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Gaslighter is a furious return for country-pop legends The Chicks

The Chicks’ first album in 14 years makes the personal political—and is a welcome comeback for a band not afraid to speak its mind, says Anna Blake

Issue No. 2715

The Chicks

The Chicks


The Chicks have ditched the “Dixie.” The country-pop trio are back with a shortened name—the D word being shorthand for the former Confederate states—and their first album in 14 years.

Increasingly uncomfortable with their name, they say the racist rhetoric rife in Trump’s US prompted them to finally “meet the moment” presented by Black Lives Matter.

When they emerged onto the country scene in the late 90s, the Chicks impressed with their powerful song writing and talented instrumentalism. They became one of the US’s favourite all-female bands and enjoyed international success.

Yet in 2003, they were dropped by the country music establishment and scores of right wing fans after they criticised then US president George Bush and his war in Iraq.

Lead singer Natalie Maines told a London crowd that the band “do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” They were blacklisted from country radio stations and received death threats for their stand.

They attempted to push back but—aside from their 2006 album Taking the Long Way and collaborations with megastars Beyonce and Taylor Swift—have taken a long break since.

Gaslighter is more pop than previous albums, largely influenced by

co-producer Jack Antonoff, who worked on Swift’s 2019 release Lover.

The connection with Swift can be easily drawn politically too. Maines recently described how “very proud” she is of Swift’s increasingly outspoken political views.

The opening title track sets the tone for the rest of the album. Much of it documents the recent breakdown of Maines’s marriage. It is so personal that her ex-husband argued in the court that it negated their privacy settlement.

Sleep at Night, Texas Man and the closing track Set Me Free are all pure country-pop anger and heartbreak. Juliana Calm Down might make you wince with the suggestion that any woman should “calm down”. It’s not exactly a message of liberation.

It—and For Her—represent the idea that women can take their power not from collective action, but on how confidently they take on their personal battles.

And, of course, the “Chicks” bit of the name remains.

But the Chicks are also using the term “gaslighter” as a wider political putdown. In an Instagram video, Maines drew parallels between Donald Trump’s deadly coronavirus response to that of a deceitful partner convincing you that you are imagining things.

There is one explicit protest song—March, March. Combining an electronic fiddle and banjo, it addresses a range of social and political issues including the youth climate strike, gun violence and public sector pay.

The video pays tribute to movements for justice that have swept the US and the globe.

It is also one of the finest showcases of the instrumentalism from Maines’s co-members Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer that is a little ­lacking in this new release.

Some may suggest that the recent name change is virtue signalling. But The Chicks have got form for sometimes upsetting the establishment.

This album is largely a personal, cathartic lyrical effort from Maines yet still tinged with political anger.

Gaslighter is out now

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Reviews
Fri 24 Jul 2020, 16:03 BST
Issue No. 2715
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