Kacey Musgraves keeps it universal on post-Golden Hour divorce release
Shortly after some predecessor to homosapiens started to use carved bones as flutes and sticks for percussion, someone wrote a breakup song, which millennia later begat the breakup album. Many breakup albums.
Star-Crossed, Kacey Musgraves’ follow-up to 2018’s stellar The Golden Hour, is but the latest of these, the sadder flipside to its predecessor where the rose-colored glasses come off.
Golden Hour contained more than one song — “Butterflies” being one obvious example — about the positive mindset Musgraves had for fellow musician Ruston Kelly, who she married the previous year, and their relationship. The two publicly announced their divorce in 2020. Between the breakup and the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, Musgraves had a lot of time and a lot of emotions to work through. As Star-Crossed plays out, it becomes apparent that those emotions were there well before her divorce became public.
Artist: Kacey Musgraves
Label: Interscope/UMG Nashville
★★★1/2 (3.5/5 stars)
Musgraves told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe that she envisioned the album as “a tragedy in three acts” and, as if that weren’t theatrical enough, she’s also released a video version of the album, streaming on Paramount+.
The album’s 15 songs can indeed be roughly divided into three sections — It starts with the signs as the relationship moves toward the point where the fissures aren’t fixable, then the middle is where the breakup happens and then the “moving on”, albeit in fits and starts, during the third “act.”
Songs covering that middle terrain can come from a place of wrath, but Musgraves, who told Elle’s Veronique Hyland “I’m not a ruthless person. I care about other people’s feelings” has no interest in drawing out the scalpel to wreak furious vengeance. The closest she comes is “Breadwinner” where the pop shell coating reveals spiked candy underneath, a warning to an ex’s potential new flame about how he “wants your shimmer, to make him feel bigger, until he starts feeling insecure.”
Indeed, two songs prior, on “Justified”, the album’s lead single — Musgraves turns the blame inward after singing “you shoulda treated me right,” she admits “I shoulda treated you right.”
It’s that little twist that one wishes the album had more of, as in when the answer to “What Doesn’t Kill Me” turns out to be “better run.”
The dreamlike groove of “If This Was a Movie..” is another highlight, a resigned sadness that there’s no scriptwriter to step in to save real people from the inevitable.
The third section kicks off with its best song — “Camera Roll,” in which Musgraves deals what that eternal question — “What do I do with those photos of my ex on my phone?” The answer proves to be moving on by keeping them, with the nice detail of appreciating a picture taken while there was still good light, reminding of her of the good she doesn’t want to forget.
VIDEO: Kacey Musgraves Star-Crossed film trailer
One wishes there were more little details like that to bring the story as a whole to life. For all of the emotions that went into writing the songs that make up the album, what comes out as a whole is a shade too monochromatic. So much of it is hushed and muted, with the anger, sadness, confusion and joy all coming across with a similar degree of energy, like an actor delivering their lines the same way in a play regardless of what’s required of the scene.
This does her no favors when the lyrics falter in the latter stages. For example, if you guessed that the answer to “There Is A Light” is (C) both “at the end of the tunnel” and “inside of me,” you win.
Or “Keep Your Head Up”, which offers a bromide of “Keep lookin’ up/Don’t let the world bring you down/Keep your head in the clouds/And your feet on the ground” which is as suited to the late Casey Kasem as it is to Kacey Musgraves.
The end result sounds as carefully crafted as to be so tasteful that it would stand up to demand shelf space at Starbucks if they still sold CDs.
VIDEO: Kacey Musgraves “Simple Times”
Careful it may be, Star-Crossed is still well-crafted and Musgraves’ talents shine through often enough, even in moments where one wishes autotune had been used more judiciously.
She finds a way to have lovely songs like “Cherry Blossom” stick in the brain and there are enough moments of craft and spark throughout to keep it an enjoyable pop album.
As much as one respects Musgraves’ emotional process in making Star-Crossed, (which included a reported 25 songs that didn’t make the final cut), it just doesn’t quite click consistently enough to enter it into the pantheon of the classic breakup albums or the ranks of her personal best.
If life were a movie, more of it would have been on the screen.