Own the Night
[Rating: 3 stars]
They should’ve called it Own the Airwaves.
When Lady Antebellum released their last album in January 2010, “Need You Now” had already been a radio hit for months. This time around, the band unleashes Own the Night nearly half a year after debuting its lead single, “Just a Kiss,” on an episode of American Idol. If there ever was a band that knew the ins and outs of radio – how to get on it, stay on it, and bridge the great divide between pop and country stations – it’s these Nashville cats, who bring a familiar mix of down-home earthiness and hi-fi production gloss to Own the Night.
This isn’t high art. For every well-placed mandolin run or B-3 organ riff, there’s something equally tacky to balance things out, like the distorted guitar that turns “Friday Night” into a poorly drawn caricature of rock & roll. On the more twangy tracks, Lady Antebellum sometimes resorts to ol’ fashioned pandering, offering up the same clichéd country images – lemonade in the summertime, kisses in the moonlight, cars on the highway – that fill most county songs by lesser artists. You can’t help but wish that the bandmates, who co-wrote ten of the album’s twelve tracks, would’ve approached songwriting with the same sort of adventurousness that informs their singing.
The singing really works, though, with the band stacking its harmonies three voices deep at every twist and turn. Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott sing like they’re lovers – estranged ones during the ballads, happy ones during the uptempo tunes — and they blur the line between harmony and counterpoint to the point where can’t tell who’s singing the main melody and who’s providing support. Dave Haywood plays more of a behind-the-scenes role, but his baritone is in there, too, thickening up the chords from the bottom. None of the songs tug on the heartstrings quite as well as “Need You Now,” but the title track strikes the same sunny chord as “American Honey,” and “Singing Me Home” points the band toward Los Lonely Boys territory with encouraging results.