Little Big Town - The Breaker (Album Review)
Release Date: 24 February 2017
Title: The Breaker
Label: Decca / Liberty Records)
12 Tracks/ Time: 41:43
Rating: 3 STARS out of 5
6. We Went to the Beach 7. Better Man 8. Rollin' 9. Don't Die Young, Don't Get Old
10. Beat Up Bible 11. When Someone Stops Loving You 12. The Breaker
Last year the chart managers quite rightly deemed Little Big Town’s electronic diversion set WANDERLUST (Capitol Nashville) not to be classed as “country”. It arrived at No.105 on the Billboard 200 and #50 Top Albums with 5,700 pure sales. Instead of releasing a straight-up country/rock record, LBT dropped the collaborative project with Pharrell Williams. Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild said “The music feels like our worlds have collided in the best possible way - his infectious grooves paired with our layered vocals and harmonies. This music is meant to be danced to, sung along with and turned up loud. It's uplifting and hopeful”.
Previously to that their last “country” album PAIN KILLER (Capitol Nashville/UMGN) made a bow and peaked at No.7 on the Billboard 200 and #3 on Top Country albums Country) with 42,000 copies sold on its debut week. This was well short of the September 11, 2012 release of TORNADO which bowed with 112,800 copies sold. Painkiller was fuelled by the lead-off single “Day Drinking” becoming the group’s sixth top 10 (#4 Billboard Country Airplay) and then the #1 smash hit “Girl Crush” (writers Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose) which snagged CMA Song and Single of the year in 2015 propelling the 4-piece group to stardom.
So, is THE BREAKER a genuine return to country? Well, there is little for the traditional country music fan to grab onto with the 12-track offering mostly reaching out to millennials.
The album kicks off with the chug-along bouncy opener “Happy People” written by top singer songwriters Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters. The track with its purring Hammond interspersed with some faint steel smoothly rolls out some golden rules, as to how to put smiles on faces and finding true happiness. An art which is something to be cherished, learned and embraced in an ever-cruel and hurtful world: Here's to whatever what puts a smile on your face, Whatever makes you happy, people
“Night on Our Side" co-written by LBT members Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook is something which forestalls that “we might live forever for a little while tonight” whilst bending the rules till dawn breaks. The Pop/Rock number is something like a hark back to the “Rumours”-era Fleetwood Mac underpinned with acoustic vibes of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing”
The wild abandon of the dreamy “Lost in California" penned by A-list hit songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose
paints some pretty colours and highlights Little Big Town’s key strength – those close harmonies. Those skills are magnified on the nostalgic driven “Free” which celebrates that the best things in life can’t be bought and are hard won.
Pointing its compass to a stadium rock crowd "Drivin' Around" penned by four outside writers, is rather muddied production wise laced with very modern digital sweetening and editing enrichment techniques.
The reflective “We Went to the Beach” has a pleasant laid back breezy feel recalling happy summer days. Lead-off single "Better Man" penned by Taylor Swift remains the album go-to standout and landed them a No.1 straight out of the blocks. A song which at first I had some reservations on, perfectly suits Karen Fairchild’s vocal and just grows and grows on you – I just love it!
The guitar-driven “Rollin’ is a very rocky affair and musically hardly recalls a roadblock paradise, though stars in the sky shine brightly on another wistful number "Don't Die Young, Don't Get Old".
It’s not until the journey to track 10 when you feel the multi-award winning group truly begin to get back to their country roots. Kimberly Schlapman takes the lead vocal baton on the gentle acoustic driven “Beat Up Bible” where every line in the worn and dusty manuscript offers comfort and recalls precious memories.
Jimi Westbrook’s vocals take centre stage on the heart-breaking “When Someone Stops Loving You,” which rocks some soulful vibes where no switch can be flicked when struggling to get over a deep relationship and move on from a man’s perspective. In a reversal of roles on title cut and gentle paced album closer "The Breaker" (Jimi Westbrook lead vocal) is full of honest regret where no words can paper over those hurtful cracks depicting a sad tale of love gone wrong:
I wish I could give you what you needed, But you can't tell a heart how to feel, but I've tried to
Whilst Breaker offers those trademark classy LBT vocal harmonies and radio-friendly modern-country cuts it perhaps overall embraces a little too many elements of pop and rock.
Adrian Clark for Country Music News International