Do Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles see the glass as half-empty or half-full? If their new music is any indication, they obviously see it as half-full. Their current album The Incredible Machine is an affair devoted almost entirely to shouting anthems of self-empowerment and fighting the perils of pessimism.
Regrettably, the message is primarily delivered through vague and hollow lyrics, while bombastic power pop production and inane chants attempt to make the lyrics more profound than they actually are. But on the current single "Little Miss," the duo scraps such nonsense in favor of lyrics that are strong enough to pull their own weight.
Jennifer Nettles tells a simple and straightforward story as she takes on the role of an encouraging companion giving a gentle and sensitive pep talk to a downhearted woman. She refers to this woman by a variety of nicknames that serve to gradually flesh out the woman's character. "Little Miss Be My Guest" and "Little Miss Never Rest" is one who always gives generously to others, and who puts others' needs ahead of her own. But she has become overwhelmed by her own anxieties, and by the pressure of meeting everyone's expectations, thus becoming "Little Miss Down On Love" and "Little Miss I Give Up."
Jennifer repeatedly gives the gentle reassurance "It'll be all right again." The song reaches a peak when Jennifer tells her "You are loved," in a way that squeezes in as much depth and meaning as three syllables can possibly carry. We hear a gentle rise in production as the titular character undergoes a transformation into "Little Miss Brand New Start" and "Little Miss Big ol' heart beats wide open and she's ready for love."
"Little Miss" provides a welcome spark of quality on an overall crummy album. Jennifer's storytelling voice is tender and moving. The production is toned down and restrained, but at the same time the acoustic guitar and piano are subtly infectious. No, it doesn't sound country at all, but this is awfully good pop music. Ultimately, a creatively constructed concept and a deeply sincere knockout performance combine to make "Little Miss" a definite winner.
SUGARLAND'S SCORE: 9
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)
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