It’s a cliché that goes back incredibly far in cultural history: artists create their best work out of misery and sadness. The examples of this being true are too numerous to go through, so there’s obviously some truth to the old saw, but Kacey Musgraves has pulled off an amazing trick with Golden Hour. She’s crafted an entire album dedicated to an essential state of bliss and given us maybe her masterpiece. Musgraves got engaged in 2016 and married in 2017 and it’s clear that the majority of these songs flow out of that blissful state of new love. The usually sarcastic, often sharp-tongued Musgraves has always been charming, but on this album, she embraces earnest emotions and eschews, for the most part, the kind of clever wordplay she first attracted notice for. Songs like Butterflies, Rainbow, Oh What a World and the title track are openly, passionately optimistic and with a lesser artist would probably come off as trite, but Musgraves’ sincerity is such that you can’t help but be lifted. Love is a Wild Thing is a stirring, anthemic ode to being swept off your feet. Happy & Sad is a fantastic, cathartic expression of tumultuous attraction. Even on the slower, more melancholy songs, there’s a generosity that really landed for me. Space Cowboy is about the ending of a relationship, but, while the narrator is certainly sad, she’s not angry and the guy who’s leaving is still the object of her affection, but in a kind of friendly, sweet way, not a tragic one. This album embraces the warm, summery sounds of the seventies in a lot of ways, a kind of seventies soft rock, though with enough country flourishes to make sure it still lands in Musgraves’ usual genre. High Horse is a surprising outgrowth of that seventies focus, a thumping track that’s more disco than anything else and also the one song on the album that’s a little rough-edged in its put-down of a big-mouthed acquaintance. There are really only a couple of lesser songs here. The opening track, Slow Burn, is more of a dirge than it should be and Velvet Elvis is overly silly, but Musgraves might know exactly what she’s doing with Velvet Elvis as it blows by in only a couple of minutes. Otherwise, this album is a real masterwork, Musgraves finding inspiration in an hour of sunny happiness and optimism and creating an album of catchy, clever, cathartic songs. “I ain’t Wonder Woman,” she sings on one track, “Don’t you know I’m only human?” Being human, she’ll go through some dark times again at some point and probably create more great music out of that. But for now, I’m glad to see her in the full sunlight. Here’s hoping this golden time lasts for quite some time. 4 stars.
tl;dr – warm-hearted, optimistic album is comfortable, catchy and charming; Musgraves is on top of her game with a surprisingly mature, blissed out masterpiece. 4 stars.