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Sugarland ‘The Incredible Machine’

‘The Incredible Machine’ is Sugarland’s fourth studio album and demonstrates a self-described “creative rebirth” – a rebirth which sees the American duo audaciously jump from one mainstream genre of music us Brits don’t give a damn about to another mainstream genre of music us Brits don’t give a damn about.

Considering they’re barely known in the UK, Sugarland are preposterously popular in the States; this album became their third number one album over there upon its US release in October last year. Will the British finally take to this band – consisting of singer Jennifer Nettles and backing singer/guitarist Kristian Bush – when ‘The Incredible Machine’ is finally released over here on February 7th through Decca Records? I wouldn’t count on it.

Sugarland, who formed in 2002, have made a career out of penning the kind of pop-infused country music that Americans go bananas for. Just consider the bulldozing success of mainstream country artists like Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban in America; they have sold millions and regularly topped the US charts, while the UK has defiantly refused to buy into the genre at all. With Sugarland choosing to move away from their characteristic Nashville country-style on ‘The Incredible Machine’ it seems their record companies – who are fully aware the Brits can’t stomach country music – finally think they have a chance of getting this band noticed in the UK, hence the official UK release of the album.

The predicament that the record companies are facing, however, is that Sugarland’s musical evolution sees them move into yet another subgenre of music that their fellow countrymen adore but the fragile British public don’t tend to tolerate; fist-pumping stadium rock. Many have touted this album as experimental or progressive country music when, in actuality, it’s just your bog-standard, commercially viable, pop-rock. Nettles told publication The Boot: Our audiences want something new!” I’m not convinced that Sugarland’s regular country fans would agree, especially when “something new” means pretty much abandoning country music altogether.

Tracks like opener ‘All We Are’ and ‘Wide Open’ sound like latter day Bon Jovi by-the-numbers, while ‘Find The Beat’ isn’t a million miles away from rock-chick Avril Lavigne. The title track is a finely crafted U2 rip-off and the country-tinged ‘Little Miss’ is so bland it could be anyone from Michelle Branch and Taylor Swift to Counting Crows and even ballad-mode Nickleback. Single ‘Stuck Like Glue’ is a bizarre addition to the album – think upbeat pop-folk in the vein of Jason Mraz, with a chorus so sickly sweet my blood-sugar levels rocketed and I actually passed out. In a press release, Nettles described the song as “just plain, unashamed, Sugar-fun! It sticks in your brain, no pun intended.” It feels more like it’s stuck in my heart somewhere, where it’s going to give me respiratory trouble in later life – that god-awful reggae breakdown towards the end will trouble me for the rest of my days.

It’s not that Sugarland are poor songwriters – their melodies and hooks are confidently composed. It’s just disappointing to hear a band touted to be pushing the country-envelop to be actually turning their hands to writing achingly average rock songs when there is an overabundance of achingly average rock bands already taking care of that task. In their attempt to allegedly push boundaries they have simply paved over their characteristic country grit with a big, commercial motorway of middle of the road mainstream rock music.

To Sugarland’s merit, Nettles voice is as mighty as ever – even if her incessant lyrics about empowerment are rather tedious – and the glossy production is suitably professional. However, the British like their rock a little less spirited and optimistic and a little more whiney and melancholic (i.e. think Coldplay, or anything that sounds like Coldplay). Even if Sugarland had created a masterful stadium pop-rock album full of unique Americana and inspiring lyrics it would still pass us Brits by unnoticed. Note to America, you can keep both your country music and your stadium rock.

Originally published by AAA Music here

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~ by cliveparisrozario on February 7, 2011.

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