Most of us have by now come to accept that ? modern country music is more a state of mind than a particular sound, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Sugarland’s latest is essentially a full-blown rock album. If only it weren’t, more specifically, a Bon Jovi album. The Incredible Machine‘s first single ”Stuck Like Glue” is the odd song out here, relying on their old acoustic/Americana sound. Nearly everything else seems to be expressly designed to fill the aarenas that the duo has been headlining —?self-consciously huge, pounding, ? midtempo songs that are short on nuance and long on inspirational bromides.
There’s nothing wrong with ”anthemic” as an adjective, but it’s troublesome when it gets made into its own genre. Said trouble here begins with ”All We Are,” on which Mutt Lange-style chants back ? Jennifer Nettles’ vows that her generation ”won’t give up the fight,” whatever that may be. Later come admonitions to ”stand up and use your voice” and ”open up your heart and let it in” (on ”Find the Beat Again,” where they trade Bon Jovi for Blondie). Mostly missing amid these self-esteem boosters are the twin hallmarks that made their previous work so well-rounded: the sheer goofiness of 2008’s ”It ? Happens” and the sheer heartbreak of 2006’s ”Stay.” When having 15,000 fans wave their cell phones in the air goes from a nifty career aftereffect to the very reason for writing songs, it seems like something is amiss. C+
The Incredible Machine