Lady Antebellum are back with brand new album ‘747’ and are seemingly set to make another assault on cracking the UK market. A album launch party taking place next week at the O2’s Brooklyn Bowl sold out in less than ten minutes, mightily impressive even when considering its’ limited capacity. A further ‘big’ announcement is being held back, to be revealed on 14th October. With this date coinciding with the announcement from C2C of their 2015 festival headliners, the popular trio look set to be taking the main stage at London’s O2 Arena in March next year.
Career-making single ‘Need You Now’ took Charles, Dave & Hillary to number 15 on the UK singles chart back in 2010, the track stayed on the charts for 53 weeks. Despite any significant further impact on the charts on our shores the group remain in the consciousness and will undoubtedly reap the rewards of another promotional push to the British market. Over in the US things have been ticking along just nicely, the heady heights of quadruple-platinum selling album ‘Need You Now’ were followed by albums ‘Own The Night’ & ‘Golden’, selling over 2.5 million between them. Both of those albums also producing further number one singles including ‘Just A Kiss’ and ‘Downtown’. However, there is no escaping that the 2013 release of ‘Golden’ was met with mixed reviews and a ‘deluxe’ version was subsequently released to perk up sales figures. Personally I feel the criticism of that album was unjustified but it left the trio with a ‘stick or twist’ dilemma.
The result of that predicament is ‘747’ an album which sees Lady Antebellum working with a new co-producer, Nathan Chapman, and also treading some previously unfamiliar musical ground. ‘Long Stretch Of Love’ is the first indication that things are being mixed up a little, opening with ominous sounding chords and Charles & Hillary trading intense vocals. The track serves up more musical menace than pretty much anything the trio have released to date, a moody beginning for sure. Lead single ‘Bartender’ had hinted at a fresh upbeat sound when it hit the airwaves back in May, beginning its’ climb to the number one spot. A crowd-pleasing party track, with its banjo undercurrent and funky chorus it proved to be the shot in the arm that Lady A needed.
‘Lie With Me’ is rumoured to be the single release that the record company have plumped for in the UK, understandably so. One of the album’s strongest tracks, despite this mid-tempo tale of a love affair on the brink of ending being an outside composition it fits the group perfectly. Close to recapturing that ‘Need You Now’ / ‘Just A Kiss’ magic let’s hope that the pop-flavoured single fares equally well. Talking of singles, our US friends will hear ‘Freestyle’ on their Country stations as the new offering to radio. Uncharacteristically releasing consecutive uptempo tunes is a strong indicator of the current strategy in place by the trio, ‘Freestyle’ sees them cutting loose on a joyous rocker. For fans of the ‘Golden’ album, think ‘Generation Away’ with an added dose of attitude.
‘Down South’ has gospel tones to both its musical styling and lyrical content, boasting hugely impressive harmonies and atmospheric mandolin playing. As well as contributing to the wonderful vocal work on the bold choruses, Hillary is on particularly strong vocal form here, especially pleasing to also hear strong fiddle work on the outro. Some of the criticism of their work in recent years has been the group’s propensity to opt for middle of the road, slight saccharine balladry. Although not a view necessarily shared by myself it is hard to defend ‘One Great Mystery’ against this claim, a song that gently meanders to nowhere. Things bounce back to form immediately with ‘Sounded Good At The Time’, an uplifting mid-tempo reminiscence on the days of young love. A chorus guaranteed to make you smile, plucky banjo work and even the surprisingly enjoyable added sound effect gimmickery combine to make this a winner.
‘She Is’ is a track generating a lot of buzz following the US release of the album one week ahead of the UK, and has a strong claim to be a contender for a future single release. A song that allows Charles to show off his glorious vocals, tender verses and sparse backing build slowly to a powerful, flowing chorus detailing all the reasons why the lady in question is so special. Unlike many songs currently coming out of Nashville it is hugely refreshing to hear that these attributes do not centre on outward appearance, rather the character and determination of the woman in question. The trio travel back in time to the angst-ridden teenage years on ballad ‘Damn You Seventeen’, eschewing the normal big-chorus the track opts instead for an understated, slinky centrepiece. Working perfectly as a duet piece between Charles & Hillary, with some (rare) solo harmony work from Dave, this gem definitely falls into the ‘less is more’ category.
Title track ‘747’ suffers from an underdeveloped chorus, lyrically speaking, deciding to repeat the same line at least one too many times. What it does have is a real feeling of urgency to match the desperation of the protagonist in the song, urging the titular plane to travel faster. Boasting a powerhouse of a chorus and a big electric guitar solo, the track melodically more than makes up for its other flaws. The standard album closes with the bluegrass-flavoured ‘Just A Girl’, heavy on banjo & mandolin it also finds Hillary in defiant mood, determined not to be to ‘stringed along’ anymore. Another departure for Lady Antebellum from their previous work the track shows yet another string to their bow, and has a pleasingly looser vibe to it. allowing the trio to sign off in style.
As with many of the current releases a deluxe version of ‘747’ is available, with a further three tracks for fans to devour. In some cases these ‘bonus’ tracks can seem like curious throwaway studio sessions or experiments (listen to the recent Tim McGraw deluxe package for example), this is not necessarily the case here. ‘Slow Rollin’ does fall into the experimental category, a track that first came to my attention on the recent Dallas Smith EP ‘Tippin’ Point’. A song ideally suited to that artists’ more bro-Country stylings, it sounds like an uncomfortable fit for Lady Antebellum. Hard to deny the group a chance to really blow off any remaining cobwebs and rock out, but I would prefer to them do so on a song with a little bit more substance. Much better is the spritely, celtic-sounding ‘All Nighter’, which borrows ever-so slightly from previous number one hit ‘Compass’. A hugely fun tale of those all-too rare evenings when everything falls in place and it becomes one of those nights you will never forget. Clever wordplay in the chorus, powerful harmony work and bags of charm. Finally ‘Falling For You’ finds the trio firmly in pop-Country territory on a sweeping mid-paced ballad, but it would be harsh to begrudge them the fact when they are providing evidence that there are very few acts who come close to matching them on such material.
Five albums in and Lady Antebellum are showing no signs of tailing off, recognising a need to continuously work on keeping their sound fresh and move forwards. Many artists fall in to the trap of simply recording the same album over & over again, and it would seemingly be easy for Charles, Dave & Hillary to continuously re-write and re-cut ‘Need You Now’. Instead on ‘747’ they have stepped outside of their comfort zone and been rewarded with a really classy album, which will surely earn them even more fans (hopefully many of them in the UK). The trio recognise the need to please their existing following, so at the core of ‘747’ is the Lady Antebellum sound that millions have fallen in love with over the past seven years, but a sound that is expanding to incorporate new influences. The group have come a long way since they burst on to the Country music scene, it will be fascinating to see where this ‘747’ takes them in the future.