Review Summary: Did we fly too high just to get burned by the sun?
had me really nervous. Knowing the context (Kacey Musgraves' high-profile divorce with fellow country star Ruston Kelly) made the album's title, that split heart necklace artwork, and the fact that it would apparently be delivered in "three different acts" (accompanied by a movie
, no less!) all the more difficult to bear. It all seemed to be leading up to a cliched and blush-inducing "breakup album", an overwrought bid for a magnum opus, or perhaps both at the same time. I don't tell this story very often, but when I was in high school I went through a pretty tough breakup (imagine that!), and one of my coping mechanisms was to write a series of poems that, at the time, I was convinced
were incredibly dark and evocative. Reading back on it months later led to me using my parents' fireplace in July, but that
sort of awkwardness is what I was mentally preparing for.
is the opposite of all these initial suspicions, thank god
: it's simple, plaintive, and highly introspective. Remarkably, it is also devoid of any anger, finger-pointing, or bitterness. Instead, it sees Musgraves grappling with an uncertain future. She questions herself a lot - sometimes feeling empowered and confident, other times depressed and afraid. It's a familiar emotional cocktail, but one that she tackles with grace and wisdom rather than surface level acknowledgements of pain and frustration. Kacey is at her most impressive when she takes an autumnal reflective tone on 'cherry blossom', singing "changing colors on city streets, petals surrounding us in every shade of pink / we happened quickly, as humans do" and "no one can question the chemistry / even in nature, timing is everything." Perhaps the best part is that Musgraves seems keenly aware of gimmicky love stories, singing almost with a wink and a nod on 'if this was a movie': "if this was a movie I’d be surprised, hearing your car coming up the drive / And you'd run up the stairs, you'd hold my face, say we're being stupid / And we'd fall back into place." She not only does everything in her power to avoid such sugar-coated pitfalls, but she also places everything squarely into context. This is not Hollywood, it's her "golden hour faded black."
Musgraves' lyrical acumen and wise restraint save an otherwise unimpressive album musically. star-crossed
certainly isn't without its highlights: there's the relaxed groove and engaging metaphors of 'cherry blossoms', the breezy and nostalgic 'simple times', the gossamer sheen of 'if this was a movie', the immediate radio accessibility of 'justified', and the unexpected whirlwind of flutes on 'there is a light' - but there's a much larger ratio of tracks that seem to merely exist. star-crossed
doesn't possess the magical glow that Golden Hour
boasted in spades (few albums do), and as much as I hate to reduce it to such simple terms, the album just isn't very memorable. The melodies don't hook you, the songwriting is fluid but lacks anything jagged to grip onto, and the whole thing sort of glides by without inspiring a reaction from the listener. The album's back half is where this is most plainly obvious, with a swath of downtempo/acoustic ballads that are unstructured and melodically subdued. They're far from poor songs (to be honest, I can't think of a truly bad
Kacey Musgraves song), and they can even be nice to sink into during a moment of quiet reflection if the mood strikes exactly right, but most of the time these songs are easily skipped - which is an unfamiliar sensation on the heels of Golden Hour
. 'gracias a la vida' also feels somewhat tacked-on as a closer; while it would have been nice to see Kacey incorporate Spanish influences across the record (instrumentally as well, not just lyrically), it sticks out like a sore thumb as a standalone cover.
is an acceptable follow-up to Golden Hour
, considering that album is an unattainable milestone. This record takes another step away from country and closer to pure pop, which honestly has little bearing on star-crossed
because both its strengths and weaknesses are independent of the genres employed. The album is unlikely to attract new fans or dissuade current ones, although it likely won't achieve the same levels of critical acclaim as some of Kacey's previous offerings. The maturity and class displayed here is a pleasant surprise (which has nothing to do with Musgraves, and everything to do with divorce/breakup album stereotypes), and the experience is unexpectedly serene given the music's content and overarching themes, but otherwise star-crossed
is merely nice
: a lukewarm batch of songs eager to saturate backgrounds rather than absorb your full attention.