Lady Antebellum were never, ever going to be the most testosterone-driven band in music. But the multi-platinum country-pop trio are still a little too lady-like for their own good on their third album, “We Own the Night,” which mostly aims for ownership of the market for old-fashioned adult-contemporary balladry.
The act’s last album was a hard hat trick to top. The title track of “Need You Now” quickly established itself as one of the greatest pop singles of our still-young century, and went on to sell 5 million downloads, not to mention scoring Record and Song of the Year wins at the Grammys.
The craving for an ex in that song (which also got its inevitable “Glee” cover) translated to a craving for the bravura tune itself, and proved America to be one very needy nation.
No one would blame Lady A for taking stabs at repeating that triumph here, but it’s as if the threesome figured what we loved most about that breakout smash was the plodding tempo and production slickness, not the emotional rawness and relatable references to drunk-dialing that cut right through the sheen.
You may hesitate to look a gift horse in the mouth, when Lady A is one of the few country acts around offering such gentlemanly counterpoint to the genre's redneck strains.
It’s still a pleasure hearing a group whose very foundation is neatly balanced male/female duets. When it comes to audience demographics, though, the band is inviting inequity, as there won’t be an overabundance of dudes crawling over one another to hear a succession of orchestrated ballads idealizing past and present perfect loves.
You certainly won’t find any odes to one-night-stands (like the debut album’s rascally “Lookin’ for a Good Time”) making their way into the current material.
The not terribly rowdy “Friday Night” represents the album’s token attempt at an up-tempo, good-time anthem, as if they suddenly remembered they needed something new that wouldn’t drag their usually robust concerts to a halt.
Coming off an album that had three singles as great as “Need You Now,” “American Honey,” and “Hello World” (last heard stirring TV fans at the climax of an “NCIS”), Lady A’s new weepers can’t help but suffer by comparison.
“Just a Kiss,” the album’s first single, has front-people Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley treating the beginning of a relationship with kid gloves and agreeing: “I don’t want to mess this thing up/I don’t want to push too far.”
Those words could serve as the mantra for “We Own the Night,” which is all about not messing with monstrous expectations.
Occasionally, the songs speak in something more than chick-flick clichés. Hillary Scott has said the starkest number, “As You Turn Away,” was written about an ex abruptly breaking up with her (presumably not the fellow to whom she’s now happily engaged).
Even if you haven’t read that, you’ll recognize the real-life hurt when she informs the guy nonchalantly dumping her that staying friends will not be in the cards.
In most of the other songs, though, it’s hard to tell if the threesome and their songwriting collaborators are writing out of personal passion or just a passionate need to avoid the junior jinx.
On “Dancin’ Away With My Heart” — which you can guess, given the predominance of down-tempo material, will reference a slow dance — Kelley and Scott remember romantic glories past and muse, “I can still feel you lean in to kiss me/I can’t help but wonder if you ever miss me.”
But “losing all control”? Not gonna happen, this time. Better that they’d waited to wonder such things until it was a quarter after one and they’d had another shot of the previous album’s miracle-working whiskey.