Another week, another shrill country duo making a horrible first impression. Whereas Steel Magnolia wastes their legitimately strong voices on dull, hook-less material, the JaneDear Girls use a couple of catchy melodies and garish costumes to mask the fact that they can't sing even a little bit, and, if they could, wouldn't have a single authentic thing to say. In other words, they're exactly what country music, in the throes of a pretty severe identity crisis, doesn't need right now: its own Katy Perry.
The songs that work on The JaneDear Girls are the ones that emphasize their melodies and hooks above the actual content of the songs or the girls' performances. "Shotgun Girl" uses a double-timed kick drum and heavy bass guitar line in its chorus to build to its hook about the joys of riding shotgun on a Saturday night. The melody of "Sing Along" has a pleasant cadence that recalls the adult pop of Natasha Bedingfield and latter-day Liz Phair, even though the song itself uses the same tired trope as Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now" and Reba McEntire's recent hit "Turn on Your Radio." And "Lucky You," with its heavy electric guitar power chords and pounding drums, recalls some of the better singles by Avril Lavigne and the Donnas.
When those are the points of reference for your best moments, you know you're in trouble. But the band doesn't betray a second of hesitation, screeching their songs with a smug smirk worthy of Perry and a sense of pitch that should make Taylor Swift feel awfully damn good about herself. As with Perry, Susie Brown and Danelle Leverett can put on their ironic, attention-whoring costumes and act like they're part of some elaborate put-on, but the truth of the matter is that they simply aren't talented enough to justify that attitude.
Lead single "Wildflower" is nothing more than a distaff version of literally hundreds of other country songs that have been released in the last few years about how "country" the singer supposedly is, and, as was the case with Justin Moore's "Backwoods" and Jason Aldean's "She's Country," there isn't one first-person detail in the song that doesn't sound like it came out of a focus group. "Pretender" and "Never Gonna Let You Go" both play liked dumbed-down versions of songs from Swift's Fearless, while the vapid "Saturdays in September" highlights all of the things that Swift does well in a complicated, shrewdly observed song like "Back to December."
That Brown and Leverett share co-writing credits on each of the album's 11 songs places the blame for the piss-poor quality squarely on their shoulders. But the record's deafening bluster is all producer John Rich's doing. As he did with the last couple of Big & Rich albums, Rich ensures that the in-the-red electric guitars on "Shotgun Girl" and "Sugar," which apes Def Leppard right down to the cheesy, shouted chants in the background, owe more '80s arena rock than to any actual country influences.
That comes to a head on "Merry Go Round," a bald-faced attempt at recapturing what worked about "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)," which now stands as an isolated fluke of brilliance in Rich's career. As the band attempts to half-rap terribly over a cacophony of percussion, Auto-Tuned backing vocals, and electric guitars, Brown issues a call to "bend those curves to the groove of the fiddle." Which would be a fine idea, seeing as how Brown is actually a spectacular fiddle player when given the opportunity, but the only fiddle playing that can actually be heard on the song is confined to a five-second interstitial between the first chorus and the second verse.
It's indicative of the staggering lack of self-awareness that characterizes The JaneDear Girls. The uptempo songs consist of little more than strident demo-pandering, and the ballads come across as insincere and rote, and all of the songs are shouted at the same volume and without any regard for constructing the most basic of vocal harmonies. Sure, Brown and Leverett aren't done any favors by Rich's tin-eared production job, but there wouldn't have been any saving this record anyway. It didn't take long for audiences to recognize the thin talent pool in Rich's original MuzikMafia, and, based on this album, the JaneDear Girls should be rubbing elbows with Cowboy Troy soon enough.