For the first time in 14 years, the Chicks are back with a brand new album. The trio have been the object of controversy over the years, but they remain icons of the genre having never strayed from their authentic selves.
Their latest release does not take aim at those that abandoned them during their time of turmoil, but at Maines’ ex-husband and cheating men in general. However, it cannot be construed as a one-trick pony and features 12 unique songs. The album has potential to be a cross-genre smash-hit, much like Musgraves’ ‘Golden Hour’, and no doubt will be in contention to do incredibly well at this year’s Grammys.
The record kick-starts with Gaslighter, a previously released single. This is one of my favourite songs of the year so far; pure sassiness and wonderful harmonies. The three voices blend beautifully and give it a signature Chicks sound. The lyrics focus on a lying man receiving Maines’ wrath, and paints the picture for the first half (and part of the second half) of the album.
‘’Cause, boy, you know exactly what you did on my boat
And, boy, that’s exactly why you ain’t comin’ home”
The first half of the album is very angry but yet doesn’t feel hateful. The second track ‘Sleep at Night’ features a groovy banjo melody that somehow gives the song a cheeriness that works really well. The lyrics put a new spin on the classic ‘cheating songs’ of country music, and sees Maines questioning how the ex can sleep at night when he broke up a family and caused such heartbreak.
Track 4, ‘Everybody Loves You’ is a softer song on the album, that has Maines’ asking why so many people love this ‘ex figure’ despite his cheating and the pain that he caused. Here we have a classic, tragic country ballad that has a rawness to be admired. The production is also great, as each voice stands out above the soft and textured instrumentation.
For this project, the trio brought in Jack Antonoff as a producer, who also produced Taylor Swift’s 1989. As a producer, Antonoff is excellent at bringing out powerful female voices in a modern, contemporary style, and this really shows on ‘Gaslighter’. Yes, this is the trio’s most ‘poppy’ sounding album yet – but that isn’t a negative. Each song is an amalgamation of genres that will appeal in a wide-reaching way. Despite a lack of experience in this area, Antonoff has been able to brilliantly blend the classic 90’s country sound of the Chicks with modern pop elements.
This is particularly true on the song, ‘March March’. Starting off with simplistic vocals and a modernistic beat (which sounds almost rap-like), the layers build to a superb banjo solo by Emily Robison. The lyrics help set the scene for the second half of the album, which focuses more on moving on.
“March, march to my own drum
Hey, hey, I’m an army of one”
The second half of the album certainly feels more hopeful than the first. The second instant-grat release from the record, ‘Julianna Calm Down’, sees Maines’ giving advice to women who are going through break-ups, telling them to ‘breathe’ and ‘that everything is going to be okay’. This is paired with a stripped-back melody, which helps to convey the genuine message.
The following track on the record also features some heartfelt advice. On ‘Young Man’, Maines is singing to her son, telling him that he need not feel the pain about his father that she does – a topic you do not often hear. It is hard to not be charmed by this song; both heart-breaking and bitter sweet in equal measure.
However, there is a sassiness that runs throughout the album, none more so than on ‘Tights On My Boat’.
“I hope you die peacefully in your sleep
Just kidding, I hope it hurts like you hurt me”
The lyrics continue the story that track 1, ‘Gaslighter’ tells, and we learn of the entire cheating story of this ex. The song is a stand-out, blending cheeky lyrics with a more traditional, bluegrass sound.
Overall, I loved this album. Some may find it too raw at times, as you’re left feeling like you know the whole story of Maines’ divorce. But country music is at its best when it is honest, and this is very much so the case here.