Skip to main content

Culture Music

Angry Chicks

(Screen grab from video)

Music

Angry Chicks

Country trio turns songs on their new album into divorce court briefs

Of all of the snark that ensued upon the Dixie Chicks’ rebranding themselves “the Chicks,” none was funnier than this observation from the libertarian gadfly Tom Woods: “Now that’s a relief. I think everybody assumed they supported slavery with that earlier name! And when they eventually get told that the word ‘chicks’ trivializes women’s lives, well, we can look forward to new releases from ‘The.’”

What is not a laughing matter is the Chicks’ new release, Gaslighter (Columbia). Would that it were.

It kicks off perkily enough. The title cut (Track 1) and “Texas Man” (Track 3) strike just the right balance between friskiness and sass. But then the tempos begin to slacken, leaving the job of holding the listener’s attention to the lyrics. And most of those—even the ones unbesmirched by profanity—are a drag.  

There’s PC-checklist-box ticking (“March March”). There’s a mother-to-daughter version of The Talk (“For Her”). There’s a mother-to-son warning against toxic masculinity (“Young Man”). There is, in other words, exactly what one would expect from country music’s most self-conscious virtue signalers.

But mostly the lyrics—which recall nothing so much as William Congreve’s quote about the fury of scorned women—deal with the failed marriage of the Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines and the actor Adrian Pasdar. “I hope you die peacefully in your sleep,” goes one typical sentiment. “Just kidding. I hope it hurts like you hurt me.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that Pasdar did hurt Maines. If the details of “Sleep at Night” and “Tights on My Boat” are accurate, he wronged her in spades. But by working through her pain in such a public way, Maines turns her listeners into voyeurs while simultaneously giving the impression that she’s trying to get them on her side. And even if her side is the right one, and even if her listeners want to be enlisted, she’s abusing the songwriter-listener privilege by turning what’s supposed to be an art form into a divorce lawyer’s closing statement.

THE GOOD NEWS FOR THOSE averse to manipulation of this sort yet who simply must have music by a group called the Chicks is that there is, in fact, another act by that name. And Sundazed Records has just reissued its 55-year-old first album, The Sound of the Chicks, on both CD and vinyl.

The original Chicks were the New Zealand sister duo Judy and Sue Donaldson, and from 1965 (when they were 15 and 17 respectively) to 1970, they released a series of albums featuring their cheerful, girl-group renditions of the chart-toppers of the day. In addition to hits by Herman’s Hermits, Chubby Checker, and the Nashville Teens, The Sound of the Chicks finds the Donaldsons turning a Beatles hat trick.

Nowadays, such overreliance on other people’s material would get an act labeled lazy, but it was quite common in the mid-’60s, i.e., before self-expression became talismanic.

Is The Sound of the Chicks a lost classic? Hardly. But the Donaldsons weren’t just whistling Dixie either.