You probably haven’t heard of Brandy Clark before, but you’ve definitely heard one of her songs. Between “Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” she’s penned hits for some of the best in the business. On her third album, Your Life is a Record, Clark proves she saves her strongest songwriting for herself.
Often, Clark’s prowess with words interrupts the song itself. The listener is forced to take pause, not because a verse is particularly weighty, but because it takes time to unravel a clever joke. Clark’s nuggets of humor are everywhere. In “Bad Car” Clark plays with a common saying to sing about her car’s dysfunction. “Yeah, there’s death and taxes, and the check engine light blinkin’ on,” she sighs.
Some lines are snicker-inducing: “Can’t eat this, you can’t eat that / Is there anything that ain’t giving cancer to rats?” she deadpans on “Bigger Boat.” While she excels at one liners, Clark also knows how to set a scene. The chorus of “Long Walk," a Kacey Musgraves-reminiscent kiss-off to a mudslinging neighbor, sketches out a progression of images that run through your mind like a comic strip. Simultaneously sharp and campy, Clark provides her nemesis with a detailed set of instructions on how to “take a long walk off a real short pier.”
Zooming out, it’s clear that Clark takes the title of her album seriously. Each song dips into a pocket of everyday life — and the way Clark makes normalcy shine is like spinning hay into gold. In “Pawn Shop,” she traces the end of two broken dreams — a woman pawns off her wedding ring and a struggling singer pawns his guitar. But, Clark promises, when the shop opens again, the items “will start a new dream secondhand.”
“Who You Thought I Was” is the record’s heartbeat. Clark recounts all of the things she used to want to do until she met her significant other — but there’s a twist. In the bridge the listener finds out that Clark’s relationship is over, so what sounds like a love song at first is suddenly flipped on its head. This bait and switch is emblematic of Clark’s artistry in general. The everyday is extraordinary and the expected isn’t what you think — you just have to pay attention.
The track that expands these snapshots into a nation-spanning statement is “Bigger Boat.” While recognizing the country’s political polarization, this song seems to situate Clark on the sidelines. Its instrumentation is both timeless and playful, resembling the Disney songs that Randy Newman, who is featured on the track, is known for. This makes his presence on the song a bit eerie. It’s discomforting to hear a voice of childhood’s past giving up on America getting along. But not so fast. Understanding Clark’s approach to songwriting suggests that her call for “a bigger boat” is sarcastic. What she’s really calling for is unity.
Despite writing for country stars, Your Life is a Record is categorized as singer/songwriter. This classification makes sense as most of the songs could easily fit into any coffee shop playlist. Instead of featuring banjo licks, the songs are stripped in a way that shows off Clark’s voice and lyrics.
What does this mean for country music, a genre experiencing an endless identity crisis? Most likely it means that one of its best songwriters knew that she wasn’t going to get any airplay with a country record anyway, so she decided to take the opportunity to sonically expand.
Clark’s lyrics speak for themselves. Your Life is a Record puts a magnifying glass on the small moments and makes it all feel big. If your life really is a record, you would be lucky if it was half as good as Clark’s is.