In an August 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, legendary rock musician Tom Petty was asked his thoughts on the state of country music after he told The Beacon it was “bad rock with fiddle.” His response (emphasis mine):
Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it? But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I’m sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos. I don’t want to rail on about country because I don’t really know much about it, but that’s what it seems like to me.
The gist of what Petty says is that mainstream country music sounds like generic 80s rock music. This leads me to today’s review of Little Big Town’s new album Pain Killer. The four person group made up of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet were looking to go with a different style and approach with this album. From what I’ve gathered in interviews and the album cover before even listening to it was they were going for an edgier, “provocative” sound. In other words, they appear to be going to their dark side after years of bubblegum pop country music. Do they get edgy with this album? Well how sharp would you describe a butter knife? That’s how edgy they get. Also please keep that Tom Petty quote in mind while reading this review.
The album starts off with “Quit Breaking Up With Me,” a song about a troubled relationship. It sounds like it was lifted right out of the 80s. Also why does it sound like this is being sung out of a bathroom stall? Maybe it was. Then again Weird Al Yankovic’s first song “My Bologna” was recorded in a bathroom stall and it probably sounded better than this song. There’s way too much background noise and it’s more pop than country. This is followed up with “Day Drinking,” which now sounds pretty weird and sticks out compared to the rest of the album. In my initial review of this song I said this: “It immediately starts off with an annoying whistling sound and some light drum playing, signaling it’s a happy and upbeat song. The song starts off about getting out at five o’clock on a Friday and doing some day drinking after a long, hot day. The song then proceeds to repeat over and over throughout the following line, “Why don’t we do a little day drinking?” Mixed in are some lines about normal clichés that have to do with drinking, work and summer. The annoying whistling sound also reappears throughout the song.” After hearing this song so many times on the radio I wish I had given it an even lower score.
The next song, “Tumble And Fall,” is supposed to be a motivational song I guess? I can’t exactly tell because this song is overproduced so much. This is a pop song with banjos buried in the background. And a “country” song that talks about a trapeze? Not going to fly with this reviewer. The album’s title track is a catchy song about drinking your problems and pain away. It’s a pop country song with reggae undertones, almost a beach song. I have to admit the beat is easy to like, but when it comes down to it this is just another song that glamorizes drinking with repetitive lyrics. I’m sure country radio will eat this right up. “Girl Crush” is one of the more interesting tracks on the album. This song has a mysterious vibe and it took me a few listens to realize the theme of the song. It’s about a woman who has developed a crush on her man’s lover. In other words it’s a lustful jealousy towards the mistress. Karen Fairchild’s smokey vocals are actually quite good on this song. Looking at this song from a pop perspective, it’s a great song. But this is Country Perspective and this song isn’t country. What a shame too because this song actually has a unique theme.
As soon as I started listening to “Faster Gun,” I immediately got a Poison/Journey vibe from it. That’s because this is your generic rock song trying to pass off itself as country. You’re right again Tom Petty! If this song was properly classified as pop or rock, it’s not bad. But again this is a song trying to pass itself off as country. “Good People” is a bland, generic, adult contemporary pop song with rock influences and overproduced instrumentation. I have nothing else to say about this forgettable song. “Stay All Night” is a bland, generic, rock song with pop influences and overproduced instrumentation. I have nothing else to say about this forgettable song. The observant reader will point out that I was being repetitive here and you’re exactly right. Repetitive songs get repetitive criticism.
Let’s move onto the next song, “Save Your Sin.” This song starts out as a decent pop country song and turns into overproduced rock pop by the end of it. The theme of the song is sex I think? Let’s just put it this way: Like every other song on this album, it’s Little Big Town trying to convince us they’re edgier and racier with their material now. Insert eye roll and light chuckling here. “Live Forever” is a love ballad where the group actually seems to have good intentions with the song. It actually has potential to be more than generic pop music. The problem is the tone is too sleepy and doesn’t draw the listener in to feel anything. This song should be romantic and mysterious, but instead I’m just kind of bored and wondering if this is all they have to offer with this song. Compared to the rest of the album this is the best song so far, yet it isn’t a country song either.
“We Built This City!” “We Built This City!” “We Built This City on rock n’ roll!” That’s what I was hearing in my head as I listened to “Things You Don’t Think About” because this song gives that kind of vibe off. This is another generic rock song on this album. “Turn the Lights On” starts out with just instruments for the first minute and a half, leading me to believe the whole song would just be an instrumental song, but it’s sadly not. Instead it’s just more generic rock music. Man, Tom Petty you’re looking like a genius with your thoughts on country music. Finally we reach the last track on the album, “Silver and Gold.” My initial thoughts when I listened to this song: Hahahaha! First we get Florida Georgia Line using a cheesy pickup line in “Angel” and now Little Big Town is comparing love to silver and gold. If I want to hear a song about silver and gold, I would rather listen to this song. Little Big Town has got nothing on the snowman from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer! The snowman is even using a banjo in his song and not drowning it out with machines, making it more country than Little Big Town’s entire album. And of course this is just another generic rock song. Variety at it’s finest on this album.
So I guess this is the album where Little Big Town goes to their dark side. I would describe it more as the local theatre kids dressing in dark clothes and putting on a performance of The Outsiders, deeming themselves cool bad guys because neon signs and drinking dictates this. By the way I hate that movie even more than this album. Pain Killer labels itself as a country album, except it covers every genre except country. As Derek said in his review of Lady Antebellum’s 747 album, it wouldn’t be bad if the album was labeled pop music. I can say the same of this Little Big Town album. In fact this is pretty good pop music. If Little Big Town went to the pop genre like Taylor Swift I might actually enjoy this album. But this album calls itself country and I will treat it as such. I only recommend this album if you like vanilla, dull rock music. Otherwise stay clear of it.