For years Jennifer Nettles was most famously known as one half of the popular country duo Sugarland. Nettles and the other half of Sugarland Kristian Bush racked up several hits and generally experienced a lot of success. But now they’ve decided to each pursue solo careers that has resulted in varying degrees of success. Bush’s debut solo single reached the top 25 on the country airplay charts and received favorable reviews on his debut solo album Southern Gravity. It’s been more up and down for Nettles. Her debut solo single “That Girl” only just peaked inside the top 40 of the country airplay charts, but her debut solo album of the same name hit #1.
It’s been more down since this though, as her followup single from that album, “Me Without You,” did even worse on the charts. Last summer she released a new song called “Sugar” that was arguably the worst song she ever recorded. It was never officially released as a single though, as her label Mercury Nashville dropped her. Looking back now this appears to be a blessing in disguise. Nettles was almost immediately picked up by Big Machine Records, a label that generally allows older, veteran artists to have more creative say in their music and image. Most importantly “Sugar” never saw the light of day again once she joined Big Machine. She’s now back with a new single, her debut music with Big Machine, “Unlove You.” And its way better than “Sugar.”
Jennifer Nettles has always been at her best when she’s allowed to let her big voice be the front and center of song. That’s exactly what “Unlove You” allows Nettles to do. The gentle play of an acoustic guitar starts the song off. Nettles then begins to sing about something that she can’t get off her mind and that is the love she felt towards a man who was in her life. She’s tried everything she can to shake the deep feelings of love she felt for him, but she’s finally realized this impossible. She knows that she can never stop loving him, even though she knows he will probably never feel the same. The amount of aching and pain in not only the lyrics, but Nettles’ voice really conveys the emotional stress that many listeners will be able to connect with. It’s a desperate kind of love that you don’t want, but will never break.
Needless to say the songwriting on this song is absolutely top-notch. It’s not a big surprise when you see who wrote it: Nettles and Brandy Clark. These two have been touring together extensively over the last year, so it was only natural these two have been writing together. The instrumentation is mostly good, although the drum loops and pop effects added in parts of the chorus throughout the song is unnecessary. Thankfully it doesn’t drag the song down. It would have really been best to just stick with the acoustic guitar throughout the entire song, instead of just the beginning and end parts. Nettles’ vocals are at their best and as I said above can be great when allowed to shine like they were on this song.
“Unlove You” is the exact song Jennifer Nettles needed to reinvigorate her solo career. It elevates all of her strengths and suits her perfectly. People are responding too, as it was one of the most added songs at country radio recently. It appears poised to continue to rise up the airplay charts and may be the biggest hit of her solo career yet. Cam proved last year that stirring love ballads can be accepted by mainstream country crowds and Nettles follows this lead with “Unlove You.” This is definitely one of the better mainstream country singles you’ll hear in 2016.