It’s good that those Nashville darlings Lady Antebellum named their new album “Golden.” The songs fulfill every meaning of the word. They’re sun-kissed, expensively constructed, and bound to reap a mint.
Of course, like all Lady A ditties, they’re also lacking in little things like personality, detail and need. But, hey, why bother with all that when you’ve got a sound this bright and radio-friendly?
You may find yourself asking the same question as you hum nearly every song on the CD. Resistance is futile. The melodies catch the ear at nearly every turn. If they don’t, the arrangements do.
Take the first single, “Downtown,” already a No. 1 country smash. It has three — count ‘em — three guitar hooks, each enhancing the other. There’s a descending tickle of a guitar line, a chime of double-tracked Allmans-style Southern-rock, and a fine layering of pedal steel, floating between. Likewise, in “Goodbye Town” the bass line pulls you in a direction both surprising and urgent, much like the chorus of the band’s Grammy-winning, peak hit, “Need You Now.”
Like that song — in fact, like much of Lady A’s whole catalogue — nearly all the tracks are ballads with a backbeat. They’re also evenly divided between songs led by Hillary Scott and ones by Charles Kelley (the other guy, Dave Haywood, harmonizes and plays lots of instruments).
It’s telling that the male and female singers almost never play characters in a duet. This allows them to retain their images as chaste siblings rather than as something more threatening like, say, lovers. In that vein, both singers have a vocal appeal that’s equivalent to catalogue models. They’re mannequin-pretty.
Their plastic perfection suits the clichés and idealizations of the lyrics. Yet, one track shows how the band could tap more, if they only dared. The one truly emotive cut, “It Ain’t Pretty,” follows a heartbroken woman on a night out where she puts on her “lipstick a little too bright,” drinks too much, and has a one night stand she really doesn’t want. The words have all the specificity the rest lack, as well as the one vocal from Scott that truly hurts.
Another track stands out for a far more alarming reason. In the delusional “Generation Away,” the band pine to be seen as a modern answer to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, as well as to channel the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. That last allusion draws a connection that’s even more offensive than anything in Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist.”
It’s a classic case of not knowing your place. In fact, Lady A has a worthy, if qualified, one: They’re irresistible ciphers.