Lady Antebellum has spent the last 10 years releasing consistently high quality country music, but it also feels like they create different forms of the same song over and over again. It’s always disappointing when the group’s latest track sounds a little too familiar, but the result of so much repetition is that they’ve truly mastered the format. Lady Antebellum’s typical single—an anecdotal love song with keen attention to detail and perfect harmonies—works well for them every time. And their latest release, Ocean, is no different.
The 13-track album is characterized by humdrum tracks, yet sometimes gems of songs that feel like breaths of fresh air pierce the monotony. It comes in waves, with the record’s strongest points coming at the beginning, middle, and end—starting off on the high of Ocean’s lead single, “What If I Never Get Over You.” Co-lead singer Hillary Scott’s soft, vulnerable voice in the lead-in to the song immediately lets the listener know that Ocean digs a little deeper than the group’s most recent releases. The smooth flow of Lady Antebellum’s harmonies builds in intensity throughout cathartic lines such as “What if I’m trying, but then I close my eyes / And then I’m right back, lost in that last goodbye?”
The group’s previous release, 2017’s Heart Break, featured incredible instrumentals best exemplified on its hit single, “You Look Good.” The album was made to be performed live, and the band excelled at doing so. But the lyrics lacked depth and the raw emotion that Lady Antebellum is known for. The group traded its typically touching lines for saxophones and a funkier, faster beat.
With Ocean, the group retreats back to its ballad-centric roots, using songs like “Be Patient With My Love” to let gleaming moments of emotion shine through. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t feature faster, poppier tracks—“You Can Do You” and “Boots” both reflect their previous experimental phase—but unfortunately, they don’t meet the caliber of those on their last record and feel utterly out of place on Ocean.
The most entrancing segment of the record comes at the very end. The last five songs are packed with detailed storylines dripping with silky-smooth harmonies. “On A Night Like This” kicks off the album’s dive into the most impactful string of songs yet. The track is reminiscent of a Christmas song, with a slow, twinkling sound and introspective, enchanting lyrics. It has no chorus, instead telling a story of unrequited love, comparing the feeling to the cold weather outside.
“The Thing That Wrecks You” is one of the record’s standouts. The introspective track features Little Big Town, a group just as good—or even better—at classic country harmonies than Lady Antebellum. It makes for a fantastic auditory experience, with lyrics that tug at the heartstrings in a soft and calming way. From there, the group launches into “Mansion” and “Ocean,” the album’s title track. “Mansion” is the quintessential Lady Antebellum radio hit—it’s strikingly similar to previous hits “Bartender” and “Heart Break”—featuring a rolling, upbeat tempo with a feel-good focus. While it may not rank highly on the list of Lady Antebellum’s best songs, it does a great job of setting the stage for the record’s final song.
“Ocean” encompasses everything Lady Antebellum does well—it’s a song about fragile, near-broken love that is almost painful to listen to, but in the best way. Scott’s voice is soft and ethereal throughout, allowing the details of the lyrics to shine. The cyclical, steady piano complements the vocals perfectly, rocking the listener to and fro, emulating the ocean’s waves.
The album begins and ends on emotional, vulnerable notes—both inviting the listener in and leaving them with heavier thoughts than expected. Its return to a more open and cathartic style will undoubtedly bode well for Lady Antebellum. Ever since the group entered the scene with “Need You Now,” it has established itself as a ballad powerhouse. Ocean is definitely not the band’s top release, but it strikes an effective balance between a newer style reflective of country’s evolving sound and loyalty to what has always sounded best.
Featured Image by Capitol Records Nashville