Wait, didn’t I just review a Little Big Town single? I guess “Happy People” didn’t make people so happy after all…
I’ve labeled a couple of acts as “boom or bust” in my short time as a reviewer, but no group reaches higher highs and lower lows than Little Big Town. (Of the 7 singles they’ve released since 2013, three made the Top 5 while the rest didn’t even crack the Top 25.) When LBT hits it big, they end up with crossover smash hits that transcend the genre and dominate the charts (think “Better Man” or “Girl Crush”). When they miss, as they did with “Happy People,” they wind up with a #46 stinker that their label can’t run away from fast enough. “When Someone Stops Loving You” is the third single off of the group’s album The Breaker, but will it be a hit or a flop? It’s impossible to say, but I can at least declare that this my favorite single of The Breaker era thus far.
The production here is surprisingly minimal, featuring an acoustic guitar to carry the melody, a quiet, simple drum rhythm keeping time, and an atmospheric electric guitar in the background (there’s an organ floating around deep in the mix as well). With its slower, deliberate tempo and use of 3/4 time, it’s the closest thing I’ve heard to a waltz on the radio in a very long time. The most interesting aspect of this song, however, is how it draws its power from the vocals rather than the music. The production maintains its light sound and low volume on both the verses and chorus, while the non-lead-singing members of LBT step in and using their harmony on the choruses to inject the power needed to move the listener. It’s not a complete surprise to hear this (LBT has used this trick to great effect before, as far back as 2004’s “Boondocks”), but it’s not something you hear on the radio much, and it helps the song stand out from anything else on the airwaves.
Vocally, LBT lead singer Karen Fairchild sounds completely different than I’ve ever heard her…wait, what do you mean that’s not Fairchild? In a surprising twist, LBT turned the lead vocals over to Jimi Westbrook for this song, and while this would be a huge risk for other country groups (imagine Florida-Georgia Line releasing a single with Brian Kelley singing lead), Westbrook is a talented singer in his own right, and he acquits himself quite well here. While the song’s slow tempo doesn’t test his flow, he show off impressive range as he plumbs the depths of the verses and climbs the ladder for the choruses, and he does a great job selling the heartbreak of the track through his delivery and charisma. (To be honest, I’d put Westbrook on the same level as Fairchild as a vocalist, and I’m surprised we haven’t heard more from him in the past.) Finally, the group’s harmonies are up to their usual standards, and their voices blend together excellently on the choruses.
The writing here is solid, but not spectacular. The topic of all the things a person still has to do after someone breaks up with them isn’t the most original idea, and the imagery seems a bit too cookie-cutter (your song still played, you still use the same bed, etc.). The lyrics are enough to do the job, however, as they set a suitably-somber mood and avoid getting in the way of the singers and musicians.
Overall, “When Someone Stops Loving You” is a decent song that Little Big Town is able to elevate to standout status with a great performance. I’ve never been the biggest fan of LBT, but this is probably my favorite song of theirs since “Boondocks,” and it should get a much better radio reception than “Happy People.” On the boom-or-bust scale, this feels more like the former than the latter to me.
Rating: 7/10. Definitely give this one a listen.