Sometimes I jadedly suspect musicians write breakup tunes merely because they know such songs sell.
Other times when I'm listening to a lament about love left twisting cruelly in the wind, I find the subject so powerful that it breaches my skepticism, and I can't help but wonder if the inspiration was autobiographical.
The latter is frequently the case on Pioneer, the sophomore effort from the sibling country trio known as The Band Perry. An example: On "Done.," lead singer Kimberly Perry bristles with venomous, self-righteous rage as she spits, "I'm through with you/You're one bridge I'd like to burn/Bottle up the ashes, smash the urn/I'm through with you." There's so much fury here it's hard to imagine she's faking.
So somebody better tell Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift that they're not the only players in the revenge-song game anymore. And then ask the question: Is there more to Pioneer than just venting bitter post-romantic bile?
Kimberly's ire toward an ex in "Done." illustrates her sense of self-respect. She tells the "selfish," game-playing manipulative cad, "I don't wanna be your just for fun/ … All I wanna be is done." Similarly simmering righteous indignation bubbles up on "Forever Mine Nevermind" when she rakes him over the coals for (among other things) courting her trust, then betraying it.
But love doesn't always end bitterly for the Perrys. "I Saw a Light" frames a new romance in awe-filled religious terms: "Some heard thunder and so did I/I swear it happened when your eyes met mine/Maybe it was just the way the wind blew/Maybe it was God and His Son too/But in that moment I know that I knew/That I, I found you."
"Mother Like Mine" gushes with loving praise for the many ways the Perrys' devoted mom loves and serves their family. "She's the lady of the house/A blind believer in all I dare to be/There's no safer place I've found/Than the shoulder of her white nightgown." Meanwhile, the title track praises pioneers who pursue their dreams and warns against letting doubting naysayers have too much influence ("Be careful of the careful souls who doubt you along the way").
Getting back to the brokenhearted side of things, "Back to Me Without You" explores a woman's need to reclaim her identity after a failed relationship. And "Better Dig Two" is written from the point of a view of a woman who, admirably, can't imagine life without her husband. We hear about her pre-wedding commitment to purity ("Made you wait 'til our wedding night"), as well as her ironclad fidelity after the ceremony ("I told you on the day we wed/I was gonna love you 'til I's dead"). That she feels she couldn't live without him comes across as a healthy romantic sentiment until …
… she starts singing about nooses and graves should her husband divorce her or pass away ("So if the ties that bind ever do come loose/Tie them in a knot like a hangman's noose").
Chugging down that same track, "Done." migrates from self-respect to metaphorical threats when Kimberly sings, "I'm gonna put you in your place/You play with dynamite, don't be surprised/When I blow up in your face." In more literal territory, "Forever Mine Nevermind" tells us, "My brothers broke the bad news that you broke the truth/So I smashed my right hand open/When I smashed the nose on you." And rejection leads to more score-settling on "Chainsaw," as a woman cuts down the tree she and a childhood love once carved their names into.
"Forever Mine Nevermind" includes a line about a young woman losing her virginity ("My best friend lost her innocence in her boyfriend's rowboat"). "Don't Let Me Be Lonely" finds a woman in a car with a guy throwing caution to the wind as she instructs, "Take the keys to my car and the keys to my heart and just drive." Then, suggestively, "Give me all that you are/You've got nothing to lose/Just don't let me be lonely."
"Night Gone Wasted" never mentions alcohol explicitly, but it does describe a group of friends letting lose at a favorite watering hole: "We're all getting loud and we're moving our feet/As we do our best to let things get out of hand/It's a night gone wasted again."
The Band Perry seems to have all the ingredients for sustained country superstardom in place. These two guys and a gal have a sound that blends traditional country flourishes with heaping doses of pop-rock crossover appeal (à la Lady Antebellum and Sugarland). Their backstory about three talented siblings making good is made for the genre. And their frontwoman has a penchant for delivering fresh and feisty takes on tried-and-true country and pop music clichés.
More than the cliché part of that description, it's the words fresh and feisty that summarize The Band Perry's second effort. And they're defined in both positive and negative ways. They give us self-respect amid broken relationships and committed ardor amid loving ones … while sometimes pushing things too far in the name of righting romantic wrongs and having a "good" time.