FearlessRiOT Album Review: Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material

In 2015, one of the biggest talking points in music is about how hard it has become for women to score hits on the Billboard Country charts and country radio in general. Sure, there are a number of female acts who have managed to slither through the cracks and score themselves hits on the country charts this year; Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song”, RaeLynn’s’ “God Made Girls, and most recently Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It” being notable examples. Despite this, the bros are still dominating the airwaves and it’s hard to tell when the tides will finally turn.

But just because the ladies are lacking in airplay certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In fact, they’re very much present and crafting some of the most beautiful music you’ll find out right now regardless of genre. One standout among them is Texan singer Kacey Musgraves, who I’ve had my ear to ever since I first saw the video for “Merry Go ‘Round” on CMT in 2013.

After playing that song out on my iPod (it’s still one of my iPod’s top 50 most played songs right now), I was convinced to buy her debut album Same Trailer Different Park at Mall of American during a road trip my family took that year. It was hands down one of the most beautiful and compelling albums I’ve ever physically purchased and after seeing her win two Grammys for her effort, I was convinced that there was definitely more to come for Miss Musgraves in the future. And here we are in 2015 and she has officially dropped her sophomore project Pageant Material, an album I’ve been anticipating since the second I first saw her tweet about the project.

Now keep in mind, Kacey’s not exactly a runaway success at country radio at the moment. “Merry Go ‘Round” is her highest charting song on the Country Airplay Chart and it only got up to #10. Another of her most well-known songs, “Follow Your Arrow”, peaked at #10 on Billboard’s overall Country Chart, but didn’t get past #43 on the Country Airplay Chart.

Apparently, the subjects she sang about in the song just weren’t gonna cut it at country radio, and sadly that continues with Pageant Material’s lead single “Biscuits”, which has only gone up to #41 on the Country Airplay charts. However, chart positions aren’t always the sole indicator of the quality of the music, and in my opinion, this is finely evidenced by the fact that Musgraves has once again churned out yet another perfectly satisfying album. Let’s go track by track, shall we:

 

Track One: “High Time”
Kacey starts this song by basically yelling that it’s high time she just chills out. And the rest of the song really suits that message as it has a chill, summery vibe to it complete with background whistling on the hook. It’s not a long song – in fact, it’s one of four songs that don’t even pass the three minute mark – but such a short song is enough in its own right as a fine song to open the album with. However, I wouldn’t say it’d be my ideal choice to start the album with. I’ll get to that song in a minute.

Track Two: “Dime Store Cowgirl”
This song is reminiscent of “Jenny from the Block”, but better. In this song, Kacey uses vivid imagery, thoughtful lyrics, and an admirable self-awareness to say that she’s had some fun adventures and some unforgettable moments in her life. However, through it all, she’ll never forget where she comes from and she’ll always remember to “call her hometown home”. This track features some of the album’s catchiest instrumentation and is just a humble, feel-good, reflective track. 

Track Three: “Late To The Party”
Kacey slows it down a bit for this one. This song reminds me of a chiller version of the song “My House”, one of my favorite songs from her first album. In that song, she sings about how she and another person are at home no matter where they are as long as they’re together. In this song, she sings about how she and another person are the real party no matter if they missed the metaphorical real one. Musgraves is really good at weaving nice little songs about being with that special someone and this is indicative of that.

Track Four: “Pageant Material”
Along with being the title track, it’s a song that would be taking over country radio in a perfect world. This song reminds me of the 2001 song “Video” by R&B singer India.Arie in that it’s a song about being different from the kind of girls society usually prefers to put on a pedestal and praise.

It contains numerous clever lyrics that differentiate herself from this kind of lifestyle while also refraining from putting those other girls down for living they’re lifestyles. Along with being good lyrically, it also has a nice bouncy melody that even people outside of country music’s barriers can enjoy. It’s definitely worthy of being title track as it sums up the overall feeling of the album’s spirit of individuality. I actually would’ve preferred this be the song that opens the album, but that’s just a very minor nitpick; again, “High Time” is just fine in that position.

Track Five: “This Town”
So this song starts with an audio clip of a woman talking about a woman overdosing on drugs and biting a nurse. What does that have to do with the rest of the song? I took it as a bit of gossip since the song seems to be about a town so small (and she does add some imagery about the few locations the town possess) that everyone knows one another and easily finds out about everything that happens it. And because of this small foundation, it’s like the community is one big family that all, as the final line of the hook goes, “look out for each other”. This track musically sounds kind of dark compared to everything else on the album, but it doesn’t distract from the song’s topic at all. In fact, it kind of makes me wanna visit this town and see what’s up.

Track Six: “Biscuits”

The lead single of the album, an ode to letting other people live their lives while you live yours. This is a very relatable song in that we all probably know at least a few people who are always in someone else’s ‘biscuits’ and stirring up drama where it’s not needed. Well, no one is perfect and we all don’t share the same viewpoints, so you do you and let them do them. Along with being a message we all need to take to heart, it’s one of the bounciest songs on the record and deserves more airplay than it’s currently getting.

Track Seven: “Somebody To Love”

I feel like every artist is required to make a song with this title sometime in their career. Anyway, this song talks about the different kinds of people in the world – making light of our flaws, our hopes, our wishes, and our expectations – and the people we’re searching for to make our lives complete. This track starts with what sounds like bagpipes; I don’t know for sure if that’s what they were, but if it was, then thanks Kacey for being the first person to have bagpipes on a country song to my knowledge. I don’t know if this song will have much replay value with me compared to the other tracks, but it’s a fine song with universal appeal regardless.

