There is a pattern that I have noticed with Sugarland’s albums, at least, I hope it’s a pattern. Their albums alternate between good and bad, and we are on a serious downturn here. The thing that perhaps implies that it isn’t a pattern (and this worries me) is that the albums have seemed to get progressively less country. Now this in itself is not an issue, I like good music, whatever the genre, but The Incredible Machine is not a good album.
I love Sugarland. I loved the unashamed pop country of Baby Girl that hit radio in 2004. I was 13 then and about to move away from America, and that song completely encapsulated what i longed to be. That was when I realised I wanted to be a songwriter, I used to look up the top 40, and when I saw a band called Sugarland singing a song called Baby Girl, I dismissed it as another pop song trying to be country. I looked up the lyrics, and with the opening line “They say, in this town, the stars stay up all night, well I don’t know, can’t see ’em, for the glow of the neon lights…” I knew they were great.
I loved that album. It was played over and over that summer. There was an energy about them, a new excitement of 3 musicians, that I don’t think was the same after Kristen Hall left, I think she was a very talented songwriter, and is one of those people i would love to write with. If you don’t know of Sugarland or only know of The Incredible Machine, take a listen to Twice the Speed of Life. Tracks of note include: Something More, it still gives me the shivers, I thought I understood that song at the age of 14, but it’s still just as good now. Tennessee would have been a perfect as a radio single (I don’t think it was), and a lovely little story, and always the added intrigue of a female vocal singing what would conventionally be a male lyric. Down is Mississippi – perfect girls night out. need I say more? I could go over each track, I won’t bore you, just listen.
I don’t have much to say about the follow-up album, Enjoy the Ride. It’s not a bad album, it’s just a tad dreary. And Mean Girls is terrible. Too much pop, not enough country, and a bad case of Second Album Syndrome. however, there are 2 exceptions to this dreariness. Stay is incredible. So simple, guitar, Hammond (I love this) and an incredibly emotive vocal from Jennifer Nettles. The focus is on the lyrics, and the desperation of Jennifer’s voice; a beautiful work of prosody. Another brilliant feature is the chorus, turning on itself for the last refrain. (I won’t spoil it, but listen; very clever work on the Songwriters part). The other redeeming song is Want To. There is nothing particularly clever, or risky about this track, it is just a beautiful love song, everyone can relate to the shyness of a new relationship.
Love on the Inside did not receive the a great critical response, but I loved it. It’s great to sing a long to, and invokes a happy go lucky feeling, it’s just good music, lovely instrumentation (a little bit bluegrass at times) and lovely songs. So what if music isn’t clever or avant-garde, if it makes you feel good, I guess that’s all that matters. My favorite songwriter of all time, Lance Miller, told me that “if a song doesn’t make you want to laugh cry or dance, there isn’t much use in writing it.” I think Sugarland got that with this album. And keeping that in mind check out tracks: Steve Earl, Keep You and All I Want to Do respectively.
I’m not a country purist, but it just feels like the band lost their way with this album. Too Reggae, too pop, too rock, but not enough of any of those genres to make it work. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t like any tracks really. I tried so, so hard to like it, i really did. I have nothing wrong with artists taking risks (see my Caitlin Rose blog) but this just doesn’t work. This album makes me feel nothing. I’m sorry Sugarland. I still love you, but now you may well have to be a
secret guilty pleasure.
Tune in next week folks for more music speak….