In the lead-up to the release of their new album Gaslighter, the now Dixie-less Chicks have talked much about their decade-plus hiatus, their personal lives and the creation of their new music -- but they haven't said a whole lot about the songs themselves. That's fine: The lyrics speak for themselves ... and they're ready to gossip a little bit.
Back in the fall of 2019, when Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines went into detail about the project for the first time, she explained that she and bandmates Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer had intended to release something easy -- a covers album, for example -- simply to fulfill their record deal with Sony. However, her divorce from her husband, actor Adrian Pasdar, inspired her to start songwriting again.
"When I started getting a divorce, I had a lot to say, so that kind of sparked me being ready [to make new music]," says Maines. "Songwriting is really hard for me, and I think, for many years, I didn't want to analyze my life or my relationship. I was just in it and dedicated and devoted ... I just was not ready to open up like that."
She certainly made up for lost time. In sometimes-stunning detail, Maines and her bandmates examine love, divorce and the ways it affects both those directly involved and those around them on Gaslighter.
Aided by producer Jack Antonoff (Fun, Taylor Swift) and a team of predominantly pop songwriters (Teddy Geiger, Julia Michaels, Ross Golan), the trio crafted songs that are as honest as any of country music's three-chords-and-the-truth favorites. Maguire's fiddle and the Chicks' signature harmonies, as on-point as ever, keep it country here and there, while songs such as "March March" and "Julianna Calm Down" offer the pointed political and feminist commentary Chicks supporters expect and appreciate.
Beyond explaining that her divorce got her writing, neither Maines nor either of her bandmates have explicitly confirmed that any details revealed on Gaslighter are about Pasdar. All three of the Chicks have been through at least one divorce, in fact -- but Maines' ex-husband is the only one who tried to get a court to hold up the release of the Chicks' new music because it might violate a confidentiality clause in his and Maines' prenuptial agreement. With that in mind, keep reading for a few of the juiciest moments on Gaslighter:
The Chicks' timeless harmonies shine bright on Gaslighter's lead and track. The song's a cappella first lines could burst through a brick wall like the Kool-Aid Man: The Chicks are back, baby, and they're ready to drop a whole bunch of truth.
"Gaslighter" sent fans into a tizzy upon its release, not only because it was the Chicks' first new music in years, but because of its lines about a tryst on a boat. There's plenty of other juicy details in its lyrics, too: "Hollywood welcomed you with open doors / No matter what they gave you, you still wanted more / Acting all above it when our friends divorced / What a lie lie lie lie lie," Maines sings in the first verse.
The Chicks were all young mothers when they last released new music; now, however, they've each separated from the fathers of their children (Strayer also have a daughter with her current husband). The effects of divorce on kids are a recurring theme throughout Gaslighter, served in "Sleep at Night" with a side of tea.
"My husband’s girlfriend’s husband / Just called me up / How messed up is that? / It’s so insane that I have to laugh / But then I think about our two boys trying to become men / There’s nothing funny about that," Maines sings in the first verse of "Sleep at Night," a perfect example of the whiplash that unexpected, upsetting news of any sort can bring when you're a parent.
"Sleep at Night" also furthers what Maines insinuates elsewhere on Gaslighter: Her ex wasn't exactly trying to hide his affair. "Remember, you brought her to our show at the Hollywood Bowl? / She said, 'I love you, I’m such a fan,'" she sings in the second verse, adding, "I joked that you can love me as long as you don’t love my man."
"My Best Friend's Wedding"
"My Best Friend's Wedding" uses someone else's romantic timeline to detail the rise and fall of the protagonist's relationship arc. "There was somethin’ about you / You set off fireworks that evening / With a flicker of untruth," Maines recalls of that night.
Maines and Pasdar met at Strayer's first wedding, to musician Charlie Robison, in 1999. The Robisons divorced in 2008, with Emily beginning a relationship with Martin Strayer a couple of years later. The couple had a daughter together in 2012 and married in 2013, four years before Maines filed for divorce from Pasdar.
"I’m back here at my best friend’s wedding / Yeah, she married again / I’ve never seen her look more happy / Guess from ashes we can really grow," Maines sings later. Looking ahead, she adds, "And my wildfire’s comin’ / Burnin’ the path that I’ve known / Watch me, yeah, watch me run with it / Take it wherever it goes / And I’ll go it alone ..."
Fans looking for the full story about that aforementioned affair on a boat get it -- well, a bit more of it, at least -- in "Tights on My Boat," a jaunty, sunny little number that's a little bit Colbie Caillat and a little bit Taylor Swift, and offers Maines' voice the chance to soar like Joni Mitchell's. Over an acoustic guitar, she begins, "I hope you die peacefully in your sleep / Just kidding -- I hope it hurts like you hurt me," a line the Chicks tell the Washington Post came courtesy of co-writer Julia Michaels.
"I hope that when you think of me, you can’t breathe / I hope you never find a sock to match the other one / Hey, will your dad pay your taxes now that I am done?" Maines continues. After she sticks those lyrical pins in her metaphorical voodoo doll, she dishes a little more:
"Remember when you wouldn’t come away with me? / Sent your mom instead / Yeah, that was a real thing," she sings. "You came to visit on tour and you made me cry / Wouldn’t speak to me for weeks and now I know why."
It's all brutally truthful, but you can almost hear the smile as Maines delivers her final kiss-off: "You can tell the girl who left her tights on my boat / That she can have you now ... You’re gonna get what you got comin’ to ya / You are, you are."
Gentle acoustic guitar and gorgeous fiddle add poignancy to "Young Man," a song that deserves a spot in the pantheon of emotional, parental advice-filled country lyrics. The song offers a look at how hard it can be for a parent to know the right thing to say -- in this case, as adult and child "both watched our entire worlds change / Your hero fell just as you came of age."
"I had no words," Maines admits, "but now I know what to say." What follows is a stunningly selfless sentiment:
"You’re of me, not mine / Walk your own crooked line / I promise you’ll be fine / Take the best parts of him / As your own life begins / Leave the bad news behind you," she shares. "Young man / Take a good look at my life and / Try to understand I’ve done my best / The best I known how to / And my blues aren’t your blues / It’s up to you."
This proud mama's letting her baby go, but she's got no doubt he'll be fine: "After this storm, there’s nothing you can’t navigate," Maines adds. "Perfect in my eyes / You’re gonna be alright."