Album Review: Little Big Town, The Breaker

Little Big Town
The Breaker

The Breaker is a top-notch collection of songs that yearn for a unifying sound.

Lead single “Better Man” is already a #1 hit, and that Taylor Swift-penned number is among the best songs Little Big Town have ever recorded. Same goes for album opener “Happy People,” which appeals to the better nature of humanity, and the moving “Beat Up Bible,” which chooses a detailed presentation of a life made better by faith over preaching the need to have faith in your life. “We Went to the Beach” is also surprisingly powerful, as it tells a full story of childhood, adolescence and adulthood through different visits to the shore. The title track is a fresh perspective on the one who does the breaking up, sympathetic to their motivation without absolving them of their responsibility for the pain they’ve caused.

But it is the faceless production of Jay Joyce that undermines what could’ve been one of the strongest albums of the new year. In his hands, The Breaker is completely disconnected from country music. Almost none of the historical signposts that indicate you’re listening to a country record can be found on this album. Nary a fiddle or a pedal steel guitar can be found on the entire record, which would already be a dealbreaker for traditionalists. But even the rich textures of the string-drenched Nashville Sound, which would’ve worked wonders on some of these tracks, are overlooked in favor of generic keyboards and drum machines.

But there aren’t many signposts of great pop or rock, either. The tracks that come closest to a distinctive style borrow heavily from Fleetwood Mac (“Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old”) and B-list seventies album rockers like Foghat (“Rollin’.”) Those are the only tracks that try to be something, with most of the rest of the album seemingly striving to be nothing that might turn any potential listener off. I’m reminded of the crossover wave of the late nineties, when country songs were “remixed” for pop radio by removing the country instrumentation, but forgetting to put something in the empty spaces left behind.

Even the group’s stellar harmonies rarely make it out of the starting gate. When singing songs about the simple things in life and appealing to nostalgic feelings, like they do on “Free” and “We Went to the Beach,” the arrangements fail to appeal to those same feelings. Joyce should’ve studied the best work of the Judds before committing those songs to tape. Or if he really wanted to take the band to new mainstream heights with tracks like “Night On Our Side” and “The Breaker,” he could’ve studied ABBA.

The Breaker gets the song sense right, which is no small feat. That alone makes it worth listening to. But in failing to affirmatively choose a musical style and fully commit to it, the album falls short of the tremendous opportunity provided by such a great batch of songs.

10 Comments

  1. Not often do you see Foghat mentioned in country music reviews. No real surprise on the review though as I usually find them boring. I’d rather listen to classic Fleetwood Mac than wannabes.

  2. Dang! I haven’t listened to the album yet, but I’d really like “Happy People” if not for the production! I wish Jay Joyce would have found a way to be innovative with LBT like he did with Eric Church.

  3. Considering Jay Joyce has done much better work for other artists, is it possible Little Big Town direct him on what kind of sound they want and limit him?

  4. I haven’t heard the album yet, but it’s disappointing and yet not surprising to read this review. I sound like a broken record but I prefer the early albums produced by Wayne Kirkpatrick. He seemed to know how to get the best harmonies out of the group and I loved most of his production decisions.

    I’m hoping they all get a chance to sing lead or are at least featured on other songs. With Karen singing lead on all of the singles, the other three members have been relegated to nothing more than backup singers. They’re basically Naomi Judd at this point.

  5. Jae – Why do you say he made a mess of Underwood? He produced “Choctaw County Affair” and “Dirty Laundry,” which are not only two of the best songs on Storyteller, but two of the best songs in her catalog? “Smoke Break” that he produced received solid reviews, too.

  6. what’s wrong with putting a whole bunch of potential chart-toppers all on one album, if you’ve got them? fair enough, coherence and country ties may not exactly be the strongest points of “The Breaker”, but it’s such a great collection of strong individual material that it should be forgiven for sounding almost like a “Best of” (pop-)album. there are at least two more chart-toppers on it (“Rollin'”, “Night On Our Side”). country music this really isn’t for the most part, but lbt and jay joyce used their freedom to make this evolutionary record (for the band) just the way it finally turned out to be: a mighty fine and most catchy summer album that doesn’t care much about any genre considerations.

  7. I’d give the album the same overall star rating, but I think I would reverse my rationale! To my ears, the album has an overall aesthetic that falls somewhere along the axis of 70s AM radio, were such a radio dropped deep into a cave so that the sounds were all slathered in reverb.

    But I honestly don’t care for many of the songs here. “Happy People” and “Better Man” are fine enough, but I wouldn’t put them in the company of the group’s best cuts. And there are simply far too many of the songs that have the hallmarks of committee songwriting.

    On the whole, The Breaker is the year’s first big disappointment for me. It’s an album that I find every bit as dull as the whole of Lady Antebellum’s output.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*