Early in her new album, Kacey Musgraves delivers one of the most jarring moments of her career — “God help me be a good wife,” she pleads on the second track, marking a sharp departure from the breezy, casually convention-defying tone of most of her work up until this point. Her own take on the divorce album, a time-honored country staple, finds her reflecting on the deep reverberating effects of the breakdown of her marriage.
Star-Crossed (★★★☆☆) is a testament to what we all find out at some point, that the end of a long relationship is even more emotionally complex and messy than we expect. “Justified” sits in the uncomfortable, uncertain middle ground of a dead relationship whose feelings refuse to die with it. That complexity rears its head many times, such as when we find her indulging the almost painfully happy memories she holds onto in the heartbreaking “Camera Roll.” “Hookup Scene” even finds her wallowing in a moment of regret as she sings through the struggle of trying to find the same kind of intimacy that she experienced with her former partner.
Despite her sober, reflective headspace towards her marriage and its collapse, Musgraves allows herself to indulge in some spite in the album’s second act. “Breadwinner” is a scathing and pointed indictment of the kind of lover who “wants your shimmer,” warning against petty men who hitch themselves to partners whose coattails they can ride. Towards the end of the album, “What Doesn’t Kill Me” finds her rediscovering a defiant inner strength. Having expressed and dealt with the complexity of the grief, spite, longing, and self-pity swirling around her head in the aftermath of the separation, she has come to something like a resolution, or at least a way forward, putting a cap on it with a pair of hopeful tracks, “There is a Light” and “Gracias a la Vida.”
Right to her plaintive signoff at the end of “Gracias,” her emotional journey is saturated with melodramatic instrumentation, giving even the more low-key songs a sense of excess that, in fairness, sometimes works out well. The album gets off to a remarkable start with its gorgeously cinematic title track, dripping with reverb and classical guitar, and “Justified” manages to bring together its shimmering synths and guitars together in perfect balance. Apart from a handful of moments, though, Star-Crossed regrettably comes off as dogged by excessive production, trying to do too many things at once in the service of lending it the sheen and drama of an old Hollywood romance.
The wounded, disillusioned artist we meet on Star-Crossed sounds almost like a different person from the force behind 2019’s Golden Hour, something that she outright calls attention to in the lyrics, “When I’ve been to hell and back/Golden hour faded black.” This time Kacey Musgraves remains laser-focused on the end of her marriage, and in that sense, it would be almost unfair to compare this album to its breezy, optimistic predecessor. While imperfect, Star-Crossed succeeds on its own terms as a record of a relationship that has fallen apart and a meditation on the emotional fallout that follows.
Star-Crossed is now available for streaming and purchase. Visit www.kaceymusgraves.com.
Read More Album Reviews:
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!