Texan singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves is often billed as a crossover country star, which means you can enjoy her music even if you aren’t currently sitting on a horse, but she’s never strayed as far from the genre as, say, Taylor Swift. Her fourth album, Golden Hour, was a mesmerising stylistic shift, incorporating soft synthesizers and other digital effects, yet it didn’t lose the key elements that had gone before: sweet melodies, strong structure and sharp, storytelling lyrics. It was Country Plus, or as she put it, “galactic country”. While her debut had won the Grammy for Best Country Abum, Golden Hour won the biggest mainstream award in 2019, Album of the Year.
The follow-up deals with another country staple: D.I.V.O.R.C.E. The title is a nod to Romeo and Juliet, which as we know, didn’t end well. She wrote her last collection while lovestruck by her 2017 marriage to fellow country musician Ruston Kelly. This one begins with the slow-building title track and the lines: “I signed the papers yesterday/You came and took your things away.” Later, on What Doesn’t Kill Me, she sings: “I’ve been to hell and back/Golden Hour faded black.”
In between, there’s still plenty of romance before the tragedy. Over the easy listening groove of Good Wife she sings of her early aspirations for a perfect marriage. Cherry Blossom recalls a heart-eyed day in Tokyo, complete with Japanese koto chiming dreamily in the chorus. Simple Times is an easily lovable song about escaping the harsh realities of adult life, which clearly has a specific meaning for her but fits with everyone else’s pandemic existence too. Breadwinner also speaks for more than just herself with its biting warning about the problem of being attached to a man who’s less successful than you.
The sound is a less dramatic progression than that between Golden Hour and its more traditional predecessors. Easygoing guitar and her caramel voice are the main ingredients, but you’re never too far from a little surprise. Angel is again about romantic aspirations and sounds like a pretty folk song until there’s a rumble of thunder in the distance. There is a Light has incongruous sonic similarities with Daft Punk’s Get Lucky before it indulges in a long, funky flute solo.
It’s a note of optimism at the end of an album that otherwise makes a strong case, yet again, that personal misery makes for the best music.