After a 14-year hiatus, The Chicks release emotional and lyrical wonder: “Gaslighter”

The Chicks release their newest album, painting a picture of many emotions.

Lauren Chen

The Chicks release their newest album, painting a picture of many emotions.

On Jul. 17, 2020 The Chicks released their new record “Gaslighter”. Though some tracks feel lackluster, the album highlights emotional subject matter based on personal events and displays incredible vocals, making it a strong debut after the trio’s 14-year hiatus.


The Chicks, consisting of lead singer Natalie Maines and sisters Emily Robison and Martie Macguire, debuted with their first album “Wide Open Spaces” in 1998 and rapidly rose to fame among the country music world. Their unique sound of bluegrass and their incorporation of country elements coupled with Maines’ heartfelt voice gained them critical acclaim quickly. However, their rise was cut short when the band voiced disapproval of President George W. Bush in 2003. The trio was quickly blacklisted from the country world at the peak of their career. Now, the band remains vocal of their political opinions, and prior to their album release changed their name to The Chicks in light of the renewed Black Lives Matter Movement. 


On Mar. 4 2020, after a 14-year hiatus, the band released their single “Gaslighter”. Then, on Jul. 17 2020, The Chicks released the entire “Gaslighter” album. The album displays poignant lyrics accompanied by stellar vocals and intriguing rhythms. Maines’ recent divorce with her husband of 17 years—Adrian Pasdar—is the subject matter of the majority of the album, and her delivery of the heartfelt lyrics makes each song feel extremely personal.


The title track opens the album and sets the stage nicely for the rest of the album with its fiery lyrics, outlining the subject matter to be covered in the rest of the record. The track is produced by Jack Antonoff who is known for his work with various pop artists such as Taylor Swift, Lorde and Pink. His influence is heard on the track through streamlined vocals and drum machine fills. Though the song displays far more pop influence than The Chicks’ previous music, the essence of the track stays true to their roots with simple verses and strong lyrics. The song is written bluntly with Maines calling out her ex-husband for “gaslighting” her and not valuing her emotions. The lyrics read “You broke me/ yeah I’m broken/ You’re still sorry and there’s still no apology”, highlighting the emotional toll, manipulation and disrespect he gave her. 

Though the song displays far more pop influence than The Chicks’ previous music, the essence of the track stays true to their roots with simple verses and strong lyrics

The title track is followed by “Sleep at Night,” which was released as a single the same day as the album. The song sticks with the subject matter of heartbreak asking, “How do you sleep at night? How do you tell those lies?” and alluding to infidelity as the reason for Maines’ divorce. The track is similar to “Gaslighter” in its composition as drum machine is used once again. However, Maguire’s signature fiddle can be heard as well and ensures the band’s original sound can be heard. The song mirrors the title track in its aggressive lyrics as well. In the first verse Maines sings “My husband’s girlfriend’s husband just called me up, how messed up is that?” further alluding to cheating as a reason for her divorce.


Though the lyrics provide a strong story, the following song “Texas Man”, wins as one of the best songs on the record. With a fun beat and exciting composition the song is meant to be heard on repeat. The track is also the first off of record to talk about the search for a new relationship instead of dwelling on old ones.


The high energy first three songs are followed by  “Everybody Loves You,” “For Her,” “March March” and “My Best Friend’s Weddings.” Combined, these songs make up something of a lull on the record. All four offer much more somber and melodic tones than the first few tracks. Though the lyrics offer some intriguing emotions of confusion and reminiscence, the transition from the excitement of “Texas Man” to the subdued mood of “Everybody Loves You” is somewhat jarring. Additionally, with so many melodic songs appearing consecutively it becomes difficult to differentiate the tracks especially given that three out of the four deal with the subject of bitter relationships. 


Among these four, “March March” stands out. The Chicks released the song in accompaniment with their name change announcement, advocating the importance of protesting and standing up for one’s rights. The track calls out specific issues like climate change and gun control with lyrics saying, “Temperatures are rising, cities are sinkin’” and “Print yourself a weapon and take it to the gun range.” Though the sentiment behind the song is admirable, on an album that predominantly deals with the fluctuating emotions of ending a relationship, the track seems misplaced and unnecessary. The release would have potentially served its purpose much better if released as just a single without being tied to an album. 


