Veteran country quartet Little Big Town, finally having broken out of their exclusively country audience with the Grammy nominated single “Girl Crush”, veer off their usual path with a shortened collection of 80s-inspired pop music, helmed by superstar producer Pharrell Williams. While I would usually expect anything with Pharrell’s name on it to be a positive listening experience, as he has been known to bring out the best in artists in the past with his adaptable and fluid production style, Wanderlust unfortunately exists more as an experimental side project that very rarely comes together. The band themselves have given interviews where they explain that they “don’t know what the album is”, and it is clear that they may not have known what they were getting into with such a drastic shift in sound. It is commendable that they have the courage to experiment in this way, and interesting that Pharrell decided to take on the challenge of producing a country album – if you can really call the finished product that – but most of it is quite unlistenable.
The aspects that drew me to Little Big Town – a group which exists in the realm of my least familiar genre of music – in the first place were the willingness to divert from the repetitive sounds of most country music and include elements of other genres, like the doo-wop influenced “Girl Crush”, and the emotional weight which came with their lyrics. It certainly didn’t hurt either that all of the band members are capable singers in their own right, producing incredible three and four part harmonies. These harmonies fortunately remained on Wanderlust, but the band is not writing songs about anything anymore. Most of the songs are even more repetitive than the typical pop song you might hear on the radio. “Skinny Dippin” in particular begins with such harmonized promise, and then devolves into lyrical inanity so quickly. The melodies of the song swiftly join the lyrics in repetition as well, becoming grating.
I am unsure who had the agency to create this project but it would not prove surprising if Little Big Town first decided they wanted to experiment in this direction and took the idea to a proven producer in Pharrell, rather than the other way around. A lot of very common pop music tropes appear across all tracks – nearly every YouTube comment I saw underneath the music, and even professional review articles compared the tracks to a different 80s song (Hungry Like The Wolf, Like A Virgin, State of Independence…). Pharrell may be making the best out of the small box provided to him of a country group’s vision of pop music. At times, his production does shine through. The instrumental of “One Dance” is particularly jazzy and interesting, but the vocals detract from the overall strength of the song.
Ultimately, there is not a lot to comment on with this project. It embodies lowest common denominator pop music, and comes from a group who should not be making it. To take a giant leap that has a decent chance of ending negatively is certainly commendable, but Little Big Town’s overall body of work would be much better off if this did not exist and it will be remembered as a strange and poorly thought out failure of a side project.
Favorite Tracks: One Dance, Willpower
Least Favorite Track: Work