Solid country music return by stadium-friendly big guns.
Midland burst onto the country scene a few years back with the super-catchy country pop-rock of ‘Drinking Problem’. Pretty soon they were packing out large stadiums all over the US, and indeed anywhere else in the world that loved country music.
Their latest release is an EP of five songs called ‘The Last Resort’. It is immediately apparent that this is going to please existing Midland fans, with its mix of predominantly mid-tempo pop-country, performed with skill and polish, and with strong lead male vocals. Every song here sounds like a radio song, each one furnished with a big chorus, ready for a crowd to sing along with, while punching the air or having the lighter at the ready for the shared moment.
Perhaps of the great bands that Midland most resemble, it is the Eagles that seem most congruent, and is it some sort of respect or recognition that caused them to name their new collection after one of that band’s greatest songs? The Eagles, too, were criticized in their time for being ‘too commercial’, yet they would frequently inject something different into their highly polished songs (think the double-time banjo in ‘Take It Easy’, or the extended storytelling in ‘Lyin’ Eyes’). It was that willingness to go a little more ‘out there’, to try to find a lyrical or musical hook that gives a unique identity to their songs, that means they are still listened to now, more than forty years on.
For Midland, ‘The Last Resort’, the reality remains that though everything here has a sheen of quality, and the choruses are infectious enough to be recognised after only a couple of listens, once the studio polish is stripped away, the underlying songs are too often beige, musically and lyrically unadventurous. Perhaps the standout is ‘Sunrise Tells the Story’, which has a slightly old-timey feel to it, but along with the other tracks here, it is solid rather than breath-taking.
For some bands, it is literally a music business, and the presence of top-notch co-writers such as Shane McAnally ensure these songs will continue the level of success Midland are accustomed to, and give their fans what they want. And really, is there anything wrong with that? There are no weak links in the new material, and perhaps it is churlish to expect there to be something which stands out as a classic. Maybe in the act of not challenging their own status quo, they are ensuring their fans can trust them, and in a world of increasing uncertainty, that goes a long way.