This has proven to be one of the more difficult albums I’ve ever covered here. It’s an album full of great songs–a couple of throwaway tracks that surely didn’t need to be here, but mostly, these are great songs. But lump them all into an album, and the result is a project that runs together, particularly in the back half. The individual songs are greater than the sum of their parts, and this makes it hard to judge.
Words feels highly stereotypical in the fact that it features fourteen female songwriters, a fact which was made much of ahead of this release, and that twelve of these fourteen songs are about love in some form–new love, relationships ending, or the aftermath and rebuilding process afterword. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, and most of the songs are good or at least decent, but it’s the sameness in them which hurts the album as a whole and which only further reinforces the all too familiar stereotype that women only sing and write about love. Again, that’s not bad as it relates to Sara Evans; if Sara wants to sing about love for the majority of this record, then more power to her, but if you’re going to go for similar themes, you have to go for variety in production, and other than a couple exceptions, there’s not much variety in this area either. add in a couple of songs about something else, and the true greatness in some of these tracks would have only shone more brightly.
But let’s talk about the songs themselves for a moment because a few do manage to separate themselves from the bunch anyway and stand out as very nice additions to Sara Evans’ discography. The front of the record is the strongest, featuring the more country-leaning opener, “Long Way Down” and the country pop “All the Love You Left Me,” both very nice heartbreak songs. The former takes a more upbeat attitude and features fun instrumentation while the latter sees Sara in a more vulnerable position and showcases one of her best vocal performances here. “Diving in Deep” is probably a little too cheesy for some, but it works well for me; it’s the first of the new love variety and is just catchy as all hell. “Marquee Sign,” at this point on the album, is definitely the weakest, but it seems like an outlier, and four songs in, this record really holds a lot of promise.
Then we get easily the two worst songs of the bunch, “Like the way You Love Me” and “Rain and Fire.” “Like the Way You Love Me” is just a generic piece of filler about how she finally found someone better than all the assholes she’s been with, and “Rain and Fire” is a really obnoxious track about this guy who is supposedly having problems with his girlfriend, and Sara, who just met him tonight–think every bro country song we’ve ever criticized for this–is basically telling him to leave this girl and that she’d be better for him. Honestly, I don’t know why people haven’t made a bigger deal of this because lyrically, it’s like the female, albeit more well-written and decidedly more catchy, version of “Break up with Him.” Yeah, not a fan of this song.
The rest is just sort of mediocre. Here’s where the album runs together and where if there were some breaks in the material, the back half could have been much better. “Make Room at the Bottom” is the most memorable one on this half; this is a simple heartbreak song previously done by Ashley Monroe, and Sara Evans offers a fine version too. “Night Light” is admittedly nothing special lyrically, but the melody is just really beautiful, and I find myself coming back to this one simply for the sound of it. “I Need a River” does provide a break in the material, and it’s also more country-sounding, so you would think I would love it, but it’s just sort of decent for me. I do appreciate its message about getting back to the simpler things in life and the much-needed diversion from love songs. The other break comes in “Letting You Go,” a personal song about watching her son grow up, but honestly, the reference to her song “Born to Fly” here just ruins this song for me. It feels too calculated. “I Don’t trust Myself” features some truly cool verses, as one thing leads to another in Sara’s effort to avoid thinking about an ex, but the chorus just repeats the title line, so it feels anticlimactic. Evans gives a great vocal performance on “I want You,” but again, it’s underdeveloped lyrically. The title track is a decent heartbreak song, but by the eleventh track, I’ve already heard this quite enough, and other songs have done it so much better. All these songs, though, with the exception of “Letting You Go,” would have had more potential if they weren’t lumped together, and indeed do sound better on their own.
Overall, the only really bad songs here are “Like the Way You Love Me,” “Rain and Fire,” and “Letting You Go.” And many people will like the last one, it’s just ruined for me. There are a lot of really great songs here, and if there had been more variety, they would have stood out more. There are some that manage to stand out anyway, particularly near the front of the record. But the songs are better than the album as a whole, and although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this record, I’d certainly check out the songs and maybe pick out a few. I don’t normally recommend cherry-picking–that’s reserved for Memorable Songs–but this album is the perfect example of a group of songs that will sound better in playlists than all together.
Good songs, mediocre album.