I could tell from the first note of “All We Are” that I was probably going to be disappointed with The Incredible Machine. Any remaining doubt was washed away by the time the song reached its underwhelming chorus. Like the vast majority of Sugarland’s fourth studio album, “All We Are” tries to expand the boundaries of Sugarland’s musical horizon. Sadly, this means leaving behind most of the qualities and quirks that made the duo’s music so enjoyable in the past. Sugarland has created an arena-rock album which features a bombastic production and an equally bombastic vocal from Jennifer Nettles, but amongst all this bombast it lacks any real substance.
Even the great first single “Stuck Like Glue” is fluff. Although, I like to consider it pop fluff with ambition, since it is probably the only song that manages to find the perfect the balance between the progressive sound that The Incredible Machine aims for and their country roots.
Nettles voice has also been slightly “catonic” so to speak, but never before has it been so bad. On the title track, it is nearly impossible to understand at least half of the words she is saying, and almost ruins its enjoyable chorus but repeatedly shouting “calling”. Meanwhile, on “Tonight” she barely sounds recognizable to the Jennifer Nettles we’ve all come to love. The worse offender though has to be her delivery of “Every Girl Like Me”, in which she annoyingly stretches out almost every single note.
Although, it would be unfair to pin all of these albums flaws on Nettles. Bush is credited as producer and co-writer on most tracks, he even performs his on solo number; the ridiculous and downright unnecessary “Incredible Machine (Interlude)”. He also gives a grating vocal performance on the self-empowerment anthem “Stand Up”.
Furthermore, one Sugarland’s many talents was their ability to create a good old hook filled chorus, a talent which is sadly also burried beneath all of this bombast. Songs such as “Tonight” and “Stand Up” both have intriguing verses, but by the time they reach their lackluster and overblown choruses the intrigue is wiped clean.
Still, amongst all this bombast there are a few songs with actual substance. The best and most notable being “Little Miss”, an ode to troubled women which is also by far the most country sounding song on the album. The album closer “Shine The Light” is also another noteworthy song, it doesn’t quite hit its mark like “Little Miss”, but at least it attempts to be something touching and meaningful.
The Incredible Machine is a very ambitious and adventuress album. While I do appreciate their attempt to reinvent themselves, all this ambition and boldness is sadly misguided. The duo nails the “machine” part, but are lacking in the “incredible” area.
Top Tracks: “Stuck Like Glue”, “Little Miss”, “Shine The Light”