mainstream country album released this year.

Buy: Love on the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)

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22 Comments

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22 Responses to Sugarland, <em>Love on the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)</em>

  1. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Wow! If this doesn’t convince me, nothing will!

  2. It’s been so long since I’ve started an album again from the beginning as soon as it came to an end. This is “nineties country” good!

  3. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Ooh! You just said the magic words for me!

  4. LJNo Gravatar

    GREAT description, Kevin!
    Personally, “Love On The Inside” has definitely lived up to all the pre-reviews. I am still in the single digits as far as repeated listenings but every song gets me…. as if I can’t wait to hear what Jennifer will say next and/or especially HOW she will sing it (se: The Very Last Country Song).

    I also love that we hear more from Kristian and that he is not going to fall into that “Kix Brooks” role.
    I love that they write their own material and you can really tell they are sharing something with people they trust to share with, ie. their appreciation and respect for their fans.

    If this album does not get album of the year and Jennifer & Kristian do not get the recognition their work deserves… then there is no justice on Music Row.
    Sugarland gives 110% in their songwriting, albums, performances & live shows, and how they interact with their fans and the rest of the business.
    Let’s just hope that it is not going unnoticed. Just saying.

  5. Personally, I wouldn’t be shocked by a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year in the general race, though I expect Plant/Krauss will be in there, too.

  6. MarcNo Gravatar

    Wow, a conflicting opinion to 9513… you feeling ok? :)

  7. Great review. While I wouldn’t give this that many stars, I have to say the album has converted me, if not into a fan, into at least an appreciator of Sugarland. I hear that Jamey Johnson’s record is gonna give it a good run for mainstream country album of the year, but Love On the Inside is an exceptional piece of work.

  8. I haven’t read The 9513 review yet, or Entertainment Weekly’s, which came in the mail yesterday. I knew I’d be reviewing the album so I stayed away from other opinions. It’s the ongoing saga of me and my vacuum!

  9. Chris D.No Gravatar

    Nice review! Even after the tough review from the 9513, and I always respect their opinions and usually agree with them, this album quickly became my new favorite album that I’ve heard in a while.

    I liked how you described how this is better than all the other mainstream country albums, because it is, in my opinion. I just hope that wikipedia only posting the link to a bad review didn’t hurt Sugarland’s chances of beating Miley Cyrus for the top spot this coming week…

  10. I thought I might see a positive rating from you for this one, but dang! Especially considering how conservative you are with those stars!

    You make a great point about how the little things make this album, and you gave some good lyrical examples of that. I still feel as though many of those lyrical risks worked and many did not, though (“the whole thing seemed like Einstein’s dream” – don’t know if anyone could completely get away with that line).

    But regardless, definitely a strong album. And for the unimportant personal record, “Take Me As I Am” marks the first vocal performance in years that has literally given me chills. I never thought I’d accuse Jennifer Nettles of holding back all these years, but…

  11. MarcNo Gravatar

    Gotta say after a few rotations, I prefer their other work.. but there’s a few gems. It’ll keep playing though.

  12. If you’re a fan of the band, consider checking out their custom Firefox theme at http://www.brandthunder.com/sugarland

    Kevin – Hope you don’t mind the plug here. With the depth of your review, I can see it would have been a distraction.

  13. Dan,

    The personal record is always important!

  14. MeghanNo Gravatar

    I totally agree with your thoughts on “Very Last Country Song”. I’ve had it on repeat since I bought the album. I haven’t always been a fan of Jennifer’s voice (parts of All I Wanna Do come to mind), but the way she sings this is superb. The part that really got me is when she is singing about her youngest child, you can hear the smile in her voice when she sings “big surprise”.

  15. MarcNo Gravatar

    Is it bad that All I Want to Do is still my favorite song on this CD? :P

  16. Awsome. You guys rated just shy as well as I did on my bog. Hopefully this will help show that I’m not as lenient as I seem. This truely is an awsome album.

  17. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar

    OK. I finally got off my butt and went out and bought this album last night. I didn’t get a chance to play it until my drive to work today (and that only lasted half-way through ‘Steve Earle’. So after finishing my listening on the ride home, I have come to an opinion about this one. All I can say is that I agree with Kevin that this is “nineties country” good!

    Favorite tracks so far are ‘It Happens’, ‘Already Gone’(the next single I hear), ‘Take Me As I Am’ and I am still deciding on ‘Very Last Country Song’ – I am either gonna love it a lot or be indifferent to it …

  18. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar

    Oh, and mine didn’t have a platinum ticket inside … anyone know about who won those?

  19. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Okay, I just took a chance and bought the album. So, we’ll see… I’ve not caught onto Sugarland from their first two albums, but we’ll see if this one helps me.

  20. HelenNo Gravatar

    I bought the album at the weekend. I don’t really like AIWTD so I was a bit unsure about the record but after reading your review I decided to buy it..

    and I’m glad I did! I’m really liking We Run, Genivieve and Already Gone. This really has the feel of an album that was crafted…it’s brilliant. Great review by the way

  21. Pingback: Free Music: Sugarland - Love on the Inside | The 9513

  22. PatrickNo Gravatar

    I remember only having it for “All I Wanna Do.” Already Gone grew on me, so I decided to get the rest of the album.