Written by Jack Antanoff, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer
I don’t know what went down on Natalie’s boat, but it must have been explosive.
“Gaslighter” is the long anticipated return of the Chicks, and it previews their first studio album since the Grammy-sweeping Taking the Long Way hit shelves fourteen long years ago. If this first single is any indication, the confessional songwriting that dominated Taking the Long Way is even more pronounced and intensely personal.
I’m not going to launch a mini-seminar on what gaslighting is, but I must give the Chicks credit for using the term accurately. Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” this is not. What matters is the record itself, and it’s a stunning one from start to finish, worthy of being ranked among their finest.
Natalie Maines gives a masterclass vocal performance on “Gaslighter,” capturing both the pain and anger that she’s feeling about the betrayal that has left her vulnerable.
By singing the verses by herself, all of that raw emotion is laid bare, leaving her as exposed to the abuse as one is when they are being gaslit. So it’s especially powerful when Martie and Emily show up in the chorus, giving emotional support to the abuse being called out, as well as showing powerful solidarity with Natalie as she cuts ties with the husband that left her broken.
The songwriting is sharp enough to draw blood, with the knowing reference to “Boy, you know exactly what you did on my boat” only surpassed by the devastating takedown in the bridge: “You just had to start a fire, had to start a fire. Couldn’t take yourself on road a little higher.” If this relationship still had a faint pulse, that line stamped out the last of it.
Jack Antanoff is an intriguing choice for producer, and judging from his work here, he has a good sense of their innate strengths and how to accentuate them while putting them in a fresh context. “Gaslighter” is as pop-flavored as the Chicks have ever gone, but the subject matter is as true to country’s roots as it gets. They’ve still got a lot to say, and they’re not mincing any of their words. I cannot wait to hear some more.