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…music reviews: “Just a Kiss” Lady Antebellum

May 18, 2011

“Just a Kiss” Lady Antebellum (Billboard Hot 100 #7, Week of May 21, 2011)

Whitney and Mariah and all the hair-metal bands used to maintain a stranglehold on #1 with power ballads left and right during the ’80s and ’90s.  The past several years have been very unkind to ballads, however, as they’ve become seemingly unmarketable.  Even Disney film ballads fail to make a blip on the charts anymore.

This makes the #7 entry of Lady Antebellum’s new single all the more surprising.  “Just a Kiss” is a gorgeous, orchestrated slow-burn composition in the grand tradition of the ’80s power ballad.  The piano and vocal opening is vaguely reminiscent of REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” the granddaddy of hokey rock ballads.

Despite this slightly unsavory resemblance, it recovers nicely through the first verse with a lyrical progression closer to Stevie Wonder’s “Lately.”  By the time it hits the first chorus, the full pop-country glory of the song has been revealed, and you can pretty much guess each and every transition until the fadeout.

Strategically, this is a logical progression from the group’s first megahit, “Need You Now,” with the same pent-up, polite longing and gentle vocal chemistry between Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott.

To my ears, it’s also a lot less identifiable as a country record.  It’s so far over on the pop end of the country-pop spectrum, it makes Taylor Swift sound like Loretta Lynn.  And it makes Rihanna’s upcoming single “California King Bed” sound like Taylor Swift.  And it makes Lady Antebellum sound like… well, I won’t say REO Speedwagon.  I wouldn’t sully their moment of glory like that.

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