The Chicks sort of get their groove back on ‘Gaslighter’
The newly minted The Chicks are pulling a phoenix-like move with their eighth studio album, “Gaslighter.” The Dixie Chicks have died, long live The Chicks. In a stunning act of double re-invention, the country-pop trio have changed their name and re-emerged from a 14-year hiatus and personal turmoil with their new album — one that feels so private it’s almost as if you are there, nose-pressed, at steaming lead singer Natalie Maines’ windows.
“We have to say things when the time is right to say them, and we’ve been quiet for 10 years, so get ready,” bandmate Emily Strayer said in a recent interview.
Maines — who worked through her feelings about her divorce from actor Adrian Pasdar creatively — commits an act of immolation of her marriage so radical, it bursts through every lyric on the record.
The Chicks’ two singles from the album, the title track and “March March,” envelop one in their up-tempo; the former with its bop-y, almost playful drums, and the latter with its dramatic, synth-y waterdrop effect that makes one forget its call to arms intent. They burst through with vigor and the promise of an energizing re-invention.
Instead, the 12 tracks are a deconstruction and reconstruction of emotions that sometimes drag with its quiet, ballad-heavy set.
It will save many broken hearts along the way, taking this country theme to a new, almost quantum level.
“Gaslighter” was recorded and co-written with Jack Antonoff, the Grammy-winning producer-artist known for recording with pop’s female elite: Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Lorde and Sia. Antonoff pushed them to use their core strength, the three-part harmonies backed by fiddle and banjo, in new ways.
Martie Maguire’s fiddle playing is rhythmic on “Texas Man” backed by electric guitar from Grammy-winner St. Vincent. Strayer’s banjo leads a chorus of electronic melodies, cello and double drums on “Sleep at Night.” Their voices, strong, sharp and haunting, blend and build in cinematic ways.
The low-key instrumentals — lots of strings in “Tights on My Boat,” “Young Man” and “Set Me Free,” the touch of the violin in “Julianna Calm Down,” a dash of church organ in “My Best Friend’s Weddings” — and stripped-down vocals make for a curious Schrödinger’s cat of a record. For the most part, the feelings of the lyrics are tampered down by the music: the anger is there but it’s not there, the sadness is there but it’s not there. The Chicks have worn their heart on the sleeve, but they’re afraid to move on and have fun.
After all, they’ve all been burned before.
Martie Maguire (from left), Emily Strayer and Natalie Maines of The Chicks are photographed for the release of their latest album “Gaslighter.”