More about: The Chicks
Returning with their first album in 14 years, and newly minted as 'The Chicks’, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Strayer are on fine form on their comeback record Gaslighter. Having reflected on their name in the wake of the recent focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, the Grammy winners opted to drop ‘Dixie' from their name in acknowledgment of its roots to Confederate legacy. Perhaps an overdue reckoning, it’s nonetheless reflective of a group that, more than many in country music, has interrogated the genre's traditions and politics in the past.
Aside from their own formidable catalogue, The Chicks legacy extends far beyond the bounds of the country music machine. Billie Joe Armstrong specifically namechecked the trio as a catalyst for Green Day’s iconic American Idiot album, inspired by The Chicks' vocal stand against President Bush’s war in Iraq. (So we have The Chicks to thank for five years of eyeliner emo!) Despite being blacklisted by country radio stations, the band were unrepentant in their criticism of the war, which has earned them respect in rock & roll circles.
Back in the saddle, Gaslighter’s title track is a fierce defiance of emotional manipulation in relationships that rests on an addictive hook laden with the trio’s trademark harmonies. It feels effortless and shows that after all that time away, The Chicks are still masters of their craft.
‘Sleep at Night’ tackles the pain of infidelity when there’s kids involved, but the music doesn’t quite match the hurt of the lyrics. ‘Texas Man’ fares better, bouncing along on percussive guitar strums and a cheeky bassline and finds those solid gold harmonies that single The Chicks out from other radio-country. The best songs on Gaslighter are certainly the more upbeat ones, producer Jack Antonoff (FUN, Taylor Swift) sprinkling his pop magic over the tracks to augment Maguire, Maines and Strayer’s southern affectations.
Given The Chicks’ recent contribution to Taylor tune ‘You’ll Get Better Soon’, it’s a nice feeling of circular narrative that the strongest songs here recall Swift’s own Fearless album, the collection where her country roots existed most comfortably alongside her mainstream ambition.
‘Tights On My Boat’ deals once again with a cheater, who’s left some errant clothing on their yacht. It makes up for its First World Problem premise with one of the better diss lyrics in country, "I hope you never find a sock to match the other one”. Bravo, Chicks.
‘For Her’ is a swelling anthem of positivity and strength, taking the best musical tics from their roots and eschewing the braggadocio and cliche that riddle the genre. That pathos is a rare gift, with ‘March March’ humbly highlighting their own generation’s failings and the burden on the youth of today to put things right. The use of a modern, synthesised beat as the primary backing for the group’s vocals cleverly nods to that passing of the baton and of embracing new ideas, before a fiddle solo from Maguire reintroduces the traditional instruments, with a wonderful little bluegrass outro of banjo and fiddle.
After time away to raise families and retreat from the harsh spotlight that their political convictions cast upon them, The Chicks deliver some classic songs that honour their past while showing an appetite for new ideas. Crucially they take their own advice, “Put on your best shoes, and strut the fuck around like you’ve got nothin’ to lose.”
Gaslighter is out now via Columbia Records.
More about: The Chicks