Album Review: Little Big Town – ‘Pain Killer’

Little Big Town

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Pain Killer

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Little Big Town and producer Jay Joyce approach Pain Killer with red hued wild abandon, unapologetically subverting convention in favor of experimentation. If they thought of it, they used it, no matter how outlandish the result.

More often than not Pain Killer devolves into heavy rock, often smothering the individual tracks. “Turn The Lights On” is a progressive mess. “Stay All Night” and “Things You Don’t Think About” drown their harmonies in crashing drums. “Faster Gun” turns up the sexy factor with a filter on Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook’s vocal that renders them indistinguishable. “Save Your Sin” is more heavy metal than anything; a waste of what could be a shining moment for Kimberly Schlapman. “Good People” is just more of the same, with rock and pop colliding, but not meshing at all.

The band is slightly more enjoyable on “Quit Breaking Up With Me,” which is catchy, but rests its fortunes on a terribly unintelligent lyric. Lead single “Day Drinking,” which actually has structure and audible mandolin, is a step up from there.

For the remaining tracks, Little Big Town is good, if not great, or excellent. I love the title track, even though it features elements of the album at its worst, because the chorus is excellent and the band sounds engaged like nowhere else on the project. Second single “Girl Crush,” which only could’ve been written in this day and age, is an inventive lyric and one of Karen Fairchild’s most committed vocal performances. I do wish “Live Forever” retained more a country sound, but Joyce should be credited for a beautifully breathable harmony-centric production bed that’s too lush, but still a showcase for the band. Eerily similar is “Silver and Gold,” which keeps the harmonies in the forefront, but could’ve been a bit more interesting if Joyce had borrowed from “Shut Up Train,” one their strongest ballads.

Pain Killer is the blandest album of Little Big Town’s career. The elements of rock, pop, and metal do nothing to elevate their sound and are thus a distraction that deflects from their talent instead of enhancing it. The record is not without its bright spots, like Eric Church’s Joyce-produced The Outsiders. But I find it difficult to derive pleasure from wading through the dense forest to find them.

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2 Responses to “Album Review: Little Big Town – ‘Pain Killer’”

  1. SRM Says:

    I have a theory about “Quit Breaking Up With Me”: It’s not about a relationship, it’s about country radio. If you look at the lyrics, it really works, with Little Big Town demanding when radio will play them on a regular basis (“on and off again like some kind of leak”), since they keep changing their sound to suit the current atmosphere (“always fixing something that was never broken”). It doesn’t excuse the horrid production and Fairchild’s whiny vocal, but it is an interesting way of looking at the song. What do you think?

    • Jonathan Pappalardo Says:

      I totally agree. I hadn’t viewed the song that way. You’re right, it makes perfect sense. I never imagined I’d say this, but with that focus the track actually becomes interesting. This is obviously the perfect song for them since they know better than anyone how fickle country radio can be.

      I’m with you on your other point, too, SRM. Nothing excuses the terrible execution. If they had taken the time to make the production listenable, they could have a very clever hit on their hands. As it stands, if this was to be released, I bet most people wouldn’t be able to turn the dial fast enough.

      Thank you for helping me see this song in a different light. I think I may actually enjoy the tongue-in-cheek aspects of it now.

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