I guess you could call "Very First Impressions" live-blogging my first listen of an album. I'm sure it's been thought of before, and it may be pointless, but hey, I kind of like the idea. For the time being I'm going to stick to albums that I probably wouldn't purchase or listen to otherwise simply based on singles released or past recorded output. Some thought-blurbs may be heavy on the snark, some may be unexpectedly bursting with praise, but rest assured they will all be initial and based on just one listen (I will probably have to do a little editing after the fact for the sake of clarity). Hopefully it's entertaining, and -- who knows? -- we may just find a few hidden gems buried deep in some of today's most popular mainstream releases. Enjoy.
1) Better Dig Two - Bombastic production ruins what is otherwise a really good song. Hearing the single several times already and it being the first track on the album, I'm not expecting to be a huge fan of what's to come.
2) DONE. - All caps AND a period. Guess they really mean it. More heavy electric guitars. Weird solo at the two-minute mark; I'm not even sure what instrument that is. This also reminds me a whole lot of another popular song, I just can't think of what it is right now. Oh, and Kimberly Perry growls at the end of this one. I can't decide if it's stupid or kinda sexy.
3) Don't Let Me Be Lonely - Finally, the pace slows down a bit. The chorus picks up, gets loud. Again with the production: trying too hard to be an anthem. If I was in the least bit confused at all, this song makes it clear that they decided to move away from the acoustic, bluegrassy instrumentation of songs from their first album. They're not really attempting to build on that, just changed it up completely.
4) Pioneer - Starts with mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar. Will it stay that way? Except for a tasteful marching band-like snare drum, the answer is yes. Oh man, I don't know about the build-up and that ending. They can't help going for the "grand moment." Great up until that point. I see what they were trying to do but wasn't feeling it. Maybe it's a grower.
5) Forever Mine Nevermind - If Queen, Taylor Swift, and Avril Lavigne (mostly the latter two) had a baby, it'd sound like this. Not my thing.
6) Night Gone Wasted - Jesus. Well, okay this one's already growing on me. Dumb background vocals though. After hearing how this one begins you wouldn't think it's the most country-sounding song on the album so far, but it is. You could bust right into a two-step when that chorus kicks in. Interesting song.
7) I Saw A Light - This actually isn't so bad, even with the typical loud guitars that kick in during the chorus. There's mandolin, fiddle, and bagpipes (?) all in the mix. Kimberly Perry truly sounds best on songs like this.
8) Mother Like Mine - Okay, this is unabashedly sentimental and it totally works. A really beautiful tribute to mothers everywhere, and how lost those of us lucky enough to have good ones would be without them. Certainly not traditional country, but perfect subject matter for a country song. It should be the next single. Quoted for truth: "All the wars would all be over, 'cause she'd raise us all as friends."
9) Chainsaw - Okay BP, kind of getting on a roll here. A little bit clever, a little bit cheesy, it's about sawing down that tree you and ex-lover carved your names in back when you were together. This seems to be the most natural progression from some of the singles of the last album. Overall generic production but a few nice touches.
10) I'm A Keeper - Some weird instrumental effect going on here to start off. This, along with "Chainsaw," will be the songs that girls sing the loudest at their live shows. Not terrible, but I'm really not feeling it.
11) Back To Me Without You - Perry's voice shines again on this one, but there are some unnecessary and cheesy I-Hope-You-Dance type of background vocals on the chorus (and that song did them better), which add a whole new level of schmaltz to the song. Again, it's not terrible, but these production choices are questionable.
12) End Of Time - What? Banjo AND steel guitar? Not really sure exactly what it's about yet other than having something to do with the South (sorry, some songs take a few listens, even if it's obvious to some); references to sweet tea, Alabama, and cotton all make an appearance, but it's by no means a "laundry list" song. It's well crafted enough that it's certainly worth listening to some more.
Verdict: Based on the two singles, Pioneer has more country elements than I was expecting. Still, about half the songs I have no interest in listening to again. There is, however, no doubt that this group is much more talented and creative than your typical artist who's gotten millions of spins on country radio. There are a few really good moments on this album, kept from being great even on the best songs by production that's simply too generic (to be sure, Rascal Flatts' producer was at the helm of the album, so it could have been much worse), and that only makes me wish they would have let Rick Rubin stay in the producer's chair. I still find it quite ballsy that they simply said "no thanks" to one of the most prolific producers in all of music, after initially beginning the process with him. Then again, he was probably steering them in a direction they knew country radio would not tolerate, and if you're gonna hang with the cool kids, you better figure out a way to make them keep being your friend.
Best songs: "Night Gone Wasted"; "I Saw A Light"; "Chainsaw"; "End of Time." And I will reiterate again: "Mother of Mine" should be the next single. There shouldn't even be a discussion.