Track Eight: “Miserable”
I can imagine this song crossing over to Top 40 or adult contemporary radio. It’s a song about people who get off on not being happy; we all know those people and they’re not a joy to be around. Lyrically, it’s vintage Kacey, who proves to be a master of words on this album, but it’s probably the simplest set of lyrics on the album. Not a bad thing at all, though, as it’s simplicity it’s still beautiful and works to it’s advantage because I’d rank it as one of my top favorite songs on the album. And like I said, I could imagine this making Top 40 or adult contemporary radio as well; musically, it’s still country, but it’s also bouncy and lovely enough that fans outside the genre can appreciate it. If not for that, they’d enjoy singing along when Kacey elongates “you” and “lose” on the hook.

Track Nine: “Die Fun”
Kacey had me at “Do we really have to grow up?” I’ve been wanting the answer to that question since I officially came-of-age. It’s a song about wanting to have some fun while we’re still alive. Despite that, it has a very slow, kind of depressing tone to it. It’s not a very fun song is what I’m saying. So far, “Pageant Material” and “Biscuits” are the most fun songs on the record; more fun than this anyway. It’s not a bad song at all; in fact, I agree with the message of it since I’m a guy who’s always up for a good time. But musically, this song is not exactly the soundtrack to get the party started. I wonder if they played this song at the party they were late for on track 3.

Track Ten: “Family is Family”
OK, this song might be the catchiest thing on this entire album. And it’s saying something lyrically, too. It’s a song about loving your family no matter how dysfunctional they are. This is the kind of catchy that “Die Fun” probably could have been; it’s nice and bouncy and features some of that brilliant lyricism that country radio is missing by not playing this girl’s records that often. Once again, this song is rather short, but even in its small dosage, you should be able to get into this one.

Track Eleven: “Good Ol’ Boys Club”
I kinda had a hard time coming up with what to say about this song. Upon looking at the title, I just assumed it’d be about her not wanting to play with boys in a certain vicinity or something of that sort.; it could happen, seeing as how diverse the topics have been on this album so far. But upon further inspection, it seems to be Kacey’s (still lyrically brilliant) way of discussing the current state of country music, how it seems to be dominated by the bros and there seems to be a limited set of ways to make it in the genre anymore. But despite that, Kacey will let them do things their way while she will remain true to herself and if her career stays under-the-radar so to speak, she’s perfectly fine with that. Now, I’ve heard that this song garnered a bit of drama with people believing that the lyric “Another gear in a big machine, don’t sound like fun to me,” is a shot at Big Machine Records, the label that musical megastar Taylor Swift made famous, and it’s strategy to making stars out of its performers. But I’m not so sure about that; anytime Kacey discusses differentiating herself from the norm on this album, it’s done in a very respectful manner and she manages to not once insult someone else’s lifestyle to build her own up. That’s admirable in my book; if anyone takes this as a diss track, then Kacey Musgraves might be the most polite, well mannered, and respectful disser in the business I guess. If anything, this is a non-diss song. You know, I really wouldn’t mind more songs like this and the aforementioned “Video” by India.Arie.

Track Twelve: “Cup of Tea”
Kacey Musgraves is one of those artists that love standing up for the little guys and girls out there; all the hand-me-down havers and the circles in an environment of squares and the people who still drive the cars they drove in high school. OK, so a lot of these things seem like small reasons to be considered ‘different’, but the point is that Kacey is right here: you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea, and much like I said in reviewing “Biscuits”, we’re all different and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone is different and you’re not gonna be able to please everyone.

Track Thirteen: “Fine”

Finally, we have “Fine”, which I originally thought was a Justin Timberlake-esque 7+ minute grand finale song because my iTunes reads it as lasting 7:53. But boy, was I in for a surprise. Much like “Good Ol’ Boys Club”, I had a hard time coming up with what to say about this. That was until the hook came on when she sings “…just count the days till you’re back in this place…” Then it became clear after listening to the first verse again that the woman in this song is killing time until a certain someone comes back from…well, that’s just it. Unless I wasn’t listening hard enough, it is never really specified. She makes it clear this subject leaves town, but that’s it. Honestly, that adds relatability to the song; the listener can add their own personal situations to the narrative. Back from war? Back from boarding school? Back from a business trip? Back from Disneyland? It can be any of those things based on who’s listening to it.

But then a big surprise comes in…

Bonus Track: “Are You Sure” (featuring Willie Nelson)
I did a little bit of research and it turns out my iTunes read this as a 7:53 track because the second half is a hidden duet with country legend Willie Nelson. On the iTunes version, it’s a separate track, but I bought the physical album where it doesn’t even appear on the track listing, so it caught me off guard. Musgraves and Nelson are either conversing to each other about the uncertainty of their current activity in their current location or singing the same song in two different locations like characters do on TV shows and movies when they’re contemplating something. It’s probably the former because the latter is kind of hard to pull off in audio form. Either way, it’s a pleasant “thank you and good night” surprise to end the record with.

Verdict: Well, this was my first time doing an album review for a full LP and I’m glad I picked this album to do it on. Not only is it a nice album to start on, it’s a nice album in general. With the mainstream country world having such a limited range of topics present on its airwaves (and trust me, I have been listening), this is a breath of fresh air from that. Not only is Kacey’s creative, imaginative, and often-witty lyricism still there, but so is a pure country sound with a modern touch and a wide range of topics ranging from individuality, feelings of togetherness, love, life, or just plain chilling and enjoying life. It might take a few listens to decide whether or not I prefer this over Same Trailer Different Park, but for what it is, I suggest you pick it up and give it a listen. Hopefully you’ll agree that we need to keep Kacey Musgraves around the musical landscape for a very long time.

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