Album Review: Lady Antebellum’s ‘Golden’

Part of Lady Antebellum”s broad appeal is that the trio rocks just enough to be embraced by mainstream pop fans and yet the group is country enough, with the obligatory  mandolins and banjo, to fit solidly into the country format. The co-ed ban balances the two adroitly again on “Golden,” its fourth studio album.

For “Golden,”  out today, the Grammy-winning group said they wanted to stretch out and throw away any formula.  However, other than the spunky first single, “Downtown” and the driving, Byrds-like “Better Off Now (That You”re Gone)” -two of six songs on the album written by outside songwriters- there”s nothing much here that couldn”t have been on any of Lady A”s previous three albums. That”s not to say there”s not a lot to like here: Hillary Scott”s and Charles Kelley”s voices still weave in and out of each other”s airspace beautifully  and the melodies are catchy, if unchallenging, especially on “Better Off Now (That You”re Gone).” However, at this point in their career, the threesome, which also includes Dave Haywood, should be comfortable taking a few more risks.

The biggest change here is the increased confidence in Scott”s vocals. Kelley has the more distinctive voice of the two and his slightly gruff tone is what gives the group whatever edginess it has, but on “Golden,” Scott sounds more commanding than she has previously, especially on the Tom Petty-reminiscent opener “Get To Me,” and the wistful “Nothin’ Like The First Time.”?

Also to the band”s credit, with all three now happily married and Scott very close to becoming a mom, it would have been understandable if they had succumbed to writing nothing but songs that glow about being in love. While such songs are certainly represented here, there are also plenty of tunes that address the aftermath of love”s ruins, including the sad “It Ain”t Pretty,” about the uncomfortableness of trying to re-enter the dating scene. Scott adds a poignancy to the track as she takes her “walk of shame,” with her high heels in her hand. Similarly, Kelley brings the right amount of pain to  “All For Love,” a conversation with Scott, on which they trade verses in a he said/she said about a break-up. And he lets loose nicely on the end of “Goodbye Town.”

Many of these songs were written during jams sessions while the band was on its sold-out headlining tour, and they may have been served better if they”d remained less polished once they hit the studio. For as much as Lady Antebellum seems to want to strip away some of the veneer, there”s nothing on here that approaches the ruggedness of their breakthrough single, 2007″s “Love Don”t Live Here Anymore.”

While there are few losers here, closing track “Generation Away” is a fun arm-waver musically but lyrically, it”s trite, clunky lyrics and its segue into “He”s Got The Whole World In His Hands” is a regrettable, generic way to end the set.

Fans of Lady A will no doubt embrace the new set, but here”s hoping the band achieves the change on the next album it seems to believe happened on “Golden.” They have the talent and the ability, which is part of what makes their largely treading familiar ground here all the more disappointing.