One of the (very) few good things that has come in 2020 is the return of the newly renamed The Chicks, the bestselling female band and bestselling country group of all time. Formed in 1989 in Dallas, Texas, The Chicks have experienced quite a rollercoaster in their over thirty-years-long career. The band hit big with the release of Wide Open Spaces in 1998, but quickly found themselves in the midst of a massive controversy just five years later. After criticizing George W. Bush at a London concert, the Chicks were blacklisted from country radio, boycotted by fans and brands alike, and received death threats for themselves and their families. In response, the band released “Not Ready to Make Nice” in 2006, earning three Grammy Awards and cementing The Chicks’ reputation as women who speak their minds and won’t back down. Their controversy and subsequent hiatus haven’t lessened the band’s power; they had sold over 33 million albums prior to the release of Gaslighter and received thirteen Grammy Awards throughout their career.
Gaslighter, produced by Jack Antonoff and The Chicks themselves, is the band’s eighth album and the first new one they’ve had in fourteen years. On her Spiritualgasm podcast, Maines explained that the album, originally intended to be a simple cover album to fulfill their Sony contract, became Gaslighter after she found inspiration in the dissolution of her marriage. To say that the resulting album is personal would be an understatement; much of Gaslighter centers on Maines’s divorce from ex-husband Adrian Pasdar, a highly public affair that sparked rumors of cheating and courtroom arguments about money. During “Sleep At Night,” Maines sings, “You’re only as sick as your secrets/So I’m telling everything,” a promise she fulfills throughout the album’s twelve tracks, providing just enough details for those inclined to puzzle out what might led to their marriage’s demise.
The album opens on first single “Gaslighter,” a patented Chicks country pop track heavy on the harmonies about a cheating, gaslighting ex who’s greedy for whatever he can take from her. “You made your bed and then your bed caught fire…You’re still sorry and there’s still no apology,” Maines sings, making her reasoning behind the album clear and creating an ironically upbeat anthem for anyone still not ready to make nice. The stripped down “Tights on My Boat” is true art in its pettiness; leaving very little open to interpretation, the lyrics exact revenge on their target with lines like “I hope you die peacefully in your sleep/Just kidding, I hope it hurts like you hurt me” and “You’re gonna get what you have coming to ya/You are, you are/If it’s the last thing that I see.” With its dissonant melodies and soft vintage sound, “Hope It’s Something Good” continues in this vein and serves as a sarcastic farewell.
For the most part, Gaslighter maintains its intensely personal connection. Songs like “Texas Man” and “For Her” put an emphasis on the importance of vulnerability and being kind to yourself, regardless of what has happened in the past. The pretty, mid-tempo “Juliana Calm Down” addresses Strayer’s and Maguire’s daughters by name, lending advice for when they’re facing their own troubles. The melodic “Young Man” is a letter to Maines’s sons who are growing up in the midst of their parents’ messy, public divorce. It’s a lovely message, with Maines reflecting on motherhood and encouraging them to forge their own paths in spite of their father’s actions, though some of the notes are a little rough.
Gaslighter’s outlier is third single “March March,” a protest anthem that makes great use of a minor key and a march drum beat. The Chicks invoke their political stance and call back to their 2003 controversy, singing, “Watchin’ our youth have to solve our problems/I’ll follow them, so who’s coming with me/(Half of you love me, half already hate me).” While it’s a solid song with evergreen themes (America, am I right?), there are a few specific references made that date the song. It might have been better served being released two years ago when it was written rather than as part of this album.
While the focus of Gaslighter may be rooted in negative experiences, the album itself is overwhelmingly a positive one. The Chicks shine, with their clever lyrics, powerful harmonies, and varied instrumentation creating a dynamic set of tracks. There’s controlled rage and quiet despair running throughout the album, dishing out cutting lyrics, worries, and catharsis in equal measure. However, the true triumph of Gaslighter is that it refuses to let the people who have wronged them take anymore than they already have. Are they furious still? The lyrics say absolutely–you can’t really argue with songs like “Tights On My Boat” or “Gaslighter.” Is that fury going to prevent them from moving on with their lives, raising their families as best as they can, or having the great career they deserve? No, it’s not.