Country music fans have been waiting two years for Sugarland's newest, and they will not be disappointed - unless, that is, they expect more of the same. This CD is nothing like the three albums they released in 2004, 2006, and 2008. It's far less twangy and far more rocking, as much Melissa Etheridge as Dixie Chicks.
This may be good or bad news, depending on how you feel about the change. Incredible Machine has the biggest sound the band has ever produced: sweeping, stadium-filling anthems that show off Jennifer Nettles' commanding voice, especially the first two tracks, "All We Are" and the title song. The third track is the already-released single, "Stuck Like Glue," a radio-friendly hit that epitomizes country-pop, with a brief, strange detour into reggae-rap.
The fourth track, "Tonight," is a heartfelt ballad that bears an uncanny resemblance to the aforementioned Etheridge. The fifth, on the other hand, contains the harmonies and themes we've come to expect from Sugarland. Called "Stand Up," it gives Kristian Bush his first solo vocal part on this CD and has the potential to be a huge hit on country radio.
The album's second half kicks off with the very peppy "Every Girl Like Me," followed by another Nettles showcase, a fine country ballad called "Little Miss." The next track is unfortunately the least successful song on the CD, "Find the Beat Again," in which Nettles sounds for all the world like Deborah Harry of Blondie fame. Whatever this song is, it ain't country! The album concludes with a straight-ahead rocker produced for the Winter Olympics, "Wide Open," and a gospel ballad accompanied by solo piano called "Shine the Light." Both are powerful, but the former is irresistibly catchy while the latter is positively conventional.
What to make of this outing? I enjoy rock and power ballads, and since we've heard plenty of traditional country songs from Nettles and Bush, I'm inclined to give them the freedom to experiment. But the CD is definitely a crossover, so country purists will call it a mixed bag at best and an utter betrayal at worst. If that happens, it will be a shame, a negation of the many enjoyable musical moments on the album. And who cares what they think? I liked it.