Album Review: The Chicks – Gaslighter (2020)

If I’m being honest, before a few weeks ago, I had never heard of The Chicks. Either that, or I knew the name (Dixie Chicks, before it was altered for social reasons) and had never really registered. It seemed familiar from somewhere. Anyway. The name change was the first time I had really encountered them.

Then something happened. Everyone seemed to be talking about them. Being eight in 2007, when they released their most recent album, I have no idea if that was the case before or not. Maybe it’s an echo chamber I’ve fallen into over Twitter. Anyway, I decided to do some research – an anti-war incident on stage in 2003? Politically charged? Three strong women kicking ass? – and decided that they could count me in as a passive admirer. Country isn’t typically my basket – Dolly Parton and the Bebe Rexha pop-crossover that the Florida Georgia Line are as far as I’ve ever gone – so I wasn’t really intending to listen. Until it came out on Friday.

It seems to be universally loved, and supported, even by people who don’t listen to country typically. So, attempting to put my preconceptions aside about “yeehaw” music (I mean that in the most affectionate terms), I pressed play on ‘Gaslighter’, a song which could be interpreted as opposing Donald Trump, or indeed an ex. As we all know, the Chicks have never shied away from defying the typical expectations of a country artist – when I see the word country, I think guns, Republicans and a wooden hut containing heavy machinery. It seems this is about singer Natalie Maines’ public fallout with her ex-husband.

I like the vibe from this album as a whole. Much of it seems to be very samey, but I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary. It feels very empowering, and I do enjoy the change from my typical listening. I don’t understand the album of the year suggestions – but maybe I’m not the target audience. There’s nothing wrong with it – only once did I need to stop myself hitting skip, which for any album is impressive – and I enjoy the no-nonsense, empowering messages. The stand-out track for me is ‘March March’. A catchy hook with a haunting backing, the Chicks take aim at the social issues facing the USA today – making references to Russian collusion, climate change and abortion (notably when the Republicans had a meeting in 2017 about reproductive rights with precisely ZERO women present). Apparently this was another single – they picked the best.

Jack Antonoff’s production apparently gives it a stand out edge – it does feel more like an indie pop album than a country one (although in the vein of Taylor Swift, another queen whom he’s worked with) – although I’m not qualified to give such judgements. It sounds good though. For a casual listener, this is a nice album. Most of the songs have something about them which makes you remember them, although it’s not personally all my cup of tea. It has done something to change my perception of the country music scene: but it hasn’t made me want to delve any further into it, nor back through the Chicks’ history.

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