January 28, 2009
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” -William Shakespeare
Love is the most universal of emotions, the soothing salve for old wounds, the cure for all that ails. As Jennifer Nettles affirms on Sugarland’s new single, love, in fact, is the greatest revenge of all.
With a gently-percolating rhythmic section that builds up suspense, “Love” echoes the finest studio work of Brian Eno, whose sonic spirit lifted U2 into superstardom. This is a listening experience, an anthemic power ballad that scrapes the sky with its open-minded submission to the powers (and the pains) of love. A sort of spiritual awakening, “Love” allows the breathtaking vocal talent of Nettles to shine brightly, boldly, with a ferocious wonder.
Nettles settles into this tour-de-force with her finest friend, a high-altitude alto that’s Reba-meets-Bonnie Raitt; she’s willing herself to believe in the beauty of love while braving its consequences. Her gripping, grieving voice simmers in the verse, then, as the stakes rise higher, she’s urgently pleading for heavenly guidance. “Is it having so little, and yet having it all?” she cries.
Her faith slowly, but surely, rises; soon, Nettles accepts her fate: to live and to love, no questions asked. “I say it’s love,” she swears (whatever it happens to be), as if love cannot be defined by any divine force. Her pronounced twang, one which travels through much of Sugarland’s music to date, is conspicuously absent. Instead, Nettles nestles into “Love” like it’s a warm coat on a cold winter’s night; the rising tension in her rapturous call tells all. In the final moments, that primal cry is met with Kristian Bush’s mighty roar, and a crescendo of crashing guitars drives home their hard-won lessons.
Recording a song with such grand scope was a risk, one whose rewards are rare. Many will argue that it’s abstract and absent of “country” traditions. However, “Love” is absolved from (most of) its sins by the grace of a glorious vocal performance, gently reminding that a full heart is sweet revenge on a cold, cruel world. A many-splendored thing indeed.
Written by Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush and Tim Owens