The Dixie Chicks (now just ‘The Chicks’) are back. After being blacklisted and boycotted for condemning George Bush and The Iraq War in 2003, The Chicks – now vindicated – have returned after a fourteen year hiatus, with a 12-track, 47 minute album.
Even in 2020, ‘The Chicks’s’ identity is still inexplicably tied to politics – especially as discussions about ‘cancel culture’ have entered the forefront of the political discussion. Despite this, ‘The Chicks’ mostly stay away from politics on this album (a somewhat disappointing decision considering how ‘The Chicks’ infamous comments seem much more reasonable as time ticks on). The only time ‘The Chicks’ really get political on this album is in ‘March March’ which covers topics ranking from Trump (and the Helsinki summit), climate change and gun violence. The song is fine as a political anthem, and accurately sums up how many people feel about the current political environment. However, the lyrical content in this song isn’t particularly original – the trio don’t really say anything that I haven’t already heard countless political commentators point out.
Fundamentally, ‘Gaslighter’ is a promising, but uneven, record. While the title track is an undeniable success – providing a lively, pointed, catchy introduction to the album – the following few tracks are of mixed quality. These tracks are less successful at pulling off a more casual, tongue-in-cheek approach and, the lyrics can feel gimmicky at times (“I hope you never find a sock to match the other one”).
However, while this album never fully comes into it’s own, it gets a lot closer to doing so towards the end, where it takes on a more serious, sombre tone (but does so without ever becoming anodyne). In the Julia Michaels-co written track ‘Julianna Calm Down’, ‘The Chicks’ address their own children and in doing so provide a powerful anthem about confidence and empowerment (“Strut the f*ck around like you’ve got nothing to lose”). Then, in ‘Young Man’, lead vocalist Natalie Maines delivers a genuinely heart-warming message to her oldest son whose coming of age in the midst of a divorce (“I promise you’ll be fine / Take the best parts of him”, “Your hero fell just as you came of age”).
Ultimately though, it is final track ‘Set Me Free’ that is the most emotionally charged, as Maines once again zeroes in on her divorce – this time focusing on the excessive legal demands of her husband (“Decency / Would be for you to sign and release me”). In this track she shows an impressive level of maturity and reflection, ditching the anger of previous tracks for a decidedly more contemplative approach (“Just because you’ve been a bad guy / I’ve seen it with my own eyes / There’s a good guy there”). The final lyric of this song (and therefore the final lyric of this album) is “set me free, let me be / Oh, set me free”. This lyric feels like a particularly apt closer for this album, both because of Maines’s new freedom from her marriage and – more generally – ‘The Chicks’ newfound musical freedom. And it is with this freedom that ‘The Chicks’ have produced their irreverent eighth album; which lays forward a promising new path forward for the well-established country trio.