Whether due to her revelatory LSD trip, (problematic) desire to make a reggae album, or subversive approach to country music, there exists an utter fascination with Kacey Musgraves. On ‘Golden Hour’, a solidly average follow-up to 2015’s Grammy-nominated ‘Pageant Material’, Musgraves‘ lyrical shortcomings eclipse modest sonic experimentation — and yet, critics wax poetic about what figures to be album of the year. With such effusive praise, it seems almost heretical to suggest the record is less than immaculate; however, the “lowest common denominator” themes found throughout ‘Golden Hour’ reveal its nauseating banality.
‘Slow Burn’ primes (white) listeners for relatable small-town content as Musgraves croons, “Texas is hot, I can be cold / Grandma cried when I pierced my nose” during the album’s opening verse. Initially, Musgraves‘ reflections are modestly charming, but feel progressively trite as the artist notes, “In Tennessee, the sun’s going down / But in Beijing they’re heading out to work“. Elsewhere, ‘Oh, What A World’ uncannily resembles — and lyrically pales by comparison to — Insane Clown Posse‘s meme-orable ‘Miracles‘ when Musgraves proclaims, “Oh, what a world, I don’t wanna leave / There’s all kinds of magic; it’s hard to believe“. The album’s weakest effort, though, comes during ‘Happy & Sad’. Beyond Musgraves’ struggle to find the word “bittersweet‘ (creative license be damned), the cliché “And they say everything that goes up must come down / But I don’t wanna come down” encourages audiences to check out early.
Admittedly, perhaps listeners ought to adopt Musgraves‘ glossy, acid-tinged perspective. We do indeed live in an enchanting, mind-blowing world, and these lyrics, stripped-bare and free of cerebral snobbery, effortlessly capture the deceptive simplicity of it all. Unfortunately, without chemical assistance, the basic, feel-good approach comes off like the musical equivalent to Tom “Positive Person” Brady. We need not demand Musgraves (and other mainstream artists) singularly address “ugliness,” but when a little FOMO (‘Lonely Weekend’) seems like the extent of one’s emotional lows, it doesn’t feel like the “real shit” country music supposedly reflects. While standout track ‘Mother’ (the album’s shortest tune) gives audiences a taste of emotional intensity, the experience fades too soon.
Sonically, ‘Golden Hour’ is a pastiche of disco, electronica, folk, and synth-rock. Call it “cosmic country” or “bootgaze” — anything other than “boring.” Single ‘High Horse’ emerges as culturally acceptable disco (yet another issue considering the backlash against the LGBTQ, black, and Latinx individuals who pioneered the genre before it became commercially exploitable for straight white “artists”) while lush keys permeate the atmosphere on ‘Space Cowboy’. Despite the meager sonic exploration (misconstrued as “bold risk-taking”), the musical arrangements fail to compensate for Musgraves‘ largely mediocre effort. This is perhaps most evident on album-closer ‘Rainbow’. Supposedly “intended to speak to ‘LGBTQ youth’,” the track feels like token support from a white ally; while Musgraves explicitly lists “Yellow, red, and orange, and green“, missing are the black and brown additions Philadelphia’s gay pride flag made last year in response to the city’s racial discrimination in gay bars.
Perhaps this critique has less to do with Musgraves‘ art qua art and more to do with the glaringly uncritical response to ‘Golden Hour’ and the artist overall, and maybe that reasoning is misguided; however, interrogating who consumes media is as necessary as questioning media itself. When no one challenges the homogenizing whiteness and blatant cultural appropriation of a post titled “16 Reasons Why Kacey Musgraves Is Every Gay Man’s Spirit Animal,” there’s a problem with the consumers. When the image of an edgy, hallucinogenic-using, genre-bending country queen passes as progressive, there’s an issue with the producers.
‘Golden Hour’ isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not great. Kacey Musgraves‘ latest effort would nicely suit a bleary-eyed road trip or rural high-school prom, but little else. While the album warrants a listen from anyone who appreciates music, it neither rewards multiple listens nor deserves them — but, hell, it’s worth a Grammy.
‘Golden Hour’ is out now via MCA Nashville. The albums full track listing is …
01. Slow Burn
02. Lonely Weekend
04. Oh, What a World
06. Love Is a Wild Thing
07. Space Cowboy
08. Happy & Sad
09. Velvet Elvis
10. Wonder Woman
11. High Horse
12. Golden Hour