‘Star-Crossed’ Review: The Kacey Musgraves Divorce Hour

Kacey Musgraves’s fourth studio album, “Star-Crossed,” actually picks up halfway by way of, with “Breadwinner.” It’s a enjoyable dismantling. Over pointedly plucky manufacturing, Musgraves tells a narrative a couple of male associate intimidated by a lady’s success, who latches on, vampire-like, nonetheless. “He wants your shimmer/to make him feel bigger,” Musgraves sings, “until he starts feeling insecure.”

The relationship is doomed, in fact.

Musgraves pulls again later within the tune to evaluate her personal complicity, or lack thereof: “I can sleep at night knowing I really tried/I put in the time/But the fault isn’t mine.” She sings this with an surprising sprinkle of coy, Janet Jackson-esque sweetness — an ideal smile masking up the rictus inside.

“Star-Crossed” is Musgraves’s divorce album, a tune cycle about how a relationship deteriorates: not unexpectedly, or in large shards, however decrementally. It’s filled with small reminiscences, good and unhealthy, rendered largely with out judgment. Though it shares some manufacturing thrives, or anti-flourishes, together with her final album, “Golden Hour,” it feels nearer in spirit to her earliest work, significantly how on her debut album, “Same Trailer Different Park,” Musgraves achieved an incredible quantity of emotional energy with easy, nearly talked-through songs.

Sometimes in breakups, there’s no pure enemy — everybody bears some culpability. Throughout “Star-Crossed,” Musgraves entertains this notion, even when solely to let it ebb away. It’s a stability she strikes most astutely on “Good Wife,” on which she’s torn between considering that title position is a worthy objective and seeing it as a tragic inventory character. “Listen to his problems/Tell him that I understand/Touch him so he knows in his heart he’s the only one,” she sings, flatly declaiming the position of an attentive associate with out ever sounding overly dedicated to it.

The first half of the album, earlier than “Breadwinner,” is loosely about hope, significantly the hope that the connection’s collapse might in truth be an phantasm, or no less than stoppable. The gloomy “If This Was a Movie …” writes out a well-recognized fantasy of spontaneous reconciliation that’s all the time a crimson herring.

“Star-Crossed” was made with the identical staff that labored on “Golden Hour.”

But the stronger, and affecting, a part of “Star-Crossed” is its again half, when these illusions have lengthy light. Musgraves’s songwriting right here is extra detailed, and due to this fact extra savage. The curiously candy “Hookup Scene” captures the remorse of discovering your self forged out to sea after a relationship ends. The patiently unhappy “Camera Roll” particulars the fashionable conundrum of whether or not to scroll again by way of outdated images: “Chronological order/and nothing but torture.”

Where Musgraves actually drives the nail in, although, is on “There Is a Light,” a spooky, narcotic dance flooring quantity. A sassy flute tauntingly hovers over issues, and Musgraves’s first verse begins with a vicious quatrain that captures the fracture in a nutshell:

Tried to not present it
To make you’re feeling good
Pretended I couldn’t
When you knew that I may

Much has been made from Musgraves’s experimentation on the edges of nation music. But reward for her omnivorousness has usually learn as a substitute as exasperation with the assumed boundaries of the style she’s perceived as distancing herself from. Sometimes these agitating for change from outdoors the style are simply as conservative as these agonizing about boundaries from inside.

That was all the time a head faux. Musgraves got here up as a traditionalist, and even when she’s poking at orthodoxy, she’s no less than evenly invested in heritage: On this album, “Keep Lookin’ Up” is a stunning nation tune. That Musgraves arrived in Nashville throughout one among its most restrictive eras isn’t her fault; her closest analog is Sturgill Simpson, who additionally retreated into delicate psychedelia as a response to what everybody inside earshot was doing.

“Star-Crossed” isn’t as belabored, production-wise, as “Golden Hour,” which may really feel overly woozy. (She labored with the identical staff right here, the writers and producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk.) In locations, it’s nearly breezy, and has a number of callbacks to the sunshine schlock of the 1970s and 1980s — the John Hughes-film gloom of “Easier Said” nods to “Drive” by the Cars, and the melancholic “Angel,” with a literal rainstorm arriving halfway by way of, feels casually indebted to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.”

These comparatively minor manufacturing gestures converse loudly as a result of Musgraves comes from a world by which they’re perceived as extra radical than they really are. (That mentioned, this album is certainly extra at house alongside, say, Phoebe Bridgers or Japanese Breakfast.) But additionally they resonate so loudly as a result of Musgraves lets them say issues her voice doesn’t.

She by no means seems to be singing to persuade you — her voice, which is modest in scale however lethal exact, connotes the facility of malaise and exhaustion. It is remorse embodied.

Sometimes — and infrequently on this album — Musgraves’s resignation seems to increase to the precise act of singing itself. When she’s seething, she’s calm. When she’s calm, she’s verging on bored. Sometimes, on the finish of a relationship, you’ve merely mentioned every little thing there may be to say. To give extra can be to provide an excessive amount of.

Kacey Musgraves
(Interscope/UMG Nashville)