Pop culture has a long standing tradition of clichés and happy endings. There will always be movies that close on a never-ending kiss in the rain and songs about girls from small towns and city boys.
On Happy Endings, Old Dominion takes this idea, flips it on its head and runs with it. The band’s second album includes every love cliché from Cinderella slippers to names written in sand.
In the album’s first song, “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart,” lead singer Matthew Ramsey sings, “I wonder if Jack and Diane ever made it/ After the drums and the guitars all faded/ Was the best they could do good enough?/ Or did the heartland just swallow them up?”
Ramsey both yearns for and undermines the romantic endings of classic songs and movies — along with the rest of the clichés on the album — by playing off of the classic John Mellencamp ditty to question the legitimacy of these supposed “Happy Endings.”
This theme of unhappy endings — despite the project’s title — continues throughout the album, showing up again on “Not Everything’s About You,” “Still Writing Songs About You” and “Written in the Sand.”
On “Written in the Sand,” Ramsey sings “Are we just a back seat/ Tryna get it while we can/ Are we names in a tattoo/ Or just a number on a hand/… Are we written in the stars, baby, or are we written in the sand?”
He takes the romantic visual of names written in sand on a beach and turns it into something fleeting, washed away by the waves.
Despite the unconventional take on happily ever after, Old Dominion is still perfectly capable of writing a traditional love song, a few of which are included on Happy Endings.
“Shoe Shopping” and “A Girl is a Gun” sharply contrasts with the overall feel of many of the other songs on the album by providing a view of some of the more positive aspects of relationships.
Old Dominion created a fuller picture of a relationship and its ups and downs than your average love song by including both optimistic songs and skeptical ones. The peak and low points of the album mirror those in a relationship, making Happy Endings a love album and a breakup album all in one.
The love songs aren’t the only unconventional things on Happy Endings. While it is a country album, Old Dominion’s sound pulls from rock on many of their tracks and Ramsey isn’t afraid to get creative with his singing style, which makes all of the songs sound unique in their own way.
Ramsey also shows off his wordplay skills on “Shoe Shopping,” where he incorporates any shoe related word or phrase you could think of into a love song, and “A Girl is a Gun,” where he turns the entire song into a metaphor.
The songs separately aren’t spectacular but they come together to create an interesting experience. The band’s willingness to experiment gives them a fresh sound that bridges country and rock in a unique way that should appeal to a lot of listeners.