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Unless you have watched much American Idol or are well-versed with the niche-market of country music, then you are unlikely to be too familiar with Kellie Pickler. Having scored a positive reviews with her platinum selling debut, 'Small Town Girl', she faced immense pressure to deliver the notoriously difficult sophomore album. The album, simply titled - Kellie Pickler - is an album hard to resist. In a genre that can sometimes be a little too samey, Kellie's personality has infiltrated it's way into every song. She reminds me of Dolly Parton in that she is one of a handful of artists who can convincingly do both comedy and heartbreak on the same album, and where she's not doing either, she is no less compelling.
The opening track, 'Don't You Know You're Beautiful', evokes the same sentiments behind Martina McBride's 'This One's For the Girls'. This cheerful and up-beat track has a strong guitar line, and an anthemic sing-a-long chorus. It's lyrics speak of battling issues with body image and self-esteem, culminating in the particularly powerful bridge of: "So he left you for a girl that could be your twin, if you were 28 again.../Let him go, just let him fly, keep your head up, get on with your life," Kellie declares inspirationally. There's a high-level of sincerity in her voice, which I think helps rescue the song from becoming too syrupy (which is always a potential problem with this kind of subject matter). Ultimately, it's an infectiously catchy and wonderfully cheerful start to the album.
At first I didn't really click with 'I'm Your Woman'. The repetitive chorus of 'Whoa-oh-oh-oh, I'm your woman' did little to reel me in. However, with repeated listens, I've begun to fall victim to the song's charm. It is admittedly a disposable up-tempo country-pop ditty, but it is undeniably fun, which I think does a good job of reflecting this singer's spirited personality. It adds very little, but helps to consolidate some of her appeal.
The clattering drums and aggressive guitar licks help reflect the tone of 'Rocks Instead of Rice'. Beginning with an ominous opening declaration of: "Long white limousine pulls up to the church/A sick part of me, wishes it was a hearse" quite quickly establishes the scenario of crashing your cheating ex's wedding. Witty, and irrestibly catchy, the addictive chorus stays with you: "Well it might not be too Christian of me/And it might not be too nice/but I wish we were all just standing around throwing rocks instead of rice." The song is a sort of black-comedy and I just love everything about it. A unique twist on the subject matter, and it's easily one of the most memorable country songs I've heard in years. A real stand-out.
Curiously enough, this is not the first time that 'Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You?' has appeared on a Kellie Pickler album. This track has been remixed (with incredible electric guitars and powerful drums) and is now, close to a rock power ballad. Singing about the devastating feeling after losing a boyfriend, she describes the rollercoaster of emotions with conviction ("From falling apart, to fighting mad/From wanting you back to not giving a damn") but ultimately in the chorus, shows vulnerability with that all too painful question: "Didn't you know how much I loved you?". With vocals soaring, and a fantastic guitar solo, this song ticks all the right boxes and really adds some emotional intensity which the previous three tracks lacked.
'Lucky Girl' begins with the twanging of a steel guitar, and it's fresh production, slowly evolves into a southern rock inspired mid-tempo. I really like the message of the song (exploring the idea that it was she, not the other woman, who ended up being the lucky girl because she left her man) and there's undeniable charisma with which Kellie delivers the lyrics, but the song doesn't quite hit the spot. It's pleasant, but with little modulation in the melody, it doesn't really go anywhere.
One of the most beautiful songs on the album has to be 'One Last Time'. Kellie's vocals on this piano-led ballad are some of her best to date, because while she is really exploiting the power in her lungs, she also conveys such a heartbreaking sense of vulnerability. "I want to lay in your bed, stare in your eyes/Feel your heart beating with mine... one last time," she sings with intensity, speaking of the feelings which come with still holding a torch for a lover. The song is just fantastic, and adds yet another dimension to her artistry.
Frantic strings. Haunting vocals. The crashing of drums and a cutting electric guitar. 'Best Days of Your Life' was one of my favourite songs of the last year and has gone on to be Kellie's biggest selling single to-date. It was actually written with fellow country star, Taylor Swift (who can be heard as a backing vocalist), when the two discovered on tour that Kellie was being cheated on. The subject matter could pave the way for a bleak, defeated ballad, but instead is a triumphant, slightly aggressive anthem that pities the ex as opposed to pining for him. The emotional intensity culminates in a memorable bridge: "I heard you're going to get married, have a nice little family, live out your dreams with someone new/Well I've been told that a cheater is always a cheater, so /I've got my pride and she's got you." The absolute stand-out on the album and one of Kellie's best songs ever. Crisp production, soaring vocals, a memorable hook and a really passionate delivery - perfect.
'Somebody to Love Me' is another simple, piano-led ballad, but is a worthy addition to the album. It tackles the idea of crippling loneliness, and has such honesty and heartbreak in the lyrics, that you just can't help fall in love with the song. The simple, pleading chorus is both memorable and effective at conveying the message of the track, while also showcasing Kellie's incredible pipes. It's hard to describe the intensity of the song to someone who hasn't heard it, but honestly, it's yet another of my favourites on the CD.
On initial listens, 'Makin' Me Fall in Love Again' was a little too cookie-cutter for me. I do love the guitars on the song and the tempo, but the chorus of "There you go... makin' me fall in love again", while undeniably chirpy, didn't really pull me in. However, Kellie's southern charm and feel-good factor, yet again prevailed, and I fell in love with the track.
The album ends with the rather unconventional 'Going Out in Style'. The song begins as Kellie sings a eulogy from a funeral to a piano backing, setting a morbid and depressing tone for the first thirty seconds. Then suddenly the song just explodes into a frantic broadway-inspired number, which you can imagine glittery showgirls dancing to. "Don't be sad or broken-hearted, just spread my ashes in the shoe department" Kellie orders, singing about the joy that glamorous footwear brings to her life. The song is completely ridiculous, yet somehow it works, with the catchy hook of: "So why be sad when you can smile?/If I must go, I'm going out in style!" becoming embedded in your brain.
At just ten tracks long, the album is admittedly quite short, however, is still a fantastic record. Although it should be noted that if you purchase it off iTunes, you get several bonus tracks including the sublime 'Happy' - one of Kellie's best songs ever, which just baffles me as to why it wasn't included on the CD. The album is successful as it finds balance. Heartbreaking ballads, feel-good uptempos, aggressive kiss-off songs and the smattering of humorous moments mean that the album is as diverse as the singer who created it, helping her to carve a unique niche in a genre plagued by mediocrity. For international listeners, there is enough pop shine (particularly in tracks like 'Best Days of Your Life' and 'Don't You Know You're Beautiful') to cross over to those who aren't fans of the country genre. Despite a couple of weak links, there are so many stand-outs on the CD, that you definitely feel you've got your money's worth. I'd thoroughly recommend this album.
Available for £9.99 on HMV.com and £7.99 on iTunes
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Don't You Know You're Beautiful
2 I'm Your Woman
3 Rocks Instead of Rice
4 Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You
5 Lucky Girl
6 One Last Time
7 Best Days of Your Life
8 Somebody to Love Me
9 Makin' Me Fall in Love Again
10 Going out in Style