I’d heard a lot about The Henningsens over the last few months, as I’m sure you have too. They’ve regularly appeared just scraping the top 25 of each Billboard chart, particularly country radio, with their first single ‘American Beautiful’ seeming to receive a good response. So when I came to listen to their music for the first time in the form of their brand new EP, I didn’t know what kind of sound to expect, but I was expecting good things.
And effectively, that’s what I heard, good things. The Henningsens’ sound is comprised of a soft rock-infused contemporary country sound, with sweet, pop-orientated vocals from Clara Henningsen. Direct comparisons can and will be made between the two reigning mixed-gender trios in country music: The Band Perry and Lady Antebellum. Apart from anything else, it’s almost as if Clara’s vocals are the lovechild of Hillary Scott and Kimberly Perry, and it’s not surprising that The Henningsens would sound similar to one of these supergroups. They wrote songs with The Band Perry for their debut album, including hits ‘You Lie’ and ‘All Your Life’, and have thus have similar use of melodies and production. It’s fair to say if you like The Band Perry and/or Lady Antebellum then you will enjoy music from The Henningsens.
The trio’s EP has 4 tracks of varying topics; ‘American Beautiful’ goes back over old ground in country music, romanticizing the young, teenage, American archetype, and trying to give it a bit of an edge by describing the kids in the song as ‘unusual’. There’s a pleasant twist at the end that switches from the third person to the first person, in an attempt to make it a universal description of that ‘free and wild’ image typical of such songs, but I prefer the idea of the twist rather than the meaning that can be taken from how its used. ‘American Beautiful’ is a little romanticized, fantasy and teenage-orientated for my liking, but I can see its appeal. It’s radio-friendly, summer-tinged, and does have a punchy guitar-line, making the song dynamic enough to be listenable, with a fairly catchy ‘ooh ooh’ hookline.
‘I Miss You’ is a conventional heartbreak song, that makes some effort to build musically over time to a dramatic finish. It feels a little lacklustre to me, with lyrics that are mildly interesting but mostly pretty standard, and it doesn’t really carry the emotion it should. Overall this song pulls out each conventional tool and doesn’t really sell itself as anything new. ‘To Believe’ is a little different, as songs of faith are now becoming rarer in mainstream country music. The song does just that; puts the narrator’s entire faith in God, and draws up a few money metaphors, proclaiming “it doesn’t cost me anything to believe”. It is a song with potential, but I feel it could have drawn on the money aspect more with so many struggling from recession, and again tends to lean too much on conventional lyrics in this subject area.
‘The Color Red’ is subversive because it sounds as ‘nice’ and pleasant as the other tracks, and if you weren’t to listen to the lyrics you would have thought it was another sweet, cheerful song with no real substance. Certainly the acoustic guitar and mandolin parts (should note here the mandolin instrumental is a good touch) set ‘The Color Red’ up to fit in with the rest, which is why the lyrics appear so odd when matched with this musical accompaniment. Essentially they tell a story, about some anonymous foul deed that the one who was wronged wants to kill the perpetrator for. Someone close to the potential killer (the narrator) is advising them against murder. However, the lyrics are a little cryptic and it’s hard to decipher whether the narrator ends up killing this person instead in order to take the blame, or simply takes the gun so that no killing can take place. Either way, it’s a very interesting track that is by far the best on this EP, although I really think the music should have been totally different, and didn’t really match the lyrics at all.
Overall The Henningsens’ EP is sweet and radio-friendly, however I’m disappointed that they have tended towards boring convention rather than come up with something entirely original. Being so close musically to The Band Perry and Lady Antebellum (and indeed these songs would have fit perfectly on Lady A’s ‘Golden’), I’m struggling to see what else they bring to the table, and at a slow to mid-tempo feel the whole way through there’s nothing that really inspires me or excites me. Having said that, their middle-of-the-road vibe I’m sure will appeal to plenty of country fans, and I can see them doing well in the future, provided that their full-length album, due out this year, delivers a little more.