Having announced a hiatus in October 2015, Lady Antebellum barely made it 14 months before releasing new music in the form of You Look Good, the lead single for Heart Break, the Nashvillian trio’s sixth album – seventh if you count 2012’s Christmas fare, On This Winter’s Night. Lady Antebellum’s music has trended towards pop over the years, gently easing itself away from the country sound that constituted 2008’s self-titled début album, while maintaining a diminishing inflection to highlight their roots. Heart Break falls just short of being the point of no return for the band’s sonic journey in this direction.
Heart Break opens with the titular track, which is all chorus and very little verse, as seems to be the trend with contemporary pop. It is all gloss and smooth production, with only the faintest nod to country with a little acoustic and slide guitar. The groove-oriented You Look Good, with its funky bassline, guitar stabs, and brass augmentation, illustrates Lady Antebellum’s move to reposition themselves as a pop outfit. Hillary Scott’s vocals are excellent and hint at a versatility that isn’t fully accommodated by the sonic template employed by the band – if only the music would push her to let loose a little more.
Scott’s and Charles Kelley’s voices work well together on Somebody Else’s Heart, but this is unsurprising given this is the element that has anchored Lady Antebellum’s sound throughout their career. Hurt is an adequate, down-tempo, pop-ballad, but the ineffable elements to Scott’s vocal performance ensure the song is a must-listen. Army is a toe-tapping number that captures the country-pop sound, while Think About You is lyrically and structurally the most country of Heart Break’s songs, and though its blend of country and pop doesn’t quite mesh it is an impressive effort none the less.
Ultimately, the country elements on Heart Break are too thin, too hidden in the mix, to provide much meat to the record, and the pop structures and sounds are woefully expected, failing to excite or differentiate themselves from the crowd. Repetitive lyrics and sonic motifs quickly wear on the listener, causing songs such as This City, Good Time to Be Alive, The Stars, and the sickly-sweet Home, to feel far longer than their three-odd-minute durations imply. Lady Antebellum have proven themselves relatively prolific in their career to-date, but they will seriously need to consider the direction they take their music in from here.