Happy Endings, the new Old Dominion record, begins with tight harmonies and handclaps. The lyrics to opener "No Such Thing as a Broken Heart" suggest that happiness might be taken literally, and between the words and the sounds, Happy Endings might, on the surface, seem like a country album about the usual things: family, or love, or Christmas. But the title is a double entendre, with the titular happy ending being closer to vice than virtue.
The vices are mostly cisgender/heterosexual desire, flitting between perversion and sentiment; good times sometimes flirting with misogyny. Sometimes this happens in the course of one song: "Not Everything Is About You" rides swelling, oceanic, orgasmic guitars, but also tells an audience of listeners that he turned a woman onto Fleetwood Mac, and considering how many copies Rumours has sold, it's safe to assume no one needs to be turned onto Mac.
There's more discomfiting lyricism to be found in the reworking of feminist tropes as negging in "Go With Me"; it would be a mess, except for how the guitars explode into a percussive argument, more clever and more corporeal than the easily dismissed lyrics. (See also the failed extensive metaphors of "Girl as a Gun" and "Shoe Shopping," in which women are firearms and footwear, respectively.)
But, sometimes the details of being turned on are smart, loose and genuinely sexy. The tales of smoking dope and drinking tequila in a Mexican resort in "Hotel Key" are pure propulsion, while the processed R&B push of "New York City at Night argues for the urbane potential of country.
The music is smarter and hotter than the lyrics on Happy Endings, though the latter have the odd genius metaphor, too. Even as an anthropological exercise in redneck seduction, this is a fascinating album — maybe not brilliant, but fascinating. (RCA Nashville)