As Gaslighter neared completion, the first album in 14 years by Natalie Maines, Martie Erwin Maguire, and Emily Strayer looked like it was going to be a collection of protest music. The album’s name echoes a term for psychological manipulation that has often been leveled at President Donald Trump.
Coming from a band ostracized by the country establishment for Maines’ 2003 comments in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq — who then released a 2006 single called “Not Ready To Make Nice” — it seemed the group, now performing as the Chicks, was again spoiling for a fight.
The single “March March” was issued in June with a video expressing solidarity with Black Lives Matter as the band changed its name to distance themselves from the racist connotations of the word “Dixie.”
Along with “March March,” the album contains a fist-raised feminist anthem, “For Her.” But Gaslighter, as it turns out, is not a protest album. It’s a divorce album.
The spirit that animates the collection is the dissolution of Maines’ marriage to actor Adrian Pasdar, who last year attempted to legally block her from releasing songs with lyrics that pertain to their breakup.
He failed, and Maines lays into him from the get-go. “Gaslighter — you liar!” she sings on the title track, one of two songs on which she expresses outrage at something that happened aboard a boat (which Texas Monthly has surmised is the sailboat The Nautalee that Pasdar gave Maines as a gift). The other song, “Tights on My Boat” begins: “I hope you die peacefully in your sleep / Just kidding, I hope it hurts like you hurt me.”
Gaslighter pairs the Chicks with Jack Antonoff, who’s also worked with Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Lorde, and St. Vincent. Songs like “Texas Man” and “Hope It’s Something Good” do a fine job of melding Maines’ powerhouse vocals with Strayer and Maguire’s dobro, fiddle, and harmony singing. It’s an appealing pop country hybrid that’s landed the Chicks back on top of the country charts, where they belong.
— Dan DeLuca
Unfollow the Rules
Rufus Wainwright strayed from pop music after 2012′s Out of the Game in order to write operas, to turn Shakespeare sonnets into songs, and to focus on his family life with his husband and daughter. He’s positioned Unfollow the Rules as a conscious return to his past, working in the same Los Angeles studio where he recorded his 1998 debut album.
Produced by Mitchell Froom, Unfollow the Rules has three “acts.” The first four songs are lighthearted and clever, including the Anna Wintour-inspired “Trouble in Paradise” and the amusing dis “You Ain’t Big” — which argues that the measure of music industry success is popularity in the heartland, including “God forbid Southern Pennsylvania.”
The next four tracks are more orchestral and ballad-heavy, starting with the stately “Romantical Man” and ending with the lovely “This One’s for the Ladies (That Lunge).” The final act turns darker, with art songs and diatribes such as the stirring “Early Morning Madness” (“Everything is crap and long / Gotta take a nap later on”) and the vituperative “Hatred.”
Unfollow the Rules should please fans who may have unfollowed Wainwright after Poses and Want One and Two, his releases from the early aughts, but it also embodies his mature, ambitious talents.
— Steve Klinge
The Psychedelic Furs
Made of Rain
(Cooking Vinyl *** 1/2)
Twenty nine years is a long time between drinks, and yet it seems as if no time, tide, or trend has passed between the last Psychedelic Furs album, 1991′s World Outside, and their dreamy new Made of Rain.
The tense charm that made the Furs great then — in hits such as “Pretty in Pink,” “Heaven,” and “Love My Way” (the latter produced by Upper Darby wizard Todd Rundgren) — is still with them, even during the heaviest moments of Rain.
As they have since their start, just after British punk’s first gleaming, brothers Richard and Tim Butler and crew craft a spidery, Bowie-like web filled with raspy vocals, hypnotic saxophones, rangy guitars, and Richard Butler’s drearily romantic lyrics. Sometimes the effect is acidic and psychedelic (“Come All Ye Faithful'), sometimes it’s icily epic (”Ash Wednesday”), and sometimes gracefully folksy (“Wrong Train”).
For all the familiarity, there’s invention here, too, in Rain’s opening cut, “The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll.” It’s an oddly hacking cough filled with wonky sax, distorted guitars, and singer-songwriter Butler at his most vexingly poetic.