This track doesn’t lie: Sugarland is indeed “Still The Same,” and I’m totally okay with that.
Like countless groups before them, Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland found out the hard way that they could never duplicate their shared success individually. Together, the trio/duo scored five Billboard No. 1s (and another four No. 2s) from 2004 to 2011; apart, neither artist could crack the Top 20 (Bush’s best showing was #21, Nettles only made it to #26). After years of struggling, the group has decided to reform and relaunch, starting with its new single “Still The Same.” Much like Shania Twain’s recent single, this track is a signal of career vitality hidden under the veneer of a love song, but unlike Twain’s tune, this one makes me think Sugarland actually has a chance to recapture their former glory.
Production-wise, “Still The Same” feels like three songs awkwardly mashed together:
- The verses are sparse and choppy, featuring mostly an acoustic guitar and drum machine with minimal background noise.
- The chorus suddenly introduced some atmosphere electric guitars and real drums, and instrument tones are allowed to linger and play out instead of getting clipped.
- The bridge returns to a sparse arrangement, but trades the spacious guitars for a slick one that gives was seemed to be a bright pop-country song a sudden disco flavor. The transition is a jarring and unexpected one, and doesn’t really feel justified.
All three of these styles have been used by Sugarland in the past with varying degrees of success, but cycling through all three in a single song feels like overkill. Despite this, however, the song still manages to maintain a bright, optimistic feel that suits the tone of the writing, and isn’t weighed down by unnecessary anger and seriousness the way “We Got Something They Don’t” was. The focus is on the future rather than the doubters, and that’s right where it should be.
I’ve always considered Nettles to be in the upper echelon of female county singers, and she sounds about the same as she always did: Plenty of range, power, and charisma, albeit with a flow that can get choppy at times. She does a nice job infusing the lyrics with positive energy and selling the song to the listener. (I’m not sure I believe Sugarland can reach its previous heights, but I believe that Nettles believes it.) As far as Bush goes, “Still The Same” puts him in the traditional Kix Brooks/Brian Kelley role, limiting him to harmony duty and a few “here we are!” shouts (a wise decision, in my opinion). Together, the pair still exhibits decent vocal chemistry, and helps push the message that Sugarland is back and ready for action.
By themselves, the lyrics here are nothing special: They’re the sort of vague, generic lines you expect to hear from a “let’s rekindle an old flame” love song. What makes this track more interesting, however, is how well it relates to Sugarland’s history as a once-succesful, now-separate group that thinks they can reach the top of the country music mountain again. Lines like “Our future is our history” and “Let’s leave it better than how it came” are more meaningful as a declaration that the duo intends to build onto their legacy, while saying that they feel like “we never went a day without it/Pick it back up where we left off” indicates that the group’s same old chemistry is still there. Unlike “We’ve Got Something They Don’t,” the writing here exudes confidence instead of vengeance, a feeling that gets furthered by the writing and the vocals.
Overall, “Still The Same” is a surprisingly decent song, with its dual-purpose message enhancing rather than detracting from its impact. Its unfocused-but-bright production, quality vocals, and well-chosen words turn what might have been a forgettable love song into a nice addition to Sugarland’s discography. I don’t know if they’ll find the success they once had, but I’m very interested in seeing them try.
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.