Album Review: Unlimited

Unlimited, by Reba McEntire

One thing that one can appreciate about the albums of the 1980s in country is that they did not waste your time. As I somewhat dread listening to a certain hour and a half long album and trying to review it while having something creative to say about so many songs, all of which charted this week on the Billboard Hot 100, I look back to a simpler time when an album had a quarter of the length and a quarter of the number of songs, with the expectation that the artist would release another such album the next year, all of which would have a few hit singles on the country charts. And that is what one has with this album. If I have been rather slow to listen to a lot of albums in 80s country, I suppose it is at least partly because I grew up listening to so many songs on the radio and there were so many albums by these artists to listen to that it was impossible for someone like me who generally likes to pay attention to the hits and singles to devote as much time for albums unless they were greatest hits albums. And while this album does mark a period of increasing success for the singer, it certainly is not a Greatest Hits album. How good is it? Let’s find out.

This album comes in at ten songs and under half an hour. It begins with “I’d Say You,” a gorgeous and rather traditional 80’s love ballad of devotion between the singer and her partner. This sounds like the sort of thing that would play at rural proms and church dances, so it hits the right spot. “Everything I’ll Ever Own” has a choir as well as lyrics full of longing about the narrator’s desire for a loving relationship with a particular someone that she didn’t fully appreciate when she had him. “What Do You Know About Heartache?” provides a midtempo song about heartache from someone whose heart breaks as she serves as her best friend’s confidant as he deals with heartbreak but does not see her love for him that sets the mood for a good read of Mansfield Park, for example. “Out Of The Blue” features a sweet mid-tempo musical background for a country pun song about how a relationship came out of the blue to save the narrator from the blue life of sadness and loneliness, fitting the general tone of the album as a whole so far. “Over, Under, Around” serves as another punning sort of country song that reflects on someone who is over a bad relationship, no longer under the spell of infatuation, and no longer interested in being around such a person, an upbeat sort of leaving song. “I’m Not That Lonely Yet” provides a slow and gentle waltz that lets a would-be partner know that she is blue and willing to dance with him but not interested in having a relationship with him. “Whoever’s Watchin'” reflects on the divine providence of happiness in love and relationships that the narrator celebrates thanks to her blessed state, vindicating her life choices. “Old Man River (I’ve Come To Talk Again)” is a moody song about seeking advice about a departing lover from a river, which is a surprising subgenre of country music that is not nearly as popular now as it used to be. “You’re The First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving” is a slow waltz number about the uncertain flirtation that takes place between a person in a relationship that she is not fully satisfied with and someone else who is putting a smile on her face, and filling her with doubts. “Can’t Even Get The Blues No More” reflects on the increasing lack of depth of sadness and hurt that the narrator feels in being in a dysfunctional and hostile relationship, making a humorous but dark tale of an unhappy relationship where someone’s attempts to cause pain end up being monotonous and repetitive.

For an album titled unlimited, it sure is limited in terms of its emotional range, which all of these songs being about some aspect of romantic longing, either a melancholy desire for love and relationships in the present, or a reflection on the heartbreaks of the past or a celebration of the love in the present, or even the uncertainty of whether that love will last in the future. A couple of the songs are about being over someone, but that person is still around causing all kinds of drama, and so all of the songs in some way are tied up in what we might think of that highly pitched strain of romantic melodrama that runs so rich through country music. With none of these songs being about drinking, none of them being about family or friends, and only one of them even hinting at being about God, there is just not a lot of emotional range to these songs. It is easy enough to see this album as being full of potential singles, each of them aiming at a different slice of a country audience when it comes to their particular feelings and experiences about love and relationships, but this isn’t really a concept album as much as it is a well-produced and highly professional collection of tunes that tend to run over very consistent ground over and over and over again.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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