Much has been built on the edges of country music using Musgraves. But the admiration for her omnivorousness is often read as excitement with the perceived limitations of the genre she perceived as distancing herself from. Sometimes those who agitate for change from outside the genre are as conservative as those who agitate about boundaries from within.
He always had a head fake. Musgraves came across as a traditionalist, and even when she’s striking the conservatism, she’s still at least lightly invested in the legacy: On this album, “keep looking up” Lovely country song. Musgrave arrived in Nashville during one of his most restricted eras, it’s not his fault; its closest analog is Sturgill Simpson, which also backfired into the soft psychedelia everyone within earshot was doing as a response.
“Star-Crossed” isn’t as detailed, production-wise, as “Golden Hour,” which may sound overly appealing. (She worked with the same team here, writers and producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fichuk.) In places, it almost booms, and has some callbacks to the mild schism of the 1970s and 1980s-John Hughes-film gloom. “Easier Sad” nods to “drive by” the cars, and the nostalgic “Angel” feels recklessly indebted to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”, with a literal thunderstorm coming in the middle of the storm.
These relatively minor production gestures speak louder because Musgraves comes from a world in which he is considered far more radical than he actually is. (That said, this album is really more at home with Phoebe Bridgers or Japanese Breakfast.) But they also resonate so loudly because Musgrave lets them say things that his voice doesn’t.
She never seems to sing to persuade you – her voice, which is modest in scale but deadly accurate, reflects the power of restlessness and exhaustion. This regret is embodied.
At times – and often on this album – Musgraves’ resignation appears to extend to the actual act of singing himself. When she is boiling, she is calm. When she is calm, she starts to get bored. Sometimes, at the end of a relationship, you’ve just said everything there is to say. To give more is to give too much.