The older we get, the more we tend to reminisce about the past. Country quartet Little Big Town indulges that tendency with gusto on its eighth studio album, The Breaker.
Karen Fairchild, one of the band’s primary singers, told radio.com, “There’s lots of threads on the album of home and family and memories. It has kind of a nostalgic feeling in songs like ‘Free’ and ‘Beat Up Bible’ and ‘We Went to the Beach’.” More than a few songs unpack poignant recollections, often focusing on the virtue of just being present with those we love.”
But fond memories aren’t the only subjects the band explores, one that fuses typical country stylings with some very pop-oriented sounds. There are heartrending breakups to navigate. And there are also moments to be seized, in good ways and bad, in addition to all that sentimental musing and meandering.
“Beat up Bible” is about a well-loved copy of the Good Book that’s been passed down from generation to generation: “It’s been held in the hands/Of all the ones that I love/It might be falling off the binding, but every line still holds up.” We hear about one family matriarch who was devoted to that Bible (“That old recliner/In this living room/She was sitting right there, teaching me a prayer”). The song affirms Scripture as the place “where you find the truth, you find the proof, of how love still is.” The older woman’s influence is evident: “I can hear her saying/’Baby, when you praying/Give Him all your worries, He’ll give you all you need.'” And when it was that woman’s time to die, “She said, ‘Baby, don’t cry. I’m going to see the one who rolled away the stone.” The song’s lone “edgy” lyric flirts with this spiritual/profane double entendre: “Worn out and torn up/Don’t look like much, but it gets you through hell.”
“Happy People” looks at some of the behaviors of those who embody that trait: “Happy people don’t cheat/Happy people don’t lie/ … Happy people don’t hate/Happy people don’t steal.” We also hear correlations between happiness and humility, patience, kindness, generosity and family, as well as the assertion that those who are happy “know the Golden Rule.”
“Free” marinates in memories, suggesting that the best things in life aren’t material things, but relationships with loved ones: “Deck of cards in the kitchen/Cool breeze from our summer screen door/Grandma readin’ love letters/Grandpa wrote her in the war.” The chorus comments, “All those memories/Free/Didn’t cost us anything/All the shiny cars, perfect yards/Chasin’ store-bought dreams/We work so hard to have it all/When all the things we want are free.” In a similar vein, the first half of “We Went to the Beach” recalls the sandy glory of family vacations spent seaside.
“Lost in California” counsels, “Hold on to the freedom and the wonder.” “Better Man” finds a lonely, pining woman reminding herself that her decision to give a self-centered guy the boot was the right one, even though she misses him. She wonders what might have been had he been a “better man.” “Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old” is focused on the present moment, but it also ponders persevering through future trials in the future (“Not a thing in the world that we can’t make it through together”).
“When Someone Stops Loving You” talks of how those who’ve suffered a heartache must still soldier on through the mundane stuff of everyday life. Title track and album ender “The Breaker” unpacks a man’s guilt at breaking a woman’s heart.
“Happy People” delivers another iteration of the old cliché, “If it feels right, it can’t be wrong” when the band sings, “Here’s to whatever puts a smile on your face/Whatever makes you happy, people.”
“Night on Our Side” includes some very mildly suggestive lyrics: “We make the rules ’til day is dawning/And anything can happen under the moonlight/ … Our love can still be wild.” Lines on “Lost in California” are similarly sensual without getting too specific: “I just wanna burn, I just wanna burn for you baby/Wanna get caught, get caught up in your summertime.” “Better Man” implies that a seemingly unmarried, now broken-up couple once shared a bed: “Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again.” Likewise the track “When Someone Stops Loving You”: “Sleep on that mattress where her body left a curve.” (Elsewhere, that song also talks of a woman getting drunk and the hope of a late-night rendezvous between two lonely former lovers.)
The second half of “We Went to the Beach” fondly recalls drinking, smoking and trying to connect with the opposite sex during spring break: “It was PBRs and tiki bars/Don’t take my fake ID/It was cigarettes, girls we just met/And making out on lifeguard seats.” Then there’s this mildly profane assessment: “Girl, don’t you hate to leave?/It’s been one h— of a week.” (A handful of other uses of “h—” and “d–n” turn up elsewhere on the album.) “When Someone Stops Loving You” “Rollin'” references smoking and gambling.
The Breaker is an understated, at times quietly moving pop-country effort. We don’t get bro-country exploits or leering objectification of women. What we do get, content-wise, are some subtle nods to physical relationships that have since been sundered, and the obvious emotional wounds cutting those ties has inflicted. Isolated alcohol references turn up here and there too.
More often, however, Little Big Town mines memories and tells stories that are downright uplifting. We hear about an older woman, likely a grandmother, who taught her granddaughter about Scripture. We’re reminded that family, combined with life’s simple pleasures, is what leads to true contentment. We’re challenged to remember that sometimes being happy and being good are actually connected.
There may be some fractured hearts on The Breaker, and a few ways of medicating that pain that aren’t the best. But on balance, I think Little Big Town’s latest focuses more on being whole than it does being broken.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.