There's this thing called the "Oscar Curse" where the winner of an Academy Award winds up embroiled in a divorce not long after taking home the trophy. Kacey Musgraves lived through the music industry equivalent of this curse. Her third album, Golden Hour, swept all four Grammy categories in which it appeared, including the biggest award of the night, Album of the Year. Musgraves delivered Golden Hour five months after her 2017 marriage to fellow singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly. They filed for divorce a little over a year after her career-making night at the Grammys. Star-Crossed chronicles the dissolution of their marriage, offering a full-blown song cycle detailing the breakdown of the union along with the soul-searching that followed. Musgraves doesn't spare painful details. If anything, she suffers from a blunt literalism, hitting her targets squarely on the nose. She attempted to be a "Good Wife," starts pining for "Simple Times" after she realizes her romance isn't as it was portrayed in the movies. She begins resenting his layabout behavior, swipes through memories on her phone, gets despondent at the "Hookup Scene," then musters strength, discovering a light inside of herself. It's a familiar story enlivened by details, specifically the depths of her bitterness toward her former lover: she cuts down her ex with "He wants a breadwinner, he wants your dinner/Until he ain't hungry anymore/He wants your shimmer, to make him feel bigger/Until he starts feeling insecure." The bite of the words is softened considerably by the pan-genre gloss of the music. Picking up the threads left dangling by Golden Hour, Musgraves weaves another softly shimmering tapestry of modern and retro-pop, using folk and country as accents, not foundations. It's a glistening, alluring sound that also is just this side of lulling. Star-Crossed rolls and sways, gaining momentum not from shifts in tempo but rather arrangements; songs are distinguished by how a lack of overdubs suggests intimacy, while layers of harmonies, analog synths, and drum loops convey serenity or strength. Throughout it all, Musgraves is a presence so cooly placid, it's a bit hard to believe she'd get rattled by a romance or anything else for that matter. Listen closely, it's evident that Star-Crossed is a quintessential divorce record -- the story is laid out quite clearly in its 15 songs -- but in a practical sense, the album delivers sophisticated mood music, providing a soothing soundtrack for all manners of quiet domestic activities.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine