Album number three from the Grammy-winning country-rock trio.
Mike Diver 2011
Multi-Grammy-winning country-pop/rock trio Lady Antebellum, hailing from Nashville, are sold to the UK predominantly on their sales figures: if it’s huge in the States, why shouldn’t it be huge here? It worked for McDonald’s, and to an extent this band’s previous (second) album, Need You Now, translated well commercially, peaking at eight. But over the Atlantic Need You Now remains an unstoppable juggernaut, and has shifted over 3.5 million copies to date – a figure which represents about 1% of the US population.
But everyone (surely?) knows there’s a difference between what sells massively and what represents true quality. Need You Now was met with uncertainty from several critics, unconvinced by the band’s big sound but hollow soul (think Fleetwood Mac gone Music Row). It was a perfect FM record, ultimately, designed to be heard without being properly listened to. The album’s title-track was a huge hit (making 21 here, and number two stateside), but no other single from the album touched its performance. Quality control, it seems, was lacking.
Own the Night doesn’t alter the formula that’s earned Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood their fortunes. Raucous boot-stompers kick up the dust around soppy slowies, with many a chorus dripping with the sort of gooey gobbledygook that typifies a thousand rom-coms. The opening (sort of) title-track is one of the former concoctions, albeit with a syrupy lead vocal from Kelley – more woe-is-me than let’s-rock-out. Lead single Just a Kiss – their highest-charting single stateside since Need You Now – is one of the latter affairs, with Scott and Kelley both exchanging lines and singing in sync. But what could be tender comes across as uncomfortably forced. Both are fine vocalists, but neither conveys palpable emotion. Instead, producer Paul Worley layers on the strings, and does so again on As You Turn Away and Cold As Stone. It’s a cheap trick, employed countless times in the past. Here, it distances the listener from any real feelings, performances buried beneath overly dramatic bombast.
The throwaway feel of Friday Night, which channels Bryan Adams in mischievous mood, is relief after so much weight elsewhere, and Singing Me Home is a sweetly twanging number warmed by subtle organ. The ‘bonus’ inclusion of an acoustic version of Need You Now feels desperate, though, as if the label didn’t feel that these songs were strong enough stand up for themselves, free of association with the band’s previous highs. Truth be told, they might be right – but just as McDonald’s continues to sell millions of burgers every day, there are plenty of fans ready to embrace Own the Night just as they have Lady Antebellum’s previous efforts.