On the surface, Gloriana may seem to be a copy of the formula that Little Big Town had a brief bout of success with earlier this decade: a two-man, two-woman setup, shared lead vocals, and a production that throws country, pop, rock and bluegrass in the blender all at once. Gloriana leans far closer to a slick, mainstream sound than the earthy Little Big Town, but the band still finds more than enough little nuances to create an impressive debut.
The album starts off on the right foot with a pair of punchy up-tempos: the freewheeling "How Far Do You Wanna Go?" and lead-off single "Wild at Heart". The latter was a great choice for a debut single, with its stomp-clap-stomp-clap intro, layered harmony, and tasteful mandolin and Dobro fills that lean against the group's heavily-layered harmonies. It uses a fairly typical theme of being young and in love for the first time, but it makes perfect sense for a younger group. "If You're Leavin'", the fifth track, isn't particularly different from any other "baby, don't go" song (think "How 'Bout You Don't" by The Lost Trailers), but it still manages to capture your attention by kicking off with an a cappella chorus that brings to mind "All the Gold in California".
"Come and Save Me" is one of the softest tracks on the album. It manages to be radio-friendly while still relying on a gentle melody punctuated by little more than acoustic guitar and a few fiddle and Dobro fills. "Even If I Wanted To" features the rawest vocal performance on the disc, with an equally raw production that rocks pretty hard.
Some tracks are hampered by heavy-handed production: "Lead Me On", despite its echoing, minor-key verses, nearly drowns in a sea of strings about halfway through, as does "Cry on Command" to a lesser extent. "You Said" and "Are You Over Me Now" rely on a slightly exaggerated twang that sounds dangerously close to Miley Cyrus at times. These songs share her penchant for guitar-driven excess and repetitive choruses, but somehow, both manage to work. "All That Things That Mean the Most" gets a little guitar-heavy as well.
After a couple more tracks' worth of bombast, the tempo slows down and the production is dialed down for the final two tracks, "Change Your Mind" and "Time to Let Me Go". The latter is perhaps the best track on the whole album: a nearly-acoustic, minor-key number with a distinct bluegrass flavor. It even has an acoustic guitar solo.
The lyrics may not be terribly substantial, but at the same time, they're not trite or overused, and none of the songs tries to puff itself up with a sense of melodrama. Most of the melodies are just a little bit different, and would probably sound great even with just one voice singing them instead of four. Each song has a slightly different sound than the one before it, but the album still holds together as a unit — even more interestingly, there seems to be a slightly unifying theme, as many of the songs deal with at least one end of a relationship.
While not without its imperfections, Gloriana is a very solid debut album. The band's sound is surprisingly well-defined, given both the age of its members (18 to mid-20s) and the relatively short time (about three years) in which they have been working together. Unlike Little Big Town, which didn't hit full stride until its second album, Gloriana looks like it's gotten just about everything right on the first try.