The Chicks - Gaslighter Music Album Reviews

The trio’s first album in 14 years is a genuinely compelling new take on the punchy country sound that’s always made them stand out. But its links between the personal and the political are foggy.

Without making explicitly cause-oriented music, the artists now known simply as the Chicks acquired a reputation for provocation. To take on Nashville as a trio of unknown women singers and instrumentalists requires guts, and they always appeared fearless—a defiant posture in itself. Seemingly uncompromising, they won over country’s capital with catchy, bold music that hewed to the genre’s strong roots while simultaneously propelling them to megastardom.
But lead singer Natalie Maines’ offhand comment objecting to the Iraq War in 2003 changed the group’s relationship with Music Row entirely. What had been seen as titillating spunk was suddenly an existential threat, a gauntlet thrown down in a genre where the most widely accepted political statements are conservative. The response was so virulent that it made the mere existence, and persistence, of the Chicks a protest—one that defined their acclaimed 2006 comeback album, Taking the Long Way, and its oft-punned lead single “Not Ready to Make Nice.”

Now the Chicks are finally back with Gaslighter, a follow-up that, for better or worse, is philosophically unmoved. Their dukes are still up, but in the intervening 14 years their opponents have left the ring. Now their battles are scattered, with what seem to be good intentions sometimes awkwardly and ineffectively conveyed along the way. While they’re ready to fight on matters personal and political with the same jaw-dropping technical skill that’s always made them stand out, it’s with little of the incisive clarity and precision that defines their best work.

Take “Gaslighter,” the album’s opener and lead single. The exceptionally bright track has the same outspoken tone, vocal harmonies, and foot-stomping chorus of some of the Chicks’ most beloved songs. But its central, titular refrain relies on the implications of “gaslighter,” the runner-up for the 2018 word of the year, for a hint of subversion—even though its overuse in contemporary political rhetoric has sapped the term’s power.

While the song seems to be about Maines’ ex-husband, it serves the Chicks’ political position as well. “I think most everybody has a gaslighter in their lives somewhere,” the band’s Emily Strayer told the Associated Press. “But, yeah, it was so weird how it echoes our current administration.” In trying to offer a righteous indictment, “Gaslighter” ends up suggesting a depressingly familiar trope: how Americans oversimplify political alignment by looking at it through the lens of their romantic lives.

The trite, foggy expression of the very real links between the personal and the political continue back-to-back on “For Her,” an ostensibly encouraging song that Maines directs to her younger self before reverting to rallying cry cliché (“Stand up, show up/For her, for her”), and “March March,” a performative protest song that name-checks a laundry list of contemporary issues including gun violence, global warming, and underfunded public schools without convincingly engaging with any of them. Notably absent from its concerns is systemic racism, a possible oversight that the group attempted to address with a video spotlighting the names of Black people killed by police and otherwise, released amid protests following the death of George Floyd. And though Maines told the New York Times the group had “wanted to change it years and years and years ago,” the Chicks only dropped “Dixie” from their name mid-album rollout, after those same protests prompted new conversations around Confederate monuments and symbolism.

These aimless attempts distract from some of the more interesting aesthetic experiments on the album, which was produced by the Chicks in partnership with pop monolith Jack Antonoff. “Texas Man” and “Tights on My Boat” both strip the Chicks’ sound down to its essence to great effect—banjo, strings, and the group’s vocal harmonies filtered through a pop groove and otherwise left alone is a genuinely compelling new take on the punchy country sound they spent a decade’s worth of albums cultivating. Beachy hymn “Julianna Calm Down” is a signature anthem that’s fully outside of country, but in a way that doesn’t feel forced. All three, co-written by buzzy hitmaker Julia Michaels, also have some of the album’s most distinctive hooks.



The group’s core elements—Maines’ singular voice, those crystalline harmonies, their remarkable talent as instrumentalists—endure, and because of that, much of the album charms. What’s missing, despite a team that includes some of pop’s most sought-after collaborators, are memorable songs that stand up to the sky-high bar the Chicks set for themselves all those years ago. Without a clear target, their formerly devastating blows just don’t quite land the same way.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
The Chicks - Gaslighter Music Album Reviews The Chicks - Gaslighter Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 Rating: 5

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