Six must be Kacey Musgraves’s lucky number: This September, years after winning her sixth Grammy award, the country singer-songwriter put out her sixth studio album, star-crossed. With two of her past records being Christmas song collections and the others ruminations about small-town life and falling in love, star-crossed takes a sharp turn from her usual subject matter. Inspired by the failure of her three-year marriage, Musgraves’s most recent album explores new musical and emotional terrains.
The songs on the record follow her divorce chronologically, opening with theatrical vocals in the first track, “star-crossed.” Musgraves layers her singing over itself to create the effect of a gospel chorus, which is then accompanied by stylistically Spanish guitar plucking — the stage is set for the story of a heartbreak, Western-style. “Let me set the scene,” Musgraves sings. “Two lovers ripped right at the seams.” Eerie synth melodies creep through her vocals, both intriguing and frightening listeners about what’s to come in the next songs. It is evident by the first 30 seconds that this album is a departure from her past.
While usually accompanied solely by a strumming guitar, piano and upbeat drumming, star-crossed introduces electronic melodies and autotune. In songs such as “good wife” and “if this was a movie..”, Musgraves heavily distorts her vocals and implements extraterrestrial synths. These effects give her sound a darker and more dimensional feeling — a strong contrast from the sun-filled love songs of her 2018 record, Golden Hour. Haunting gloominess is not the only new sound with which Musgraves experiments. She runs with the Western romance tropes, implementing more Spanish-style guitar in “simple times” and singing in Spanish in her closing track, “gracias a la vida.” In “angel,” artificial thunderclaps in the background of the mysterious song situate the listener in the middle of the storm, both literally and metaphorically.
One of the strongest aspects of star-crossed is Musgraves’s storytelling abilities. From beginning to end, the record’s songs track feelings of devotion (“good wife”) and nostalgia (“simple times”) to uncertainty (“justified”) and loneliness (“hookup scene”). While sometimes simple and cliché, Musgraves’s lyrics display a sense of emotional honesty and maturity which helps listeners to understand the fullness of her heartbreak. “If this was a movie, love would be enough,” she sings, “to save us from the darkness that’s inside both of us.” Not only does Musgraves tell stories through her lyrics, but she also bestows sage advice from lessons she has learned along the way. “Stay away from a boy like that,” she warns on “breadwinner,” “all of his wounds ain’t an excuse to put up with how he treats you.” On “hookup scene,” Musgraves sends a contrasting message: to stick out your relationships, because “you might not even know that you don’t have it so bad.”
Musgraves’s musical and emotional growth is evident in star-crossed. Her consistency in songwriting and production astounds. Her experimentation with more modern musical techniques is an interesting exit from her past music — one symbolic of her departure from her marriage and married self. Not only is her sound more complex in the album, but her emotional capacity is as well. Through contrasting viewpoints and raw lyrics, Musgraves displays an emotional intelligence far beyond that of the naive small-town girl in her past records. The closing track of the album, “gracias a la vida,” is a cover of Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra’s ballad about giving thanks to life’s experiences. In a language second to her own, Musgraves sings “gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto. Me ha dado la risa, me ha dado el llanto” — “thank you to life, which has given me so much. It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.” With this closing statement, Musgraves shows she has accepted the trials of her divorce — like all of life’s experiences, it is one to grow and learn from. And if you’re Kacey Musgraves, it is perfect material to compose an album around.
Daily Arts Writer Bella Greenbacher can be reached at email@example.com.