You remember Sugarland, don’t you? They’re the pair that the Obamas asked to perform in Washington, D.C. last Christmas to represent country music (in a show that also featured Usher, George Lopez, Mary J. Blige, and Justin Beiber). They also performed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention Oh yeah, and Sugarland’s lead singer Jennifer Nettles was invited to perform at the Presidential Inauguration Concert for Barack Obama. Speaking later about the experience, Nettles said: “I was completely overwhelmed in the most beautiful way. It was such a moment for our country and such a moment in time in the history of the world and we were lucky enough to meet President Obama and his family and Vice President Biden and his family. I was just blown away, so much so that when we were going down the line by the time I got to Mr. Biden’s wife Jill and she introduced herself, I said, ‘Hi, I’m Jennifer and I am completely overwhelmed right now!’”
So much for their insight into the political arena. How about Sugarland’s insight into the musical arena? They seem to be much more in tune in these stadiums and arenas. After all, they have what they call a “rabid fan base” that love the way they challenge the “complacency of Nashville.” Therein lies the problem. It is acts just like Sugarland that are slowly driving nails into the coffin of country music. Especially with albums like their new release, The Incredible Machine.
What’s “incredible” about Sugarland is that they still try and pull off the farce that they are a country music act. They’re not really a duo – they’re a lead vocalist and some guy behind her. And they’re not really country – they’re now a hybrid of ‘80s pop with ambitions of soul. Sure the new album is loud and obnoxious. So I guess the contingent of the country music scene that really don’t like country music will call this album some sort of artistic high point. In truth, it’s just one more huge step down the spiral toward overproduced pop radio-friendly-obsessed “new country.” And it’s getting old.
This is an album that aims to recreate the twosome of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush as the new Eurythmics of Nashville I guess. Personally, I thought that enough damage was done to country music when Shania Twain tried to do that all by herself. The music and the lyric in most of these songs fit each other perfectly. In case you’re wondering, that isn’t a compliment. However insipid and meaningless (and incoherent) the words are, they are matched in the musical note department by equally juvenile, obvious and meaningless melodies. But why am I telling you all this. There’s probably no need, since you’ve already heard their first single off the album, “Stuck Like Glue.”
Since you shouldn’t buy this album (and contribute to the constant erosion of what’s left of country music), I should probably try to describe what you’ll be missing. Try and imagine a screechy, off-pitch Carrie Underwood (you know, just like when Carrie sings about anything live) trying to sing some epic rock score written by U2, but played on the wrong speed while also multi-tasking by making the recording in the middle of taking a spin class at the gym, while trying to hold down a 12-pack of Diet Mountain Dew. Almost every single note is over-sung in a relentless, anthemic style. Or, since you’re reading this on a computer maybe I should write ALMOST EVERY SINGLE NOTE IS OVER-SUNG IN A RELENTLESS, ANTHEMIC STYLE (or lack thereof, frankly).
Luckily, some authentic country radio stations have begun to fight this sort of country-zombie aesthetic. When Sugarland issued the single “Stuck Like Glue,” with its heavily-reggae-influenced middle section, country radio stations who had a pair started to edit the annoying middle section out, so as to not drive away their listeners. Sugarland shouldn’t worry though; they’ve built their career on developing a huge following. Of course this following is mostly made up of people who wandered into the country music world muttering to themselves that they didn’t think they liked country, but they like Sugarland. Exactly. Sugarland is fine for them. After all, as the saying goes: for those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.
OK, I admit I liked one song, so the album gets one star. It’s not country music, but at least it was a relief from the rest of the wannabe Siouxsie and the Banshees songs on this album. The song is titled “Stand Up,” and in its own way it sends a powerful message (although in a simple, self-explanatory way). The point of the song is driven home by Nettles’ strong alto, and the repetitive lyrical message, “Stand Up,” stands on the backbone of Bush’s harmony.
The album is enjoyable for those willing to warm up to Sugarland’s new style. I’m just not one of those people. I prefer country music that doesn’t keep trying to transcend country music. Somehow I’m sure the mega-tour that they are shoving around the country is just as overblown as this album, sure to wow the arena crowds who wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if an authentic country singer stood stage center and delivered the heart of a country song from the gut. But if your idea of a good country album is an assault on what makes a good country song great, then have fun. It’s your hard-earned dollar going to waste in the incredible Sugarland machine.