2020 has been nothing short of a disaster and July may just be the climax of the madness. Honestly, who better to musically guide us through this tumultuous summer than The Chicks. Formally known as Dixie Chicks, The Chicks have a career steeped in controversy — primarily at the hands of the conservative country music community. These ladies have always stood for values of equity and social justice, and they have always prioritized being outspoken and standing in their truth. On their new album, their first in 14 years, The Chicks explore the various stages of grief, the impact of divorce on family, and the current political climate of United States.
Executive produced by Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey), Gaslighter sees The Chicks making swift strides away from the core of traditional country music while still retaining some of its most prized elements: guitar, strings, and intricate lyrics that follow a specific narrative. The album’s lead single is also its title track, a fiery and anthemic power pop-influenced country banger. The song’s scathing refrain, “Gaslighter, denier/Doin’ anything to get your ass farther/Gaslighter, big timer/Repeating all of the mistakes of your father,” is one of the album’s most intense moments. Gaslighter starts off with so much gusto and emotion that it is almost unimaginable how that intensity will be sustained throughout the 14 track album. This is the beauty of Gaslighter: The Chicks expertly balance the wax and wane of different emotions across the album. That intensity of emotion appears again on “March March.” Released during the height of the protests in the wake of the unjust murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the countless other Black lives prematurely ended by state-sanctioned police violence, “March March” is a brooding and almost militaristic ode to protesting. On the track, The Chicks cover racial justice school shootings, climate change, gun control, and reproductive justice through a languid and menacing vocal delivery courtesy of Natalie Maines. The album’s general theme of fire continues with “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” With lyrics like, “I see a wildfire comin’/Burnin’ the world that I’ve known,” The Chicks unpack decades worth of intuition and betrayal.
Gaslighter truly excels with its more tender cuts. There’s the yearning ballad “Everybody Loves You,” a heavy track that carries the weight of divorce in the public eye and the confusion a person can feel as their body and mind manifest different emotions in different ways. The best part of “Everybody” is that it effectively doubles as a metaphor for Maines’ relationship with her ex-husband and The Chicks’ relationship with country music and America. On, “Julianna Calm Down,” which I named as one of the Best Songs of 2020 so far, the classic Jack Antonoff drums play off well against the acoustic guitars that reach maximum effect in the second chorus. “Julianna” is one of the least country songs on the album, but the shift towards a glossier pop sound was apparent through the album’s many collaborations with Justin Tranter (Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, 5SOS), Julia Michaels (Demi Lovato, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga), and Teddy Geiger (Shawn Mendes, Niall Horan, Lizzo). At times, this fuller sound works on tracks like the gospel-inflected “For Her.” On tracks like “Tights On My Boat” and “Texas Man,” however, the overall feel of the song is very flat and ultimately unimpressive. This isn’t to say that these tracks aren’t good, they just lack the impact and punch that Gaslighter‘s heavyweights have. Songs like “Julianna” and “March” capture the essence of The Chicks in just three minutes and they sound completely unique to them.
The crowning jewel of Gaslighter is “Young Man.” Anchored by a piercing falsetto, the song is simultaneously a companion track to “Julianna Calm Down” (named after the eldest daughter of a Dixie Chick member) and a plea to Maines’ sons to not let their father’s wrongs and their parents divorce define them. While this is not The Chicks’ strongest body of work, the album effortlessly inserts them into the 2020s with an updated sound to back their trademark gut-punching lyrics. From organs and viola to electric guitar (hey, St. Vincent!) and synthesizer, Gaslighter houses a hodgepodge of instruments that shouldn’t work together, but ultimately are the strongest tools to execute the vision that Antonoff and The Chicks had for the album. In a time where “gaslighting” has become a term corrupted by the mainstream, The Chicks bring the word back to its origins and use their musical talents to expose, challenge, and overcome the gaslighters in their own lives — professionally and personally.
Key Tracks: “Everybody Loves You” | “Young Man” | “My Best Friend’s Weddings” | “Set Me Free”