LITTLE BIG TOWN, “WANDERLUST” ALBUM REVIEW

*The photo above is Little Big Town’s concert in New York City.

It was interesting to see the feedbacks from Little Big Town’s fans on iTunes regarding their latest album, “Wanderlust”, even before released on June 10. Many of them are negative. Such as “it’s not Little Big Town”, “it’s not country music”, “it’s a crappy or boring dance music”, etc. Even the album was released, “Wanderlust” got only 3 stars on iTunes as of June 10. Oh, wow. That controversy?

My opinion. I don’t think “Wanderlust” isn’t a bad album. I think the overall quality is pretty nice, and I like the album. Honestly, their previous hit album “Pain Killer” was more shocking for me. The music style of “Pain Killer” made many changes from their previous “Tornado” and “The Reason Why” albums, although “Tornado” and “The Reason Why” were different, too. Changes and new challenges are always good if they still match with musicians’ characteristic. But I felt Little Big Town lost their musical direction on “Pain Killer” with several dull songs. I didn’t feel tightness from “Pain Killer” , although the album title was good and strong, thus “Pain Killer” didn’t exceed their previous albums. Also, I  felt like “Pain Killer” was Karen Fairchild’s solo album, not Little Big Town’s band album. Fairchild took the lead vocal on the half of the songs. All important hit songs, “Day Drinking”, “Pain Killer” and “Girl Crush” were sung by Fairchild. I like Fairchild’s vocal as much as other members, but I think one of the most attractive parts of Little Big Town is all four members have good voices and can make songs fierce. Although most of other bands have only one specific lead vocalist, Little Big Town credits all members as vocalists, and that supposes to be their important characteristic. I was disappointed that their important characteristic was declined with “Pain Killer”.

The first thing I noticed upon listening “Wanderlust” was a better group unity than “Pain Killer”. All members took vocal on each song with this new album. The half of all 8 songs has the main vocalist on each (One Dance, C’mon, Work, and Willpower), but they don’t give me an impression that the main vocalist dominates all the singing role on those songs because other vocals are harmonized with good balance. Other 4 songs (One Of Those Days, Skinny Dippin’, Miracle, and The Boat) don’t have a specific main vocalist and are enjoyable with the good harmony of all 4 members. That is a kind of getting back to their basic in a positive way.

The second thing I noticed was good song qualities. I think “Wanderlust” is musically the extension of “Pain Killer” album. Many people might say “huh? serious?” with my opinion. Let’s compare with “Pain Killer” album. “C’mon”, “One Of Those Days”, and “Willpower” are similar with the refreshing side of their previous album such as “Quit Breaking Up With Me”, “Day Drinking”, and “Pain Killer”. “One Dance” is between that refreshing side and “Save Your Sin”. “Work” is “Stay All Night” side, “Miracle” is “Tumble and Fall” side plus alpha. “The Boat” is “Faster Gun” side plus more 60’s flavor. Maybe the only exception is “Skinny Dippin'”, surprisingly this song is a new style to Little Big Town, even though sounds like a standard country tune. The difference with those songs of “Pain Killer” is the songs of “Wanderlust” are tighter and better melody oriented. I also think the good blend of each vocal harmony contributes to enhancing the songs.
“Wanderlust” is lighter than “Pain Killer” but I don’t think that means Little Big Town’s new album becomes pop. “Wanderlust” is still a country album for me. Maybe Fairchild said “Wanderlust” isn’t a country album or other medias described this as a pop album, buy only “One Dance”, “One of Those Days” and  “Miracle” sounds like a little different from country, not major. It’s a different story with Taylor Swift went to different world from her initial “country” category. Country music has the different styles like other genres, and its styles expanded more recently like many country dudes don’t wear cowboy hat anymore, right ? Little Big Town wasn’t an orthodox country band even before, so I feel this step is natural.

I assume the majority of the reasons for those fans who are not into “Wanderlust” is it’s hard for them to accept Pharrell Williams is the producer of this album. For those people who knew Pharrell Williams recently, he is probably a “pop star” being famous by “Happy”. That might make people feel that “Wanderlust” is a pop album. If so, that’s a sad side effect of his popular cheerful and light pop song.
I consider Pharrell Williams as a very talented musician and a producer, as well as a true music lover who can respect other music and genre. If people know Pharrell Williams for a while, I think they know he’s an all-rounded artist. First of all, he is not a pop star. He can do hip-hop like he did with The Neptunes or his first solo album “In My Mind”. He is good on playing heavy metal as he did with N*E*R*D (N*E*R*D’s first album, In Search Of… was an amazing heavy metal album I still love). He can sing like his latest “Girl” album. And his work on producing the music, brilliant. “Happy” was one big exception on his music (but o.k. I admit. I don’t like “Happy”. Still too cheesy for me).
Sure Pharrell Williams has the urban flavor. He isn’t a country artist. But produced by him and including his voice simply doesn’t mean Little Big Town’s new album made an exit from country music.  I don’t think Williams killed Little Big Town’s music direction. I rather think he understood and pull up the best part of Little Big Town. Let’s pick up “One Dance”, which has an obvious Pharrell effect with his background vocal. The beginning of this song features Williams’ voice, and might give listeners an impression as this song is pop or urban. But I think this song rather has voodoo flavor with afro-beats in a country layer. I think that’s a new essence William brought to the band. Honestly, I was a little anxious before listening “Wanderlust”, but I think Williams contributed to enhancing Little Big Town’s music tighter as the result of good vocal work and good song collections.

And definitely, Little Big Town isn’t no fool. They’re always the challengers. They’re also real music lovers with high artistry, one of the reasons I like them, and I think they knew the combo with Pharrell Williams would be interesting and successful. But also I think they sure know it’s risky to jump to a completely different music style and production. I think that is the reason why they released “Wanderlust” as a summer special collaboration mini album with only 8 songs in 25 minutes. Nobody has stated whether “Wanderlust” is a full album or mini-album even on the band’s social medias (they just described their new product as a collaboration album on Facebook), but I don’t think this is a full album. Even the cover photo isn’t a full album material but special, easy going product material. Their previous full albums have an average of 11-13 songs in 40 minutes length, so I think it’s natural to think “Wanderlust” is a special mini album. Plus now is summertime and travel season now, a safe season to release such a refreshing mini album named “Wanderlust”. If the band released this album in winter, maybe different interpretation might be caused.
What I look forward to is how they will be evolved on their next full album. Whether they will keep on this direction or go back to previous roots? Or whether they will sing together on all songs or back to individual lead singer basis? Let’s see…

“WANDERLUST” SONG LIST
1. One Dance
2. C’mon
3. One of Those Days
4. Work
5. Skinny Dippin’
6. Willpower
7. Miracle
8. The Boat

LISTEN “WANDERLUST” BY LITTLE BIG TOWN (iTunes/Apple Music)

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