Kacey Musgraves’ fifth studio album maps a modern tragedy. ‘Star-Crossed’, which is split into three sections, depicts a crumbling relationship, moving from idealistic beginnings to the climatic breakdown and ending with the hopeful final act, which looks to the future where there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Influenced by the singer-songwriter’s own experiences following her divorce, the album opens with its title track, Musgraves boldly stating the record’s concept.
“Let me set the scene,” she starts, her vocals cutting over flourishes of Spanish guitar. “Two lovers ripped right at the seams / They woke up from the perfect dream / I signed the papers yesterday.” Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, it’s a brutally honest account of divorce, spun over Latin-infused instrumentals and driving Daft Punk-style synths.
The psychedelic ‘Good Wife’ sees Musgraves grapple with what it means to be a worthy spouse, before revealing: “And the truth is, I could probably make it on my own / But without him, this house just wouldn’t be a home / And I don’t wanna be alone”. Sun-kissed electro-pop tune ‘Cherry Blossom’, meanwhile, is a starry-eyed look at a flourishing relationship – yet even in these blissed out moments Musgraves includes a sense of unease: “I’m your cherry blossom baby / Don’t let me blow away”).
We move into act two, where the relationship falls apart. Earworm ‘Justified’ sees Musgraves acknowledge the messy nature of healing post-trauma and ‘Camera Roll’ is a very modern take on looking back at a relationship through rose-tined glasses, forgetting the reasons for its collapse. The final section sees the healing process underway, with the stomping ‘Keep Lookin’ Up’, poppy ‘What Doesn’t Kill Me’ and Tame Impala-inflected ‘There Is A Light’ all imbued with a sense of optimistic resolve.
On ‘Star-Crossed’ Musgraves worked with producer-songwriters Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, with whom she also collaborated on her Grammy-winning 2018 album ‘Golden Hour’ , the smash-hit record that made the country artist a crossover star. The sonic world of ‘Star-Crossed’ builds on that of its predecessor, once again bolstering Musgraves’ country roots with lush production and genre-pushing sounds and instrumentation, including a jazz flute solo (‘There Is A Light’) and koto.
This record, with its varied sounds and brutally honest lyrics, never finds Musgraves shying away from the uncomfortable. It’s an intricate project – the record also comes with an accompanying 50-minute film – that could collapse under the weight of its concept. Bolstered by its author’s frank pen, though, and instilled with a sense of hope, it’s a powerful listen.
Release date: September 10
Record label: MCA Nashville / Interscope