Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Album Review: Sugarland - The Incredible Machine

This isn't a country album.  Sugarland has given us a straight-up rock album.  But that's not the problem here.  The problem is that it isn't even a good rock album.

The Incredible Machine is loaded with heavy-handed power pop production.  While it has been advertised as something newfangled and exciting, it is anything but.  The general sound of the album is bland, watered down, and at times even chaotic.

The songs have hardly any lyrical content to speak of.  The contents of the lyric sheet range from vague and platitudinous pep talks like "Stand Up" to the utter nonsense of tracks like "All We Are" and "Wide Open."  Kickoff single "Stuck Like Glue," while unmistakably a shameless ditty, displays a flash of creativity by blending pop-country and reggae into an insanely catchy musical breakdown with simple and clean production.  It stands out sharply from the rest of the album tracks, but it is by far the best the album has to offer.  In general, the songs never rise above mediocrity.  Instead, Kristian and Jennifer simply hide behind "Oh-ay-oh-ay..." chants.

Throughout Sugarland's career, one of its strongest assets has been its capable lead vocalist.  Indeed, vocal powerhouse Jennifer Nettles has proven herself to be one of the strongest female singers mainstream country music has to offer.  But all too often, even her usually stunning vocals fall short of the usual standard, even to the point of being a slight degree above unlistenable.  Throughout the album, Jennifer plays with a variety of vocal nuances that are largely disastrous.  She hits a low point in her annoyingly nasal delivery of "Tonight."  Fortunately, "Shine the Light" shows traces of the Jennifer we once knew.  On "Shine the Light," Jennifer gives an emotionally engaging performance that is reminiscent of singles like "Stay" and "Already Gone."  But when Jennifer's vocals are not fully up to par on album like this, Sugarland doesn't have much going in its favor.

Whatever it is that makes you love country music, you won't hear it anywhere on this album.  Sugarland has done away with all of the characteristics that made them so endearing to country music fans.  I usually applaud there uninhibited creativity, but not when their supposed creativity fails to meet a reasonable standard of quality.  Any way you look at it, The Incredible Machine is an incredible disappointment.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)