Review Summary: So good.
Maddie & Tae’s last few years have been tumultuous in the very least. Since releasing the duo’s debut, Start Here
half a decade ago, their act had lost a record deal and dropped a couple of EP’s (both of which were released during 2019). The main issue between full-lengths it seemed, was the group’s lack of momentum. Sure, there’s been ample time for the girls to get the creative juices going (to which they own co-writing rights to fourteen of the fifteen tracks on their 2020 release), but without a steady release schedule or the backing of an original label, Maddie & Tae’s path to success had a few left turns and forks to slow their second studio full-length (not to mention a possibility that Covid - 19 would delay the record further). With this in mind, The Way If Feels
is well worth the wait; despite featuring the songs from the previous EP’s, plus a few extras.
At a glance, The Way If Feels
is a playful, often coy take on modern country tropes infused with enough pop sensibilities to ensure the lushest of country music’s lyrical stereotypes. The album’s opening moments in “Everywhere I'm Goin'” provide an immediacy for the listener. Instantly, we’re greeted with playful lyrics and nuanced country cliché (the naming of American cities and regions for example), but it’s the light slides and twangs of the band’s instrumentation which promotes the growth from one release to the next. The music is highly digestible and doesn’t stray too far from the foundation set many years before even these two were born. “Bathroom Floor” takes a crux of a defining moment; praising a person’s self worth in the face of adversity (like a failed relationship for example) and lyrics like: “Let's wipe the tears off your cheeks/Put on a dress and get out that door/Girl, the first shot's on me
” promote a resilient, if not high spirited approach to lyricism with topics all too familiar with country music while remaining innocently coquettish.
However, when you look deeper into the aesthetics that drive Maddie & Tae’s sophomore, you hear moments of bold confidence and equal parts vulnerability as the girls croon their way through poppy interiors and bar infused love stories that reflect their movement away from the teenage sounds that defined the debut - after all, the duo are heading towards their mid twenties now and aren’t the same song-writers who were launched to fame on the back of “Girl In A Country Song” (Start Here
) at the age of seventeen. In many ways the emotion and contextual motifs that contrast the likes of “Tourist In This Town” and “Die From A Broken Heart” with pop infused country anthems like album opener, “Everywhere I'm Goin'” and the album’s more blues orientated ballad, “Lay Here With Me” which features Grammy winning, Dierks Bentley, display the duo’s range in songwriting diversity and style. “Lay Here With Me” is especially poignant, laying out an open wound of sorts while touching on themes of potential breakups and the possibility of resolving marital issues.
Deeper cuts like “Water In His Wine Glass” show a more serious side for Maddie & Tae’s lyricism and sombre instrumentation. The track itself favours motifs central to alcoholism and the damage an addiction like this can have on those around them - particularly a faithful partner looking for solutions or absolution to deal with the issue and it’s moments like these that show just how much this duo has matured since Start Here
. But the more serious undertones found within “Water In His Wine Glass” are largely at odds with the rest of the album’s happy-go-lucky casual mention of drinking, whisky and wine (all in favour of a good night out) - but the variance in happy, high spirited lyricism is a welcome change. It’s the ‘dark’ that makes The Way If Feels
’ lighter moments stand out, even if the album’s central themes rely on contextually relationship fed material - not unlike a greater portion of the genre’s larger overused lyrical themes. As we move towards the record’s final tracks, the album continues to balance ‘dark’ with lighter contextual ideas. “I Don't Need To Know” deals with the idea of promiscuity, while the closer, “New Dog Old Tricks” puts the sombre mood on its head, replacing it with tongue-in-cheek, slap at the guys who hover around bars looking for cheap, easy dates.
Strictly speaking; The Way If Feels
may not be defined as outright or ‘classic’ “country music” and frankly, it’s all the better for it. There’s enough “pop” here to bring new modern audiences to the country genre, and archetypal to maintain those who would argue about the in’s and out’s of the genre. The Way If Feels
is a combination of catchy, heart-felt emotion, coupled with enough country music clichés that would somehow stop Garth Brooks on his way to ‘drinks’ in ‘low places’. Overall, Maddie & Tae’s sophomore was worth the half decade wait and the time it took for the duo to mature into talented songwriters, recapturing the momentum seemingly lost in the years between more music from this act. The Way It Feels
is a largely joyous album backed by some pretty well-worn lyrical motifs. Thankfully, the duo have managed to wrangle fresh life out of some tired bones and release a matured, highly digestible album.