Review of Kacey Musgraves Sophomore album Pageant Material!
I was thinking all week about what I wanted to write about this week on the blog and the whole time it was staring me in the face. I caught the bus on the way to go busking and what was I listening to? Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material. I went shopping, what was I listening to? Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material. I went on a long drive, I went on the train and back to London, I couldn’t sleep so I got up and listened to Kacey Musgraves. It is my album of the summer, the album that keeps bringing new things to my attention every time I listen to it (and I’ve listened to it a lot over the past couple of months) yet I have not yet taken the time to talk about it with you guys. So ahead of her upcoming UK tour dates (have y’all got your tickets?) I decided I would review it!
Musgraves sophomore major label release opens with the strong chorus vocals of High Time. We instantly get a flavour for the album, a positive outlook, a sense of change and finding oneself and encouragement to do so, delivered by intricate vocal melodies and some typical country instrumentation. The musical arrangement leaves quite a lot of space in the chorus for the vocal melody when she sings “Its high…” and “It’s a fine…” I think this helps the listener focus on the melodic hook being sung at this point and I really like the use of whistling and clapping in the instrumentation, its effective. And from the first song it only gets better as a four to floor kick drum begins track 2, Dime Store Cowgirl. Now this is my favourite track on the record, the Electric guitar riff and Banjo in the intro sets the song up well. In the chorus the Banjo is quite noticeable which is a strong point of the song as it compliments the content of the song well. The lyrics in this song are very honest and personal to Kacey however Luke Laird and Shane McAnally along with Musgraves have written it in a way that the theme of the song is still relatable to the wider audience. Its all about remembering your roots and staying true to who you are, something that we’ve seen Kacey address before and probably will again in the future. The chorus is catchy and in fact the whole song is filled with hooks.
The third track on the record is co-written with Brandy Clark and Josh Osbourne and it really surprised me actually in a good way. I really like this team of writers so was expecting a lot when I read that they were the writers on this track but I didn’t expect this from them, its a fantastic concept and very well written. Its a classic story telling country song with great detail in the lyric. “By the time we get there everybody will be drunk, the chairs will be on tables and the band will be unplugged” that line really got me! Musgraves vocals seem very delicate in the chorus and I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets people writing in saying that this song was their first dance song at their wedding, its just beautiful! Pageant Material, the title track of the album is funny, its quirky and much like the rest of the album, it allows Kacey’s personality to shine through. Again its an interesting concept, the main challenge with songwriting is finding the idea, a unique idea that hasn’t been written before or writing about something generic in an unusual way, but Kacey and her team of writers never seem to have a problem with this. They also have a large vocabulary that they use effectively, which some people find surprising in Country music, and the word that stands out in Pageant Material is Congenial. But despite the songs light hearted humour the song sends a strong and important message, the line “I’d rather lose for what I am, than win for what I ain’t” shows that its better to be yourself than pretend to be something you’re not which is inspiring to the generation of today who sometimes feel they should just be pleasing people at whatever cost.
Another song with Brandy Clark’s input is This Town which probably explains why I like it so much. It begins with people talking whilst the intro kicks in. I particularly like the percussion in the arrangement and the almost sinister tone of the song grew on me very rapidly. Again the lyrics tell us a story about this town and gives us lots of specific details about it. The vocals in the chorus’ towards the end of the song are more powerful and feisty than anything we’ve heard from Kacey so far on this album and I like it! Next up on the record is the first single to be released off the album, Biscuits. This is just a fantastic song, just brilliant! I feel lyrically its written in a similar vein to Follow your Arrow, again they’re quirky and the song is bursting with personality and humour but with an underlying message. I just love the Banjo in this song and they use chant backing vocals which are tight and very effective, the strings in the bridge are also a really nice addition to the arrangement. I’ve always said it reminds me of something one of my good friends would say “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy” it puts a smile on your face!
Talking about strings, Somebody to Love uses them to great effect especially at the start of the song. Its one of the slower songs on the album but it is riddled with clever, honest lyrics that make you think about your own situation, your own relationships. “We’re all trying to get to heaven but not today” is just one of the lines that really stood out. Miserable surprised me, it showed me a different side to these writers I felt, I really like the chord structure and movement, again its a different concept but we all know someone like the person in this song and if you don’t then its probably you! The vocals in it are just flawless though, a consistency throughout the album. Track 9, Die Fun, has strong melodies and the Banjo and percussion in this play a strong part in the production. It took some time for this song to grow on me but it has done, thats why I insist on playing the CD over and over again as each time something new comes out of it. “Before we get to heaven baby lets give ‘em hell” I think that line is really strong in particular.
Family is Family is a fantastic fun loving song, and lets face it, everyone can relate to at least one line in this song! Its up beat, its catchy, the lyrics are funny but true, there is nothing not to like about this song! One thing we see through the whole whole album is a classic Country bass line and this song does not shy away from that. The next song addresses issues many of us experience in modern day society, this sense that its not about what you know, its who you know and that can be unfair. This song is all about sticking by your morals, doing it the right way and the Pedal Steel is fantastic in this song.
We move onto the penultimate track listed on the album, Cup of Tea. I’m getting the impression Kacey likes her food and drink at this point, Cup of Tea, Biscuits! Anyway, it isn’t too dissimilar to Biscuits or Follow your Arrow. Its sending the message to be yourself because you can’t impress everybody so just be you. I really like the string arrangement on this and the whistling, it gives it a care free feel to the song which is fitting with the lyric. Great use of a well known saying. Fine, the last song on the album introduced me to a writer that I wasn’t aware of before now, Ashley Arrison, and I must say that I was impressed. Now since I discovered her I’ve found out she’s written songs for Kelly Clarkson in the past so its not like she’s new but she was new to me and I look forward to hearing more of her songs. The song has a nice Waltz feel, its in 3/4 time, which makes a pleasant change. My favourite part of the song is the second verse, it has a very strong chorus but its the metaphor of the circus in verse 2 that really appealed to me the most in this song. But the album doesn’t actually end there as there is a hidden track featuring Willie Nelson, Are You Sure? Its a nice addition to the album and a good way to end.
All in all I can’t stop listening to this album, the production overall is done to a very high standard, and the instrumentation is spot on! I particularly like the Pedal Steel and Banjo arrangements throughout the album. As previously stated it really shows off Kacey’s quirky personality whilst delivering some serious messages to her fans and the rest of society. Much like her first album it takes a stand and boldly says this is me, take it or leave it! I can’t wait to see what she does live with some of these songs but for now if you haven’t already go and listen to the album, and if you have already heard it, go and listen to it again!