It’s not too much to say that Lady Antebellum are one of the most prominent figures in country music. Ever since the Nashville trio pounced on the scene in 2006, they have swiftly made their climb to critical acclaim. With seven Grammy awards and a string of number ones under their belts, Lady A have made their return with their sixth studio album 747. With its first single Bartender already making waves on the country charts, fans should expect no less than classic country, rock n’ roll vibes from the band’s latest offering.
With this album, the band wanted to push their sound to new boundaries – something more youthful, energetic and fit for a stadium show. The result is marvellously executed; heard right from the outset with the first track Long Stretch of Love. Performed with earnest energy, the track explodes into a powerful chorus and features a guitar solo that adds an extra kick. Perhaps Bartender does an even better job – with it’s groovy guitar riffs, banjos and percussion, the track swerves between the genres of rock and country pop. Lead singers Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley have always had vocal chemistry, and this shines through in their effortless harmonising. It’s the same story with Freestyle – an all energy jam that’ll have your feet stomping to the beat. Its catchy hooks and sing-along chorus is what creates such a big sound, but Kelley is the main attraction here, with this wry and seductive vocals flanked by Scott’s subtle harmonies. Both Bartender and Freestyle are feel good floor-fillers; not in a sweaty club environment as such, but more for a rowdy country pub.
Yet a lot of the upbeat songs tend to follow a similar structure. Sounded Good at the Time is yet another upbeat and energised track, complete with a token guitar instrumental and a smooth finish. The only thing different with this one is that its a bit poppy with its synths – but of course, the ever-present banjo firmly holds the track in its country roots. The track takes you back to the carefree, teen years – and while its a formula that works, it seems a little overdone by the seventh track.
Rowdy anthems aside, a lot of the tracks are also quite reflective. Take Down South, for instance, a song about going back to your roots in order to find yourself. It’s nostalgic and slightly patriotic, but drags on – the song long outstays its welcome by the four minute mark, with its dwindling piano progressions and extra crooning. The band slow things down with One Great Mystery, a swaying love song that borrows a little from their 2010 hit Need You Now. With its relaxed guitar riffs and soaring harmonies, it sounds almost gospel-like; even the lyrics reflect some sort of deeper life musings like ‘I’ll keep asking through eternity…what did I ever do to make you fall for me?’ But as far as nostalgic tracks go, Damn You Seventeen takes the cake. With its sentimental guitars and tinkling piano progressions, you can tell that this is another track that will take you back in time. Scott and Kelley ponder over an estranged high school romance, with sensory lines such as ‘I still smell your hair…still see all your vintage rock n’ roll t-shirts hangin’ on your closet door.’ Lady A sound appropriately wistful in this track; if anything, their vocals drip with bittersweetness. It eventually builds up by the final minute as both singers begin to soar, stretching their vocal chords as they proclaim, ‘Damn you seventeen!’
Oddly, the real gem of the album is the heart-wrenching finale, Just a Girl. Judging from the light banjo intro you’d think this would be a fun track – but the lyrics indicate something highly personal and emotional. Here, Scott is the girl with a broken heart – after all, she’s been tossed around as ‘just another one of your Friday nights.’ But the fast-paced nature of the song is more empowering rather than mournful, as it builds up further and further with energy and anger. It’s strange that such a highlight serves as the final track; we all know the saying ‘save the best ’till last’, but perhaps Lady A would have fared better if they placed this track near the top, and chosen a big arena-friendly number rather than a break up song as the finale.
747 is highly contagious, with its energetic tunes and fierce lyrics. There’s definitely vigour and fun laced into this album – Lady Antebellum have stretched out of their comfort zones in order to appeal to a wider audience. And judging by the youthful nature of this album, they just might achieve that purpose.