Golden Hour doesn’t last forever, so as the title of Kacey Musgraves’s 2018 album that was gooey with love for her new husband, perhaps it was always cursed. With romantic tragedy lacing Star-Crossed, her fifth album, country’s latest pop convert flies the flag for divorce and the emancipation it can bring.
Inspired by the sounds of early noughties pop, 1970s soft rock, Spanish guitar, Daft Punk “and a fairy sprinkle of country, duh”, Star-Crossed is a beautiful conveyance of the cosmic confusion that relationships deliver. Harking back to fair Verona, Musgraves sets the scene with dramatic spaghetti western strings on the title track – “Two lovers ripped right at the seams. They woke up from the perfect dream and then the darkness came . . .” And in three acts, she eventually finds peace.
Musgraves was born and raised in Golden, Texas, and her 2013 debut (Same Trailer Different Park) set her aside as an artist who bends the country mould, with the LGBTQ+-supporting Follow Your Arrow rumbling conservative fans. Dollied up like Parton, a weirdo like Nelson and emotionally tactile like Swift, the 33-year-old hit the jackpot with Golden Hour by combining synths and vocoder with pedal steel guitar.
Now writing and producing with Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, the duo that helped her win four Grammys, including album of the year, at the 2019 awards ceremony, Musgraves transforms raw elements of her personal life into stories that anyone can relate to.
Going “back to the beginning” on Good Wife, she lists the tasks – coffee in bed, “pack a bowl” (ie get high) – that should have made this marriage work. Over a banjo-fuelled chorus, she pines for juvenile freedom on Simple Times, when all it took was a trip to the mall to right any wrongs. Indulging the heartache, Justified is a pick n’ mix of the feelings – guilt, hate, happiness – that surround her new single status.
The pluckiness of Breadwinner softens the accusations that men – or, specifically one man – find her success attractive until it outshines theirs. A feeling so universal, the slow thrill of the chorus is a ready-made anthem: “He wants a breadwinner, he wants your dinner until he ain’t hungry anymore.”
“I’ve been to hell and back, golden hour faded black,” Musgraves digs in What Doesn’t Kill Me. But the resounding feeling is joy, knowing that she exited at the right time.
Finishing with a futuristically rustic cover of Chilean musician Violeta Parra’s Gracias A La Vida, delivered with the resilience of a tired telenovelas heroine, this Star-Crossed lover remains starry-eyed in her quest for happiness.