This should have been a very big weekend for The Shires, with a main stage appearance at C2C lined-up, as well as an album showcase. No doubt Ben and Crissie will be absolutely gutted, and we sincerely hope they will eventually get their chance to do us all proud on that C2C main stage. Not ideal for album release week (let’s be honest, this isn’t ideal for anyone!), but with the assistance of their new label, BMG, ‘Good Years’ is sure to be a success regardless.
Their fourth studio album is their most out-of-the-box to date, and certainly their most commercially-appealing in terms of cracking the US market, which will clearly be a target for the BBR/BMG team over there. We’ve become accustomed to the recognisable Shires sound, a fine balance of heartstring-tugging ballads and live show bangers, but ‘Good Years’ certainly veers more to the latter, with its fair share of poppy, catchy arena tunes that are tailor-made for country radio. That will naturally attract some criticism, but it’s a calculated and sensible move for their career progression that will stand them in good stead internationally. It took me a few listens to fully buy into it, but there are moments of real quality there.
‘Lightning Strikes’ sums up the adventurous spirit to a tee. Written by UK favourite, Cam, her fingerprints are all over this one; a thumping, pop-infused ear-worm that sees the duo experimenting with some backing effects on the vocals in parts. The “just maybe” line is one of many unapologetically-infectious elements you’ll find on the album, alongside the anthemic, singalong nature of the ‘No Secrets’ chorus and the “wooaahh”s of ‘Independence Day’. On the previous album, we saw a clear shift from intimate venue Shires to arena Shires, and they’ve gone into the studio with full throttle in that regard here, certainly on the first half of the album.
‘About Last Night’ has made its way onto the BBC Radio 2 playlist and seems to have become a focus track ahead of the album release, which is no surprise given its radio-friendly sound. This could be a great introduction for the US country fans, and isn’t too dissimilar at all to much of the current output from Music City, production-wise. The same could be said for ‘Independence Day’; that chorus is HUGE and paints a picture of those “fireworks soaring” with great force. Love the funky bridge leading to the explosion of the chorus; it’s one of the most instantly-likeable tracks right from the first listen.
However, there are some stripped-back, more traditional-leaning offerings on the album which serve as a welcome relief from the energetic material. ‘New Year’ was a big favourite of ours as soon as it was released as the first preview track. Vulnerable, acoustic and emotional, with a real focus on those flawless harmonies; it’s Ben and Crissie at their awesome best, and takes us back to their ‘Brave’ days for a moment. This is followed up by ‘Only Always’, another one of the album’s highlights and one of the best showcases for their songwriting quality. A classic case of ‘do you still think about me like I think about you?’, it’s a gorgeous acoustic track with some signature piano from Ben, alternating vocals and a beautiful, punchy chorus. Should be a future single release, but other tracks will probably be ahead in the queue. The best track on the album.
The album comes to a close with a string of laid-back, chill-out tunes starting with ‘People Like Us’, which is a totally different vibe to anything we’ve heard from The Shires to date, and grows on you more with every listen. ‘Better Place’ follows in a similar vein, with an almost Ed Sheeran-like backing. Very atmospheric. They say less is more, and that rings true with this one. Then, the theatrical ‘Crazy Days’ leaves us in a reflective mood, once again utilising the alternating vocals technique. It sees Ben and Crissie taking stock of the madness that life on the road brings, missing home and looking forward to having “all the time in the world” at some point in the future. The string accompaniments towards the end are lovely, and it’ll no doubt be a highlight of their live shows.
‘Good Years’ is certainly a different one for Ben and Crissie. If some form of international success doesn’t come with the sort of material on offer here, I’m not sure it ever will. There are plenty of crowd-pleasing tracks that will go down well on their upcoming nationwide tour (let’s hope COVID-19 is no more by then!), and they’ve struck a balance between being experimental and keeping the loyal fans content. Such a shame we couldn’t hear it live this weekend, but life goes on. Best of luck to Ben and Crissie as always – we’re rooting for you!