Lady Antebellum fades into ‘Own the Night’
Success can provoke different reactions in creative artists. Some musicians would view multiplatinum album sales and a quintet of Grammys as carte blanche to take a few chances with their next effort. Others consider those achievements as signposts to stay the course.
Contemporary country trio Lady Antebellum chose the latter option for its third album, “Own the Night,’’ out today. Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood, and Charles Kelley retrace the likable but familiar steps that got them to the top of the Nashville heap.
Instead of using their newfound clout to explore some of the more interesting colors that made their debut album so promising, Lady Antebellum and producer Paul Worley went the other direction: They continued to pursue a pleasant but antiseptic world of middle-of-the-road county-pop.
Songs like the mildly pulsating first single, “Just a Kiss,’’ are emblematic of the album’s midtempo complacency. And elsewhere Lady A is afflicted by Nashville’s increasingly tedious obsession with nostalgia; several songs follow the “remember when?’’ formula, including the twirling “We Owned the Night’’ and limp “Dancin’ Away With My Heart.’’ A stab at a more footloose sound on “Friday Night’’ offers chunky power-pop riffage but never quite delivers on its carefree intentions.
What’s particularly disappointing about “Own the Night’’ is the sense that the trio is better than this. Live, they are vibrant and fun, and on this record they continue to write some great melodies and gorgeous harmony arrangements. Indeed, the vocal mix - with Scott’s sweet style meshing with the grittier Kelley, which is further deepened by Haywood - remains beguiling. But as strong as those elements are, they are often marooned by ho-hum lyrics, turgid tempos, and overly manicured production.
The best songs on the album stand out as the least fussed over. “Singing Me Home’’ is a charming southern R&B amble with an easy, sexy feel courtesy of a lazy fiddle, fun background vocals, and a present-tense scenario of enjoying a ride with your baby. The spare, folk- and Celtic-tinged “Cold as Stone’’ benefits from a pretty string outro and a pathos-driven chorus in which Scott and Kelley reflect real pain. And closing ballad “The Heart of the World’’ offers an intriguing balance. Although Scott and Kelley sing optimistic lyrics from the point of view of newlyweds, there is an undercurrent of melancholy that gives the tune real heft.
When you own something like, say, a car, hopefully you try to take good care of it so that it will run reliably for years to come. But because it is yours, you can also feel comfortable beating it up a little bit, personalizing it, really living in it without worrying that you have to hand it back in the condition it was given to you. “Own’’ could stand to have more of that lived-in energy and less of that new-car shine.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.