On their first album in eight years, Sugarland haven’t missed a step. Bigger is, as the name suggests, an extrapolation of everything that made the celebrated pop country duo one of the biggest acts of the 2000s.
There’s a certain trap artists fall in; particularly artists like Sugarland, who went on hiatus at the top of their game. When they return with new music, they might feel desperate to sound “relevant.” And that can, in many ways, come across as more desperate than relevant. (Anybody remember Alabama’s 2015 album Southern Drawl?).
But Sugarland are coming back into the country landscape at more creative and promising time. Certainly much more promising than 2012-2016, the height of the bro-country years (and the years with nary a peep from the duo). As their first single “Still The Same” suggests, Sugarland hasn’t wavered an inch to appease the comings and goings of country fads.
Read More: The 10 Best Sugarland Songs, Ranked
Solo No More
After several solo records between Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, the duo announced their return during the 2017 CMA Awards. They then released a steady string of singles, including the sentimental “Mother” and the instant fan favorite “Babe (feat. Taylor Swift).”
The story is that Nettles and Bush first met together to write in New York in August 2017, just to see what came out. Despite both living a considerable amount of life between the last time they wrote together, they didn’t miss a step. Nettles and Bush co-wrote every song on the record except for “Babe” (written by Swift and Train frontman Patrick Monahan) and only “Love Me Like I’m Leaving” featured a third writer.
In other words, as with their previous records, Bigger is a truly complete picture of the pair’s sound. They keep it light and inspirational on some moments, like “Bigger” and “On a Roll,” the latter of which features a cheeky bridge reminiscent of “Stuck Like Glue.”
And if you think every country love song is more or less the same now saying the same thing, just listen to Bush’s bridge on “Let Me Remind You”:
Gods and poets weep their diamonds / We may look down to find us tangled and shining and timeless / I give them all to you / Like the stars when they dance and align to / hearts beating and breathing in time to / every curve, every curve, it’s how they designed you
But Bigger also features some of the most austere writing in the pair’s history. “Tuesday’s Broken” is a heartbreaking plea for understanding in the midst of school shooting and cyberbullying. “Not the Only” peels back the layers on the human experience in 2018, with pertinent — and important — undertones about mental health.
There are some things country musicians looking to stay in the mainstream just don’t bother singing about. And it’s a real shame, because country used to be the genre that spoke to hard truths. Now, pop and hip hop contain some of the most depth you’ll hear on the radio dial. But Bigger proves you can have it both ways in country.
Because while the duo is as capable as ever at churning out catchy, pristine pop country melodies, Bigger really does reach further for heart than most mainstream country music. And not just on one or two tracks, but consistently throughout the record.
It’s not easy taking a break from a successful career and expecting to return straight to form. But Bush and Nettles kept their creative juices flowing, and they approached this new record with something to say, as opposed to just something to do.
Fans will undoubtedly fall in love with the record. Nettles has an unmistakable voice, and the pair crafted something worth saying — both in ways that younger or newer fans might appreciate, as well as their aging original fanbase. Country radio continues to ignore powerful voices and important messages. But albums like this are bigger than the dated format (pun intended).