GOLDEN HOUR by Kacey Musgraves
Genre: Country Pop
Favorite Tracks: “High Horse,” “Space Cowboy,” “Happy & Sad,” “Velvet Elvis,” “Wonder Woman”
Kacey Musgraves is offering more reflective and romantic prose on GOLDEN HOUR, her third LP in five years. In that short time she’s vowed to not make the same album twice, and you’ll find that her sound has evolved from her country roots, now only serving as a foundation for her pop playground. As much as Musgraves desires to be a versatile artist and explore new music that excites, GOLDEN HOUR is underwhelming compared to her previous work.
Despite bringing in new elements, there are still a few songs that capture Musgraves’s original sound, such as “Butterflies” and “Golden Hour.” The 13 songs are ordered in a fine balance that both accentuates her new pop influence while also staying in tune with what she came out the gate with. And so she eases us into the GOLDEN HOUR with the unrushed “Slow Burn,” in which she compares her assertion of her individuality as the title suggests: “‘Cause I’m alright with a slow burn / Taking my time, let the world turn / I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright.” It sets the tone for the more languid and reflective first half of the album, in which the bigger-picture topics that Musgrave tackles include the wonders of life in “Oh, What A World” (which strikes a similar chord as “Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong), with a robotic vocal filter that opens and closes that song.
Unfortunately, the result is stylistically awkward and doesn’t tie into anything else on the record. On the other side of the spectrum is Musgraves’s one-minute ode to her “Mother,” sung with nothing but a piano to accompany the childlike lullaby melody that is both relatable and touching. (Supposedly she wrote the song in 15 minutes while on LSD, #sorrymom.) In a way, GOLDEN HOUR seems to be full of love ballads, probably a reflection of her recent nuptials, and the standout song in that category is “Love Is A Wild Thing”; she describes how love has a mind of its own because “Even if you lose it, it will find you / There’s no way to stop it, but they’ll try to,” yet the downside is it’s almost 100% pop (except for the banjo) and just doesn’t sound like Musgraves wrote it.
The second half has more substance as it slowly builds up and away from its more generic predecessor. “Space Cowboy” is the first sad song—and is unfortunately not about an intergalactic cowboy. The weight of the break up grounds the loftier and romantic tracks that precede it, and sets the tone for the album’s back end. It’s followed by the vulnerable “Happy & Sad” and “Wonder Woman,” the former artfully marrying Musgraves country twang and soft-pop melodies while exploring the confusing emotional state the title reveals, and the latter shattering the idea that avoiding getting hurt is a sign of strength: “I don’t need a Superman to win my lovin’ / ‘Cause, baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman.” If you make it this far in GOLDEN HOUR, you’re more likely feeling underwhelmed by the lack of witty, poignant lyrics that made you fall in love with Musgraves, which is why you have to make it all the way to “High Horse.” Though it isn’t as perfect as its cousins on SAME TRAILER DIFFERENT PARK, it sounds like it was composed by the band Phoenix on a trip to Nashville and features Musgraves’s beautiful criticism of a loud-mouthed buzz-killer with lines such as, “Darling, you take the high horse and I’ll take the high road / If you’re too good for us, you’ll be good riding solo.” The album closes out with more of the romantic pop and general feel-good vibes with “Rainbow,” another stripped-back piano ballad that holds its weight and leaves us with, “I’m just tryin’ to tell ya / That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.”
I have come to terms with the new direction that Musgraves has chosen for GOLDEN HOUR, however, “Lonely Weekend” is a true disappointment in that regard. She sings about the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) in a way that falls flat. The only saving grace (if you can call it that), is how the ironically repetitive chorus echoes the act of constantly looking at your phone and putting it back down in the hopes you’ll have something to do, but that’s a stretch. Despite the topic’s potential for Musgraves’s songwriting, it’s the kind of humdrum pop song you wouldn’t expect from her. That said, Musgraves credits 11 other composers on her junior album, some of whom have worked on the likes of Ed Sheeran’s ÷ (DIVIDE), while others are country veterans: I’m assuming the real villain is one of them. I probably wouldn’t have disliked “Lonely Weekend” so much had it not been placed second on the album.
Change isn’t always easy, and it sounds to me like Musgraves knows where she wants to go but hasn’t figured out how to get there—perhaps she just hasn’t quite found the right collaborators. Luckily, she’s a great musician, even on an off-day. Nitpicking aside, GOLDEN HOUR delves into both lighthearted and heartfelt topics through beautiful and quirky moments and is of course full of Musgraves’s sweet vocals; it starts slow and grows into a solid finale. You’ll give it a listen for Musgraves, but you’ll repeat for the good vibes.