Sugarland Provide a Breath of Fresh Air With Long-Awaited Album ‘Bigger’

Country duo Sugarland is a rare example of a band with a name that truly captures their essence. They are the very epitome of positivity, with their music unadulterated and cloying. They rose to fame with their multi-platinum 2004 debut, “Twice the Speed of Life,” and were an enduring sensation in the country scene until lead singer Jennifer Nettles had to take a maternity leave in 2012, leading to an extended hiatus. The two are finally back at it, and have delivered an immensely upbeat, spirit-lifting album titled “Bigger.”  

Sugarland get straight to business with the titular opener. No drivel here, just a quick escalation to an anthemic, inspiring chorus. Take the idealistic optimism of Bono, magnify it tenfold, and you’ll come close to Sugarland. Nettles bleats, “’Cause we were born for better days / We’ll find a way, yeah / We’re gonna be bigger.“ The band continues to ride this wave with the next track appropriately titled, “On a Roll.” It’s an untempered expression of positivity and confidence, with Nettles apparently attempting to cram as much attitude into every syllable, in as country of a manner as possible. “I’m on a roll, babe,” she boasts, “Watch me go, babe.” If three things in a row go well, and you want reaffirmation of the momentary joy that your good fortune has produced, Sugarland has captured the feeling. Nettles seems to be going for a delivery that’s sexy in a Coyote Ugly sort of way, and this especially comes out in a brief spoken word portion. There’s a playful silliness to it, with lines like, “I’m on a roll babe, I wanna reach out and touch your soul, babe / I’m like a southern Baptist preacher, babe.”

“Let Me Remind You” is another cheerful, positive banger. There’s a bit with the particularly poetic lyrics, “Like the stars when they dance and align to / Hearts beating and breathing in time to / Every curve, every curve.” The song is about going with the flow, speaking the language of nature. Next up, Sugarland anticipate the scenario of having to soundtrack a powerpoint presentation of childhood photos for Mother’s Day. Your mom will either embrace you with tears in her eyes or laugh in nervous bewilderment before asking you if you need some help.

The positivity never seems to diminish with Sugarland; the sugar rush is eternal. “Still the Same” affirms, “What comes next / We don’t know, we’re not there yet / But I bet it’s gonna shine / Brighter than all we left behind.” The anthemic chorus seems designed to make you grab your special one, and sing the chorus together until you wake the neighbors, wake up the next morning with a rejuvenated kinship, and spend the rest of your lives as two halves of a whole. “Lean It On Back,” is a reminder to occasionally take a break from the grind, and enjoy a moment. Like every other song so far, it’s both a universally relatable sentiment and a feel-good motivator. The lyrics, “Pushing too hard, let out too fast / And you wanna make it last / Lean it on back,” succinctly get the point across.

Sugarland seem intent to capture every aspect of the human experience in flagship fashion. Having tackled self-assuredness, intuition, maternal affection, and relaxation, they go on to veer momentarily away from their gleaming banner to acknowledge the troughs between the peaks. They fittingly enlist Taylor Swift, who brought you the line, “We are never, ever, ever / Getting back together,” for a song with the lyrics, “You really blew this, babe / We ain’t getting through this one, babe / This is the last time I’ll ever call you, babe.” Swift is only on backup duties, but her presence seems to have made its impact in the sentiment.

“Bird In a Cage” features the lyrics, “You’re not a bird in a cage / You were born to fly away.” It’s a perfect follower to the previous song’s line, “You really blew this, babe.” Flap your wings and fly free. And do it to the very sound of freedom: country music — that is, unless you’re having second thoughts. Could your outburst about your babe really blowing it have been a little too harsh? Better catch her/him before she/he leaves for good. Brilliantly, Sugarland have a song for this moment as well. In “Love Me Like I’m Leaving,” Nettles sings, “Yeah, you watch me get into the car / Well, you always let me get that far / And you’ll stand with both hands on the hood / You’ think that I won’t turn the key.” It’s easy to fall into routine and lose perspective, and it often takes the most afflictive conflict and drama to remind you how much you cherish someone else. Sugarland is a band that thrives on directness, simplicity, and broadness of appeal, to an extent that raises eyebrows and produces jeering laughter from anyone without the most heartland of heartland mentalities. But sometimes, this straightforwardness allows them to tap into sentiments often otherwise eluded out of cliche-phobia or pretension. The title, itself, of “Love Me Like I’m Leaving” is a succinct expression of a valuable idea to consider in any relationship.

Sugarland is pretty much as American as it gets, and it only makes sense they’d take up specifically American issues. There’s a school shooting epidemic, with tragedies constantly making headlines, MSNBC trying to take your guns away, and Alex Jones calling conspiracy. Sugarland decide to get to the heart of the issue, focusing on the need for personal attention that, if addressed, might prevent such disasters. “Tuesday’s Broken” features the lines, “What if we try to reach them with words / What if we looked in their eyes and asked ‘where does it hurt?’” Perhaps some more empathy is all we need — and at any rate, it can’t hurt.  

Sugarland end on a note of empathy, with “Not the Only.” Nettles entreats, “Tell me I am not the only / One here feeling lonely / Tell me I don’t have to try so hard / Tell me I’m alright and then say / It’s all gonna be okay.” Basically, she just told you.  So you’re not the only one, after all. In spite of everything, we’re all in this together, all subject to the same emotions — a reality that this record certainly strives to remind you of.

Sugarland is music to tune yourself to. Whenever you’re going through a situation that creates a discord, and you need affirmation that others are experiencing the same, Sugarland is here, with all the encouragement of cheerleaders on the sideline. It can be hard to take such unstilted cheeriness seriously, but if you think about it, it’s negativity that’s played out. Such unabashed positivity is one-of-a-kind; hats off to Sugarland.  

Bigger” is available June 8 on Apple Music.