Let's Be Us Again

People who don't care for Lonestar fault the band for pressing too heavily on the supersensitive-power-ballad button with hits like "Amazed" and "I'm Already There." But the fact is, singer Richie McDonald never sounds more natural and comfortable, and the band never sounds more powerful behind him, than when they're digging into some sweeping, pounding, tear-jerking, heart-rending anthem.

That's certainly true on their fifth album, Let's Be Us Again. Lonestar carries off ballads like the Top 10 title cut and "What I Miss the Most" with all the drama and commitment we've come to expect. The rest of the CD is filled out by the group's typical tightly constructed, slickly produced odes to the joys and woes of middle-class family life, from child-rearing ("Mr. Mom," the extra-sticky "Let Them Be Little") and working for the weekend ("T.G.I.F.") to encroaching middle age ("Class Reunion [That Used to be Us]"). Fans will not be disappointed - even if they might wonder how many times this formula can work without any new ingredients.

Let's Be Us Again stumbles the farther it gets from those widescreen ballads. The faster, friskier songs just sound awkward - especially "Women Rule the World," which reduces decades of advances in female empowerment to The way they talk, the way they giggle/ The way they walk, the way they jiggle. Now you tell me - how sensitive is that?

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