“Tights on my Boat” follows the four tracks and offers a very unique beat that intrigues the listener immediately. Though the fun guitar and fiddle riffs themselves hold the song up, the lyrics shine brighter. The writing takes on a fierce tone towards an ex as Maines asks in the first verse, “Will your dad pay your taxes now that I’m done?” It continues in the chorus saying “You can tell the girl that left her tights on my boat that she can have you now.” The song is filled similarly with witty one-liners making it an entertaining listen.


“Julianna Calm Down” is next on the record and is similar to the tracks in the four-song lull. The track does not show a definite focus even as it builds from quiet to energetic. The song is merely something to get through in order to get to its beautifully written successor: “Young Man.” “Young Man” is written from the perspective of a mother giving her son advice on how to proceed after his father left. The song is heartbreaking but uplifting in part due to Maines’ passionate voice. The lyrics advise “Take the best parts of him/ As your own life begins/ Leave the bad news behind.” The incredibly moving track is backed by a simple and melodic guitar that enhances the moving lyrics.

“Hope it’s Something Good” keeps with the theme of heartbreak and hope as the next track on the album. The song offers a composition of five-stringed banjo, fiddle and guitar which is very characteristic of The Chicks past hits. Their iconic three-part harmony is also featured on the track and adds a new level of emotion making the song the best on the album. Maines’ delivery of the lyrics make the song truly special as she achingly sings “If you’re gone / I hope it’s really worth it / Twenty years of hanging on / Now it all adds up to nothing.” The song distinguishes itself from all the other tracks about heartbreak by adding complexity to the emotion in the form of acceptance. Maines sings, “I hope it’s something good” giving in to anger but also accepting that he has moved on and therefore, she should too. The song is delicate and impactful, very similar to many of The Chicks’ previous hits like “Travelin’ Soldier” and “Cold Day in July.”


The record is rounded off with “Set Me Free”. The track is incredibly well-written and chronicles a woman calling for an ex to sign divorce papers and let her move on. The song says “Decency/ Would be for you to sign and release me/ If you ever loved me/ Then will you do this one last thing?/ Set me free”. As with the whole record, the song is beautifully sung by Maines and delivers a powerful emotional punch. The subject matter of the track seems an incredibly fitting end for the record and leaves the listener satisfied.


Overall, “Gaslighter” provides strong and emotional lyrics sung through with incredible vocals and backed by strong composition. The vocals, though incredible, predominantly focus on Maines. Though some songs like “Hope its Something Good” and “My Best Friend’s Weddings” feature their classic three-part harmony, many tracks focus solely on Maines making the record feel more like a solo album than released by the band. 


Maines does make up for the lack of her bandmates’ presence with her own stellar delivery of lyrics and heartfelt passion in each song. However, given how effective the three-part harmonies were on tracks like “Hope Its Something Good”, hearing similar compositions would be effective. 


These types of arrangements would especially help to elevate the songs that were not as impactful like “For Her” and Julianna Calm Down” as well as others part of the four-song lull. Had some of these tracks been arranged better or taken out of the album entirely, the record would feel more concise and focused.


In addition to perhaps removing certain songs, changing the order of tracks would serve to help the record flow much better. With three fast-paced and energetic songs opening the album, the rest of the record feels much more somber. Mixing the melodic with the high-energy would serve to provide a more engaging experience all around.


The release of “Gaslighter” was important for The Chicks and fans alike as it marked the end of their 14-year hiatus. Though this long gap would be difficult for some to come back from, the trio effortlessly evolves their bluegrass-country sound without alienating their old fans. With Maines’ recent divorce fueling the subject matter of the album, The Chicks provided an intensely emotional, incredibly written and well composed record that did not disappoint. Though a few tracks could be improved, The Chicks were able to keep their music recognizable and ensured it still packed an emotional punch. The album provides nuance, takes risks and leaves fans excited to see what the trio will do next.