When I first heard Alabama Shakes a few years ago, I was taken by the simplicity of what they were doing. “Hold On” stood out in a landscape of electronic hipsters trying to ironically out-hipster each other electronically. It was authentic, traditional and just damn good. From Brittany Howard’s ability to reach into the soul with her voice to the shear laid back perfection of the band, this was something special, and the whole album, Boys and Girls, reflected an understanding of southern soul’s promise without necessarily being beholden to it. So hearing their single “Don’t Wanna Fight” from their album Sound & Color, I was rightfully excited and ultimately surprised.
Right off, this sounds different. In many ways, it comes off rougher, with an edge that wasn’t there in the first album which was more focused on heartbreak. I wouldn’t say this song feels angry, but it certainly comes after the hurt and reflects its title. Brittany’s James Brown style weary scream at the beginning is almost uncomfortable to listen to, but I think it only adds to the overall atmosphere. The tinge of disco in the muted rhythm guitar, bass and falsetto chorus work quite well also and almost feel like a different song than the verses. It’s interesting that so many bands have incorporated the disco flavor into their mostly rock sound lately. From the Black Keys to the Arctic Monkeys, we seem to be in a repeat of the late 70s when everyone from Kiss to the Rolling Stones did the same thing. In this case, I think it probably started with Danger Mouse and the second Broken Bells album.
While this song does come across as raw, it is also much more produced than their previous work. I can’t put my finger on it, but I get the sense much more attention was paid to creating an atmosphere, where as the first album seemed to just have that atmosphere organically. The band seems tighter as well. And it all sounds good, but I do hope it’s not a sign of abandoning the loose and easy style altogether. I’d like to see them balance both sides and expand their repertoire, instead.