The multiplatinum success of their first two albums allowed Sugarland to flex their musical muscles and expand their boundaries a bit on their third disc. Jennifer and Kristian wrote or co-wrote every song on the set, collaborating with a country songwriting legend for the album’s final single and Bobby Pinson on a handful of tracks. The bright, infectious sound that had come to define the act can be heard here, but Love On The Inside also includes several welcome departures from the tried and true formula, where same-sounding filler had been on the first two albums. Like its predecessors, Love On The Inside would earn a multiplatinum certification, after becoming their first #1 album on both the Billboard Country Albums and all-genre Billboard 200 charts. The first 3 singles released would also shoot to the top of the singles chart, while a fourth hit the top 20.
First up at radio was the epidemically catchy ‘All I Want To Do’. The female narrator in the song is fully content with her current career-self and is all about focusing on loving the man in her life. A beaty, island-inspired production frame what is mostly a song centered around the ‘ooh oohs’ and otherwise catchy chorus. Lyrically sparse, the song sailed to #1 on the charts, and was certified as a platinum single, and became the pair’s biggest top 40 hit to date, resting at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. (‘Stuck Like Glue’ went to #17 this year, eclipsing that feat.) In the same sound format is ‘It Happens’, the album’s third single, though it does offer a bit more charm with its storyline about a lady have a super bad day.
‘Already Gone’ was the album’s third consecutive chart-topper and is a frank look at the ups and downs in one girl’s life. The three-act plot follows her from a teen branching out on her own with her mother’s advice still in the air, through her plunging headlong into her first heartache and to the eventual end of her marriage. Nettles emotive delivery packs a powerful punch that may take you by surprise given the almost-bright production.
Country legend, and perennial hit-maker, Bill Anderson co-penned ‘Joey’, the somewhat abstract tale of a young man killed in a drunk-driving accident. The verses attempt to tell the story, but so many essential details are omitted, it’s hard to follow, and the track seriously falters with the repetitive chorus. The brooding narrative found an audience, and became the fourth hit from the disc, resting at #17 on the singles chart.
‘Very Last Country Song’ closes up the standard edition of Love On The Inside as the decided highlight. A simple plucking acoustic guitar leads off as Nettles begins recounting the life story of a lady celebrating her birthday by pouring over photos in her kitchen. Through the snapshots, she remembers various family members and tells of the place they all still hold in her heart. It’s the chorus these vignettes center around, however, which simply says that if there were no reason for heartbreak, there’d be no more country music.
Nothing on Love On The Inside sounds tacked on, as every track seems to play an integral part in the overall scheme here. From the amped up blue collar anthem ‘Take Me As I Am’ to the cheeky ‘Steve Earle’, which finds the narrator longing to become a member of the singer’s own ex-wives club to the harmony-laden ‘Genevieve’ with its acoustic guitars turned way up, Love On The Inside finds the duo trying on an array of musical styles and personalities, and each fits like a glove this time around.
This album marked the arrival of Sugarland as bonafide country music superstars. It also showcased the best modern Nashville has to offer with its abundance of hooky melodies, memorable lyrics, and dazzling contemporary country music production. As a result, it stands as the showpiece of the Sugarland catalog, and my personal favorite album.
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A deluxe edition features 5 more songs. Highlights from those include the legant ‘Fall Into Me’, a slight retread of the love-is-the-salvation-at end of a long day theme of past Sugarland hits – ‘Just Might Make Me Believe’ chief among them. Also noteworthy among the bonus tracks is a live cover of Matt Nathanson’s ‘Come On Het Higher’ and another cover, this time from 80s pop group The Dream Academy. ‘Life In A Northern Town’ features Little Big Town and Jake Owen – Sugarland’s 2007 tourmates – in a nifty blend of voices on the very vague and muddy lyric. This track, recorded at Comcast Theater in Hartford, CT, peaked at #28 in Summer 2008 to become another top 40 hit for all artists involved.