Kacey Musgraves broke through with her third album Golden Hour - a shining light of positivity and happiness. Her fourth album star-crossed arrives three years later, after a period of divorce and new love which obviously leads to a much different sonic backdrop.
star-crossed was inspired by Greek tragedies. "...you set the scene, the audience rises to the climax of the problem with you, and then there's resolve. There's a feeling of resolution at the end," Musgraves told Rolling Stone as she was working on the album. As such, the album arrives in three parts, detailing her journey towards resolve.
It's out today, alongside a visual album, so we took a walk through the album.
We emerge from the glow of Golden Hour with star-crossed, a blurry-eyed epiphany that depicts the end of a relationship with drama. Spanish guitars glide alongside Musgraves as she sings, "let me set the scene, two lovers ripped right at the seams." It's one of the most grandiose productions Musgraves has ever been involved in and it sets the album up perfectly.
"Let's go back to the beginning," Musgraves sings at the beginning of good wife. It shows her own individuality slipping away as she embraces a life of domestication. In the film that comes alongside the album, Musgraves goes to deportment school, learning to iron and set a table but ultimately finding she can't do it. "Good help me be a good wife," she sings with a light touch of auto-tune. It's country-pop with a touch of psychedelia.
One of the brightest productions on the album, cherry blossom may be one of the most pop-leaning songs Musgraves has ever delivered. Its hazy, kaleidoscopic production is delivered alongside a sweet, gentle vocal performance. "I'm your cherry blossom baby, don't let me blow away," she sings, holding on to the last fragments of the relationship.
If you're a fan of early '00s country-pop from the likes of LeAnn Rimes and Jewel, you're going to love this one. It's the obvious single from the record. A nostalgic cut that recalls the simple times - the sort of bliss that was laid out on Golden Hour. The film, shows Musgraves plotting a wedding store heist with her crew dressed in head-to-toe Versace. It's surreal and yet strangely heartwarming.
if this was a movie...
if this was a movie... feels like the moment Musgraves truly realises that her marriage may not be what she wanted. Tapping into an All Saints-esque mood of washy synths and tinny beats, Musgraves creates a fantasy in her head that she knows is just not achievable. "It's not a movie," she concludes, as we move into Act II.
The album's first official single is a slice of country-pop perfection. In the film, she drives across America, singing along to the song and shedding a tear along the way. The song has a movement to it conducive to emotional road trips signalling major change and the chorus feels like a much-needed dishing of anger.
The album's first true ballad is an acoustic cut that showcases Musgraves' heavenly voice better than ever. Storm clouds loom above the song, crashing through the choruses. It truly feels like the clouds coming over, blocking the golden hour and there's something really crushing about that.
This is being hailed the High Horse off the album but it's a little less playful than its predecessor. The light disco beat is present but there's a more potent sting to what Musgraves is singing about. "He wants a breadwinner / He wants your dinner until / He's not hungry anymore," she sings in anger. This one is going to be a fan favourite.
As the anger begins to subside, Musgraves starts to feel nostalgic for her relationships' best parts. "Don't go through your camera roll / So much you don't know that you'd forgotten," she sings. In the film, her phone continues to fire through album suggestions as she drives before she veers into a truck. It's a signal of rebirth and that's depicted here in a moment of gratitude as she sings, "Thanks for all the nights and the days / And everything you gave / I'll never erase it."
Both camera roll and easier said arrive in a haze that suggests there's brightness on the horizon but it hasn't quite arrived yet. "It ain't easy to love someone," she sings as the song almost lifts off into a power ballad. It doesn't quite get there but it's one of the more emotionally swelling moments on the album.
There's always been something so reassuring about Musgraves' songwriting. She takes these grand moments and simplifies them. It's what made Golden Hour so spectacular and it's something that she does here on hookup scene. "You might not even know that you don't have it that bad," she sings over a gently plucked guitar, once again reassuring us that everything will be okay.
keep lookin' up
The positivity has arrived and Musgraves is healing. keep lookin' up is rooted in country music, chugging along like a Willy Nelson classic. It also comes with those simple assertations that Act III seems to be made up of. Whether she believes it or not the song is a reminder to herself to, "keep lookin' up / don't let the world bring you down."
what doesn't kill me
Rising from the ashes, what doesn't kill me sees Musgraves regain her confidence on a bed of nostalgic '00s beats and sun-soaked guitars. This one also features one of the more noteworthy lyrics on the album as she sings, "Golden hour faded to black."
there is a light
The most upbeat song on the album is a dancefloor stormer. It's one of the cheesiest things Musgraves has put her name to and that is absolutely a compliment. Beginning with a shuffle of percussion it explodes into an all-out pan-flute disco that is a much-needed exhale at the tail-end of a very dense record.
gracias a la vida
The album closes on a cover of Violeta Parra's gracias a la vida, a Latin classic that has been covered by everyone from Mercedes Sosa to Joan Baez. Musgraves' version is psychedelic and surreal. It passes through different sonic filters from gritty distortion to crystal clear elation. Musgraves opens her lungs more than ever and in doing so reclaims her light and confidence. Even though she's skeptical, there may be another golden hour around the corner yet.