By Chris Richards
What might be the most heart-mashing ballad ever written about a late-night booty call doubles as the title track of Lady Antebellum's new album "Need You Now." Somber and eloquent, the song's refrain captures that dangerous, irrepressible desire to reconnect with an ex-lover at the wrong time - "a quarter after one," to be precise.
"I'd rather hurt than feel nothing at all," Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley harmonize, conjuring the bittersweet blur of abandon, excitement and sorrow that comes with such a wee-hours rendezvous. She's pining at home. He's moping at the bar. They're both eyeing the telephone, "a little drunk" and plenty heartsick. Sparks fly.
Too bad it's the only instance on Lady Antebellum's sophomore album in which Scott or Kelley sound like their feelings are in jeopardy. The sad-drunk swirl rendered so acutely here quickly gives way to mush on the disc's 10 remaining tracks, a cluster of soft-rock tunes that boast just enough steel guitar to keep Lady Antebellum CDs in the country music aisles.
(Wishier and washier, after the jump.)
And yes, this is a band that still moves units. The group's platinum-selling self-titled debut continues to lurk near the top of Billboard's album chart despite being released almost two years ago. The trio, completed by instrumentalist and back-up vocalist Dave Haywood, is also up for a couple of Grammys on Sunday, including best country song and best country performance by a duo or group with vocals - BCPBADOGWV, for short.
Such accolades are frustrating considering Lady Antebellum's failure to exploit its potential. Make those soft songs a little sadder and the band approaches the magical dominion of Fleetwood Mac. Add some edge to those dishwater lyrics and the group's guy-girl dynamic packs a hot, new charge.
"Our Kind of Love" fails at the latter, with Scott and Kelley cast as lovers playing hot potato with the microphone, singing one another's praises with forgettable results. The tamest, lamest lyrics often seem to fall from Kelley's mouth: "You wear your smile like a summer sky just shining down on me and you."
It gets both wishier and washier. The sunny nostalgia of "American Honey" showcases Scott's sterling pipes, but the melodies remain flavorless. "Stars Tonight" is a drab song about living wild. "Perfect Day" has the charm of Wednesday.
One more gripe: Kelley seems like the kind of guy who hogs the mike at the karaoke bar. He dominates this album with his smug tenor, leaving Scott to trill in the background all too often.
He would have been wise to let his co-pilot take the wheel on "When You Got a Good Thing," a song that flirts with the heat of "Need You Now" but cools during the second verse, with Kelley's lyrics sounding like they were cribbed from Hallmark. "You know you keep on bringing out the best in me," he croons. "And I need you now even more than the air I breathe."
He's far more charming drunk-dialing his ex from the shadows.
Recommended Track: "Need You Now"