Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Own the Night
Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” is a once-in-a-career kind of hit. The drunk-dial ballad became a such a huge cross-genre smash that is was virtually inescapable no matter which radio station you tuned to. The Grammy-winning hit pushed Lady Antebellum to instant-add status on country radio, which is where they stayed even as their single releases gradually slid downhill in quality.
The downward slide continues on the trio’s third album Own the Night, an uninspired effort that savors strongly of an act coasting along on their superstar status while resting on their laurels artistically. One could present the easy-out criticism that the album is not country, and indeed it makes little effort to sonically resemble country, but the real issue is not simply that these are pop songs. The issue is that, pop or country, they’re just flat-out not good songs.
The album title suggests a work dominated by songs about the carefree nature of young love, and it not only delivers, but beats the concept into the ground. Own the Night is replete with canned references to being caught up in a moment, dancing in moonlight, “the love we made,” and “baby ridin’ shotgun,” among many other overused formulas.
Opening track and current single “We Owned the Night” offers little more than rote imagery strewn together without the benefit of a catchy chorus or hook. Rocking up-tempo “Friday Night” fares a little better thanks to an energetic beat and some quirky turns of phrase, though it suffers from cluttered production.
But cliché-filled lyrics like “When You Were Mine,” complete with “heart open” and “never had butterflies like this” are embarrassingly amateurish. Even when song lyrics are subpar, a spirited melody can go a long way toward enhancing the appeal of an unremarkable song. Such a strategy has at times worked for Lady A. in the past, but on tracks like “Wanted You More” and “Dancin’ Away with My Heart,” painfully plodding melodies make the songs nearly unlistenable.
Narrow perspective aside, such an effort could still have been enjoyable to some degree if the production and performances managed to channel the youthful excitement that the lyrics aim for. But it doesn’t happen. Instead, Own the Night sags under the weight of murky, watered-down production and flat, colorless vocal interpretations. Charles Kelley possesses a strong singing voice, but all too often settles for rigid by-the-book vocal deliveries with little flair or style.
On the other hand, Hillary Scott has a pleasant-sounding voice, but lacks precision and control, often veering off pitch. That’s not to say that absolute technical perfection is a must, since an artist’s vocal flaws have at times enhanced the emotional qualities of the performance. But in the case of Scott, it more often registers plainly as a weak performance that bogs down the overall quality of the track.
At the same time, producer Paul Worley’s arrangements largely hurt the project instead of helping it. Cluttered noise obliterates “Wanted You More,” while tinkling pianos and string arrangements on “As You Turn Away” and “Heart of the World” ring saccharine and syrupy.
Overall, Own the Night is notable only for its dogged refusal to take a single risk, or to say anything artistically significant. It’s distinctive only in its non-distinctiveness, offering precious little insight into who Lady Antebellum are as artists. Regardless of whether one had high expectations to begin with, it’s beyond disheartening to see such a high-profile act churn out such a deadly boring and uninteresting album that’s all filler and no killer.