Own the Night
The headlines conjured-up images of crystal chandeliers crashing to the floor, rows of luxury velvet seats set alight and tuxedo-wearing rock stars scrambling to protect teenage pop queens from the debris. News that something called "Lady Antebellum" had unexpectedly stormed the Grammys could almost have been the climax of a Godzilla-style disaster movie. Possibly about a 40-storey tall black widow spider - a recent escapee from Monster Island, with a genetically enhanced cranium and an unparalleled distaste for contemporary pop.
But, alas, it wasn't to be. "The US country music act Lady Antebellum ... won five gongs, including song and record of the year ..." continued the coverage. So not only was the terrifyingly named Lady Antebellum not a giant arthropod, it wasn't anything scary at all - not even a scary musical act.
But how had the big winner at this year's Grammys - scooping more awards than even Lady Gaga, Eminem or Arcade Fire - been a group that so many of us had never heard of?
The press notes for their third album, Own the Night, only confuse things further, claiming the band's last LP "has sold over five million copies across the globe". Upon further inspection, the band's 2010 release Need You Now, was indeed a multi-platinum seller, but - and here, finally, is the point - it had barely grazed the top 10 anywhere outside of North America.
In fact, the group's Grammy success inspired an article in The Guardian under the headline "Why can't Lady Antebellum find success in the UK?" - it could have asked the same of "Europe", "Asia", or even "the rest of the world". The answer is simply because - unlike Batman, bubblegum or the blues - the US has never succeed at exporting country music with anything like the success it has with so many other things.
"Lady A", as they like to call themselves, offer a sound that is for the most part less ghastly than much of what the country pop genre has to offer. First track We Owned the Night opens with delicate mandolin picking and old-timey organ. But the few seconds of Appalachian-tinged promise quickly disappear as the tune morphs into a kind of victory anthem, replete with cloying pop-rock production and the same male/female vocal harmonies delivering every line.
Later on, Friday Night represents the album's most upbeat moment, littered with electric guitar solos and lyrics as imaginative as "we can be together / let the good times roll forever" and "I wanna be your lemonade / in the shade / money in your pocket / cause you just got paid". Like bad love poetry, it's banal, but there's also a sincerity and good naturedness that makes it difficult to hate outright.
Much of the rest of the LP comprises ballads, presumably intended to make Alabama-dwelling men called Wilbur weep into their overalls. The Gaelic-inflected Cold As Stone is one of the more memorable entries, gently unwinding with singers Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott each delivering verses with uncharacteristic restraint. Meanwhile, lead single Just a Kiss is country pop at its most unadventurous; the story of an uneasy romance backed with drab mid-tempo guitars and vastly overwrought vocals on top.
Although clearly not a group blessed with much lyrical flair, Lady Antebellum show a versatility and skill at arrangement that many of their contemporaries don't possess. Make no mistake: this is country pop at its schmaltziest, but done with some skill. Enough to convince those living beyond the shores that spawned this music to give a damn?