The band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks are getting with the programme. Last month, after 30 years in the business, the Texas trio decided to drop “Dixie”, a term with racist overtones due to its connection with the antebellum south. It’s a move that coincides with the release of their first album in 14 years, a collaboration with super-producer du jour Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey) which sports a zeitgeisty title – gaslighting being a buzz word used to describe both intimate psychological abuse and world-stage political manipulation.
It’s the former definition that informs the group’s eighth record. Drawing heavily on lead vocalist Natalie Maines’s recent divorce, Gaslighter isn’t so much a break-up album as a breaking-point album, a startlingly frank chronicle of the unhappiness of her marriage and the brutal toll of its protracted demise. Despite the hip contributors (Julia Michaels and St Vincent’s Annie Clark among them), Gaslighter largely preserves the Chicks’ trademark strain of palatable country-pop, awash with reassuringly conventional melodiousness yet hardy enough to accommodate the band’s signature suffer-no-fools attitude.
It’s a style that tempers the discomfiting lyrical content without dulling its radical potential. Broadcasting such candour, vulnerability and rage feels like a power move – after all, dignified silence tends to mainly benefit the perpetrator (and the patriarchy). Rather than the sound of three middle-aged musicians straining to recapture their relevance, Gaslighter is pertinent on its own terms, more proof that the under-told stories of women make the perfect raw material for punchy, compelling and bracingly contemporary pop.