Little Big Town’s eighth studio album, The Breaker, is already doing well in Australia, most likely brought to people’s notice by the song Better Man, penned especially for the band by superstar Taylor Swift.
For those pop fans yet to succumb to the highly polished confections offered up by this band, a little anxious perhaps about their country leanings, rest assured – for most of this album, country takes a back seat to mainstream radio-friendly pop, in the mood of Fleetwood Mac, or Rilo Kiley in their Under The Blacklight era. Little Big Town mine the same musical vein that bands like Gloriana, Love And Theft and Lady Antellebum do when they pan for chart gold.
The band’s line-up has been consistent since their formation, nearly twenty years ago, and, since releasing their 2014 album, Pain Killer, which was a huge success sweeping the CMAs and the Grammy Awards in 2016, they have refined their core sound to a point where every one of their songs now has the potential to be a chart-topper, such is their complete mastery of the genre formula.
By sharing the spotlight equally amongst the four singers who front the band – Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Philip Sweet – their sound has plenty of variety in vocal combinations and song stylings. The band mix mid-tempo pop with ballads that, for the most part, stay well away from the mawkish indulgences that can often plague modern country releases, and they achieve a good balance in mood and tempo across the whole album.
The first half of this album is devoid of existential angst. It starts out simply as a record made by a group of people content with their lives, who are settled in their relationships and keen to share their good karma with their fans.
The band took their time climbing to the top in their field, and are making the most of it now, and their philosophy – set out in the opening song, Happy People – says it all:
Happy people don’t fail,
Happy people just learn,
Don’t think they’re above the push and shove –
Just wait their turn.
The brace of tunes that follow this are filled with sunny days at the beach, revelling in the joyous elements of life that come free to us all: family, friendship, community, a cool breeze on a warm night. These songs – Free; Drivin’ Around; We Went To The Beach – all drip with optimism and positivity. They are selling us an image of a world where anything is possible: Who says you can’t defy gravity? they sing in Night On Our Side, and they almost have you ready to believe it, until the reality check that is the second half of the album hits home.
Whilst the second bracket of tunes are still all polished until they gleam, the mood shifts to a more reflective one.
Better Man, is a song about accepting the pain of a relationship break up (it is a Taylor Swift composition after all), and Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old is a song written the day after Westbrook’s sister’s funeral, tinged with the melancholy sadness that such an event inevitably brings. Beat Up Bible and When Somebody Stops Loving You are, as evident in the titles, the most traditional country tunes here, sung with that typical Nashville emotional honey that drips sweetly and irresistibly out of the speakers.
The album closes with the title track, The Breaker, another well-crafted ballad which, before the disc draws to a close, humbly explains the band’s intentions to us:
I wished I could give you what you needed
But you can’t tell a heart how to feel, but I’ve tried to…
Little Big Town have tried really hard here to give us what we need, an affirming and uplifting slice of country-pop perfection, that will please old fans and win them a multitude of new ones.
The Breaker is out now on Capitol Records.