Tag Archives: Sugarland

Pop Goes the Country

The new Sugarland album is a failure. Of this, I am sure.  But as I wrote in my review, the problem isn’t that they made an eighties rock album. It’s that they didn’t make a good one.

Which got me thinking about others who made pop or rock albums after building a fan base as a country artist.  Sometimes it works, and their pop/rock music is as good or better than what they did under the country umbrella.

So I ask this question:

What artist did the best job of transition from country to pop?

I can think of quite a few, but I’m going to start with a less obvious one, since her Aussie/English roots make her easy to overlook. And also because I keep putting off a Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists feature on her.

Olivia Newton-John started off as a folk-type singer, but her first two million-selling singles were country to the core. She won her first Grammy in the category of Best Female Country Vocal Performance, earning the honor for her breakthrough single “Let Me Be There.”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I89lfJsW3bE

She went on to have three #1 country albums and a few top ten singles, and was named the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1974. That same year, she was the second woman (after Loretta Lynn) to be noninated for Entertainer of the Year.  Everyone from Loretta Lynn to Donna Fargo covered her hits.

Songs like the very country “Let it Shine” made in impact on fhe pop, AC, and country charts, but like Carrie Underwood did with “Before He Cheats”, Newton-John crossed over in spite of the country arrangements, not by making pop music and calling it country:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGc_uT50JNo

But Hollywood came calling, and her starring role in the film Grease required her to sing pure pop/rock.  But she didn’t abandon the country format entirely.  In fact, the soundtrack contained a new song specifically tailored for the country market, even though it did better on the pop charts when released. But “Hopelessly Devoted to You” has a steel guitar that can’t be ignored:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJpyG3PXoKw

Even on her next album, Totally Hot, she continued to record country music, scoring her last real country hit with “Dancin’ Round and ‘Round.”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOQ34LslYTM

After that, it was pretty much all pop, and she so successfully transitioned into that format that she became more popular than ever. Not a bad second act for a woman who was the most popular female country artist of the mid-seventies.  But I’d argue that her pop music was better as well, perhaps because I bought this 45 so many times, always having to replace a worn out copy:

Which country artists do you think segued into other genres most effectively?  Who would you like to see try?

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Album Review: Sugarland, The Incredible Machine

Sugarland
The Incredible Machine


There’s no point in dancing around it.

The Incredible Machine is a terrible album, an unmitigated disaster that manages to fail in ways that shouldn’t even be possible, especially on a mainstream album created by established professionals and released by a major label.

At its best, Sugarland has made successful music by combining clever musical arrangements with strong lyrical hooks, delivered by the inimitable vocal talent that is Jennifer Nettles.  I would have deemed a full album being completely devoid of all three components inconceivable, but The Incredible Machine comes frighteningly close.

First, the arrangements. Look, it’s cool when an audience sings back to you at a concert.  Heck, the Sugarland audience has been known to sing along with “Stay” and “Joey”, which are hardly your typical Bic light anthems.  But on several tracks here, Jennifer and Kristian become their own audience, singing back to each other in chants best fit for a Journey concert.

And, oh boy, are they chanting back some inane lyrics. Sugarland make the fatal error of mistaking form for content. Yes, there’s an adrenaline rush that’s produced by Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer”, and Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” But that’s because the songs have a deeper meaning that resonates with audiences, not just because they simply can be chanted along with.

So we get the empty platitudes of “Stand Up”, for example, which impels us to do stand up and…do what, exactly? It unpleasantly reminded me of the high drama of primary season two years ago, when I stood there confused, wondering why I was supposed to be inspired by vague promises of change instead of hard work and proven results. The time for music lifting up a people into social action is largely behind us, but if you’re going to try to resurrect it, it helps to clue us in on what you’re impelling us to do.  Unless you just want to feel important for five minutes in an arena, I guess.

So the lyrics aren’t what you’d expect from Sugarland, even on an off day, and the arrangements fall flat on nearly every track. But you still have Jennifer Nettles at the mic, so that must be a net positive, right?

Wrong. I don’t know the Jennifer Nettles on most of this album. She yells at me, can’t enunciate, uses odd accents, and often sounds like she has a head cold, the latter being very pronounced on the could’ve-been-good-if-it-was-sung-better “Tonight.”  I can only shake my head at the sad truth that the woman who once broke my heart singing about “Pictures, dishes, and socks” can now repeat the same word a dozen times in the title track without me being able to decipher it once. (The word is “calling”, by the way. Not that it matters, since it doesn’t make sense anyway.)

I can’t think of an album that has ever disappointed me more than this one. Having loved Love On the Inside and Live on the Inside, and simply adoring lead single, “Stuck Like Glue”, I really thought this was going to be good.  The charm of that lead single, which brought reggae flavor firmly over to traditional Sugarland territory, had me thinking they could be country music’s Blondie, innovative in their integration of other genres without sacrificing their own musical identity.  They decided to be its Starship instead, rejecting everything that made them distinctive and relevant and embracing a musical style that they aren’t even able to do competently, let alone do well.

Where were the adults to tell this A-list act that the music wasn’t working? Why even have a record label anymore, if they either can’t hear the sound of their top act throwing their careers away or don’t have the gumption to stop them before they do? This is a poorly conceived and poorly executed album.  Even one of those would be bad enough, but the two of them together is worse than tragic. It’s a disgrace.

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A Bountiful Harvest

This fall, there seems to be as many new albums from significant country artists as I can remember.  Just look at Roughstock’s indispensable Fall 2010 Releases list.

New releases are on the way from no less than eight past CMA Entertainer of the Year nominees and winners, along with current top sellers Zac Brown Band, Billy Currington, Jamey Johnson, and Montgomery Gentry.

So head on over to see that list, then come back to answer this question:

What Fall 2010 CD Release are you most excited for?

For me, it’s no contest. I can’t wait to hear Sugarland’s The Incredible Machine.  Their last studio set, Love On the Inside, is my favorite mainstream country album of the past five years, and I still haven’t gotten tired of the covers they included in their stopgap set Live On the Inside.

Plus, “Stuck Like Glue” is my favorite lead single from any of their albums so far, no small feat given my deep affection for “Want To.”  Given that a new Dixie Chicks album comes along about as quickly as a Senator goes up for re-election, I need a fix of music from a really great country band, stat.

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Single Review: Sugarland, “Stuck Like Glue”

canadian viagra

arland-Stuck-Like-Glue-300×300.jpg” alt=”” width=”160″ height=”160″ />I could write a few paragraphs about why I love this song, but what’s the point?

They don’t sing the praises of Bubble Yum and S’Mores in Food & Wine magazine, but boy, do those treats taste good.

So you’ll have to look for the country connoisseur perspective elsewhere. All I have to say about “Stuck Like Glue” is this:

Listening to it makes me very happy.

Written by Kristian Bush, Shy Carter, Kevin Griffin, and Jennifer Nettles

Grade: A

Listen: Stuck Like Glue


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