Lady Antebellum come in for a smooth landing on '747'

Capitol Records

By Gregory Hicks, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 29, 2014

Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood are likely to do some nail biting this week, because quite a bit is riding on a smooth takeoff for 747. While the group hasn’t failed to churn out No. 1 songs from Own the Night and Golden, the truth is, each of Lady A’s albums have declined in sales since Need You Now swept the country scene. So, the group decided to switch gears for its latest release — not just for a different sound (like that of its 2013 hit, “Downtown”), but an aggressive, in-your-face style.

Lady Antebellum

Capitol Nashville

Or at least, that was the group’s plan. Short of “Long Stretch of Love,” “Bartender” and “Freestyle,” the album is still elegant country. A heavier kick and snare can’t disguise that. It spits a little more fire relative to Lady A’s conventional delicateness, but it’s far from the proclaimed gutsiness. Not exactly an Eric Church record.

And frankly, Jay Joyce (Church’s producer) would’ve been a more fitting producer over Nathan Chapman, given what the group was shooting for. Joyce is the current leader in edgy country pop, after all. Arguably, however, Little Big Town beat Lady A to the chase in 2012, when the quartet hired Joyce to reinvent its sound for an added edge.

With all this producer talk, let’s talk Nathan Chapman — Lady A’s producer replacement for Paul Worley. For those unfamiliar, Chapman is notable for being Taylor Swift’s Grammy-winning producer on Fearless, Speak Now and Red. Chapman certainly brought more momentum to Lady A’s sound this time around (particularly in the percussive/rhythm guitar area), but also couldn’t help but bring a heap of his famous country pop glitter. The usual country piano-pop continues to dance around Kelley and Scott in (to name a few) “She Is” and “747,” making the Worley-to-Chapman switch a distinction without a difference.

Take the record for what it is and 747 is a smooth landing. As a typical Lady A-formulaic manufactured record, it’s an attractive, emotionally grasping LP — heartwrenching at “Damn You Seventeen,” yearning at “Lie With Me,” blushing at “She Is.” But don’t expect the album to cop an attitude in its sound. Lady A shot for hardcore and Chapman landed them at softcore.

The trio still shoots Crown over Fireball, and name drops Motown over Music City.