fri 27/01/2023

Album: The Shires - 10 Year Plan | reviews, news & interviews

Album: The Shires - 10 Year Plan

Album: The Shires - 10 Year Plan

Successful UK country duo's slick sound fails to set our reviewer on fire

Some carefully weathered corrugated iron sheeting and The Shires

Seems odd now, but there was a time when many Brits found country music laughable. It was a common thing. For instance, when Keith Richards embraced country, Jagger initially thought it a joke. By the time I was coming up in the Eighties, post-punk still a long shadow, my peers and I mostly felt the same; country was corny schmaltz dominated by middle-aged rhinestone blandness.

I soon realised the error of my ways, but The Shires’ fifth album reminds me that, back then, we did also have a point.

On their debut, The Shires sang, “We can build our own Nashville underneath these grey skies.” The duo comes from Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and their name fuses Englishness with Americana. Rather than grey skies, though, they bring a Home Counties musicality, a pristine sound intended for high-end car stereos on the daily commute. There’s bluegrass pluckin’ in there and pin-sharp harmonies too – no-one could deny the technical talent of Chrissie Rhodes and Ben Earle – but the former is submerged in M.O.R. country-rock and the latter ultra-produced until any smear of raw feeling has been polished away. Which is not to say it won't be successful. It will be. Their last three albums went Top Five.

Thematically, 10 Year Plan is summed up by a line from closing lighters-in-the-air ballad “When It Hurts”: “Real love… takes guts, to keep on fighting through the years/There’s gonna be heartache and tears for the both of us.” But there are no entertaining C&W yarns, just pleading, post-Sheeran/Capaldi solipsism. When Earle’s theatrically emoting voice sings, on “A Bar Without You”, that he could drink bourbon and wine but not enough “to get you off my mind”, it sounds more like he’d run it off down the gym after a frappuccino.

One tune, “Wild Hearts”, has a preposterous stadium kitsch, an enjoyably catchy anthem with an ironic singalong vibe akin to 1980s Bon Jovi monsters, or maybe Lady Gaga at her most outré. But that’s your lot. The rest is squeaky clean, earnest, super-produced, X Factor-ish suburbia music to be filed next to Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits and brought out when the divorce case looms after Geoff runs off with Dawn from Accounts.

Below: Watch the video to "I See Stars" by The Shires

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