The influence of Wanderlust is inherently subtle on the Little Big Town’s eighth studio album. The Pharrell Williams-produced pop record drew upon tropical house, psychedelia and a dash of Justin Bieber schooling of Top 40. As soon as it dropped last summer, all promotion vanished– the tragicness of such an immersive pop record falling by the wayside is among many of 2016’s alarming miscalculations. But, The Breaker is just as sunny a modern country record as you could imagine; in many ways, it is a return to Little Big Town’s granular roots, as they forge a dalliance with Red-era Taylor Swift on “Better Man” and throbbing ’60s funk with the feel-good opener “Happy People.” They comb moody atmospheres, too, as you’ll find on the glossy “Lost in California” and “Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old,” a new wave-influenced slow-jam.
With producer and long-time collaborator Jay Joyce (Eric Church) returning to the helm, the album is polished but lit with the band’s inescapable harmonies and feverish understanding of determined melodies. “Night on Our Side,” “Drivin’ Around” and “Rollin'” are among their most high-escape recordings, steeped in heavy classic rock undertones and a redefinition of their uptempo template. They are rollicking and fun and youthful on much of the album’s 12 tracks.
But then they toss in a 1-2 emotional punch later on the record–the moments are so undeniable, you can’t help but stop in your tracks. “Beat Up Bible” is one of their most searing career songs, rich with Kimberly Schlapman’s charming but raw lead vocal. Her delivery pours from her soul, as she reflects on the significance of her faith to get her through life’s most troubling times, most of all: death. Then, Jimi Westbrook takes the lead on “When Someone Stops Loving You,” a potent heartbreak song which touches on all the essential experiences: sorrow, pain, anger and release. “When someone stops loving you, it don’t make the evening news,” he wails. “It don’t keep the sun from rising, the clock from winding, your heart from beating…even when you want it to…”
The Breaker is polished down but resembles a band coming to terms with what it means to be progressive but hold onto country’s roots in 2017. Already making a bid for one of the year’s best mainstream country records, it’s poppy and breezy but not without a spiritual and quite affecting life line. It’s a roller coaster, for sure, which zips through the sky at a blood-curdling rate and gives the listener little room to process it all.
Must-Listen Tracks: “Beat Up Bible,” “When Someone Stops Loving You,” “We Went to the Beach,” “Happy People”
Grade: 4.7 out of 5