Little Big Town has perhaps the most appropriate band name in country music: They can have big successes, but it only happens in little doses. After listening to “Better Man,”I don’t see that pattern changing anytime soon.
Despite a career that stretches all the way back to 2002, LBT has a paltry six top-ten singles to show for it. When the group hits its big, however, they hit it really big: “Pontoon” went double-platinum and nearly cracked the top twenty on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2012, and “Girl Crush” went triple-platinum and peaked at #18 on the Hot 100 two years later. Ever since “Crush,” however, they’ve released two singles that didn’t crack the country Top 35. “Better Man,” the lead single off of their upcoming album, is their third attempt at post-“Crush” success.
The production here sets a somber tone, with a slow groove driven by a piano and…is that a dulcimer? In fact, the production is so restrained that the drums are by far the loudest and most-prominent instrument, not counting lead singer Karen Fairchild’s vocals. Fairchild has a big, powerful voice, and she sings with a lot of emotion and power in this song, but her vocals are way too loud in the mix and overwhelm the melody completely.
Lyrically, “Better Man” may be the deepest, most-mature single Little Big Town has ever released. On the surface, the lyrics describe the plight of a woman as she wrestles with the memory of a man she had to leave, a man she still loves despite the relationship going sour at the end. Lines like “I see the permanent damage you did to me” and “I know why we had to say goodbye like the back of my hand,” however, suggest that something darker was at play, and that the woman was escaping a verbally or physically abusive relationship. It’s a big step forward from the empty sonic calories of songs like “Day Drinking,” and I appreciate that.
That said, while this song tries to connect with the listener on a deep emotional level, it didn’t resonate with me like, say, Martina McBride’s “Concrete Angel.” What should be a raw, emotional eye-opener of a song just ends up being a forgettable power ballad. Neither the production nor the vocals are all that remarkable, and the writing crumbles under the weight of all this mediocrity.
Overall, “Better Man” is okay, and it’s the sort of serious song that I’d like to hear more of on country radio…but in three months, I’m going to forget that it ever existed.
Rating: 5/10. I recommend at least giving it a listen—maybe it will connect with you more than it did with me.