Credit: Peyton Fulford / New York Times
by Andrew Bosma Music Rooted & Restless

Kacey Musgraves | Star-Crossed

November 2, 2021

Star-Crossed is a raw album but distinctly minor, teetering into boring and a notable letdown after Golden Hour.

After a busy release cycle unexpectedly launched Kacey Musgraves to the top of the country crossover charts in 2018 and 2019, she returns with Star-Crossed, an album deeply rooted in the sounds of her own divorce. The album chronicles every emotion of the relationship from start to finish, but retains the minimalist style that ultimately appealed to both country and pop fans on Golden Hour. The result is emotionally effective, if sonically uneven throughout.

It’s an oft-repeated trope that country music is about beer, pickup trucks, and your spouse leaving you. What surprises most about Star-Crossed, an album clearly about a divorce, is that it doesn’t sound particularly “country” despite its author and content. While this has been the center of some controversy (the Grammy awards have opted to place the album in the pop categories rather than the country fields Musgraves previously occupied), it does make sense given its overarching sound. There are no fiddles or banjos populating the instrumental forefront, there’s a dearth of slide guitar, and even its emotional core feels like a significantly more tidy fit in the pop landscape. There are still small glimpses of Same Trailer, Different Park, but at no point do you hear full-fledged country Kacey. This will feel like a loss to some, as her voice has been a constant force in the genre for the past several years, going so far as to bring in new fans to the country realm, but in the midst of all this change is a gripping story, a tough one to grapple with: can the partner that inspired tracks like “Butterflies” and “Golden Hour” be the same one she feels so bitter toward on “Justified” and “Breadwinner”? The sentiment may be hard to swallow, but it’s distinctly raw and honest, as few things are more familiar to the human experience than relationships that seem just right only to soon combust. But for all that, Star-Crossed  feels more like an affirmation of the past rather than a shameful rendering of it: each track works not to minimize her part in the split or air dirty laundry, but to explore where the incompatibilities took root.

In spite of this affecting lyrical material, there’s no denying that the album is, well, a little boring. It turns away from the fuller pop-country sounds that made Musgraves popular in the first place, and there’s not much that distinguishes things here from track to track. There’s nothing that feels like a breakout single, nor is there a single song that will really get your feet tapping. Sonic evolution by an artist is often a plus, sometimes even essential, but it rarely helps when that change comes only in making your sounds smaller; none of the grandeur that made Golden Hour such an exceptional record are present here. With a few more hooks and a little editing, this could have been a worthy enough, if still irrevocably slighter, follow-up. Absent those key elements, Star-Crossed is nothing more than a softly pleasant, deeply middling step to the side, a distinct disappointment even if not an outright failure.

Published as part of Album Roundup — September 2021 | Part 1.