Lady Antebellum are well and truly back in the game with their new album ‘Ocean’. Having taken some time to reflect after the rather underwhelming performance of ‘Heart Break’, the trio have now teamed up with Big Machine Label Group for a new start, and this feels like a newly revitalised band determined to get back to what made them such a special breakout act all those years ago. Although the ‘Heart Break’ material was enjoyable, it didn’t have the magic and the emotion that we’ve come to know and love on their past albums, and that’s clearly something Big Machine honed in on right from the off.
‘What If I Never Get Over You’ was the perfect lead single for the album. More of the ‘I Run To You’ vibe that made them so successful in the first place. It’s also a fabulous representation of the album as a whole, which sees them going back to their roots, having seemingly realised that they’d detached a little from what their fan base expected on their recent output. Good to see it creeping towards the Top 5 on country radio too; always good for the eventual performance of an album.
With ‘Pictures’, we have an interesting juxtaposition between the uplifting, summery melody (a classic Lady A vibe) and the rather dark, regretful lyrics of someone re-living the desperate stages of a broken relationship. ‘Crazy Love’ then follows; another brilliant offering that continues a stellar opening section of the album. Written by Charles alongside Nathan Chapman, it’s an “I’m not worthy of you” statement; an outpouring of appreciation for that special someone. Interestingly, Charles, Hillary and Dave individually had a hand in the writing of 7 out of 13 of the tracks, which tells you a lot about how deep and personal some of these songs really are.
‘What I’m Leaving For’ is an absolute stunner, and I would even say it’s up there with the best the trio have ever released, including the likes of ‘Hello World’ and ‘Dancin’ Away With My Heart’. It tells their personal stories to a tee, addressing the difficulty of life on the road away from family, whilst also emphasising the importance of their children and wanting to leave something behind for them. The music video is a must-watch and brings the magic of the song to life with some incredibly personal snapshots. Hands down, one of the best songs of 2019 and one the guys can be extremely proud of.
‘Be Patient With My Love’ is another stand-out. The trio performed this acoustically at C2C back in March, and it was a sign of the depth and quality the upcoming album had to offer. Charles describes it as the “most personal song I’ve ever written”, exploring some tough times in the past where he felt he was lacking as a husband, and struggling with his spirituality. It’s an incredibly honest, open-book type of song, with Charles showing more vulnerability and emotion than ever before. Lady A at their very best.
There are some up-tempo, fun moments scattered throughout the album, too. The electric-driven ‘You Can Do You’ is a great care-free, party-charged track with an attitude and a cheekiness to it; a welcome break from the emotional stories and ballads surrounding it. ‘Boots’ will also become a fan favourite very quickly I feel; reminiscent of ‘Better Off Now’ from the ‘Golden’ album, it’s packed full of energy and a hugely anthemic chorus. Charles’ gravelly vocal delivery suits the slightly rockier sound to perfection. ‘Alright’ is the album’s most uplifting track with a lovely traditional-leaning melody and a get-up-and-go message of empowerment. Hillary takes the lead on this one; one of the most instantly-loveable tracks right from the first listen.
If you’re a fan of the Lady A ballads though, this is certainly the album for you. The delicate ‘On A Night Like This’ takes us right back to the days of ‘One Day You Will’ and ‘All We’d Ever Need’, beginning with a piano, gradually building with some gorgeous strings and pedal steel. The title track ‘Ocean’ is another piano-led beauty that pushes Hillary right to the max in terms of her vocal capabilities, and she delivers the emotion of the track sublimely with such desperation and pain. “I’m so tired of the shore, let me in, baby you’re an ocean, beautiful and blue… I want to swim in you”. Top drawer from writers Sarah Buxton, Tofer Brown and Abe Stoklasa.
The album feels very much like a return to home for the trio. They’ve gone back to basics, focusing on the tried and tested formula that has worked for them over the years, without chasing anything new or experimental. The result is a beautifully polished piece of work with moments of great depth and meaning, which will delight loyal fans far and wide. Probably their best album since ‘Own The Night’ back in 2011. It’s good to have them back and firing on all cylinders!