Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: March 8th 2019
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
- The Feels
- All My Favorite People (feat. Brothers Osborne)
- A Song For Everything
- Common (feat. Brandi Carlile)
- Make Out With Me
- Gold Love
- Great Ones
- To Hell And Back
- The Bones
- Good Woman
“…my first record had a little bit of everything: country, R&B, soul, pop. That was just me trying things out and being inspired. After “The Middle,” I’ve just become braver, and I don’t really care so much about the thing that may end up happening that I’ve already dealt with in the past: [People telling me,] “You’re not country!” And that’s okay. I’m a little bit of everything. I’m myself. I’m an artist. I’m not going to be one color. With this album, with the budget being a little bigger, I have orchestral vibes and strings on a few songs. There’s a song on it that is straight up pop-R&B. It’s still me, though, because it’s my songwriting, it’s my voice. My voice strings everything together in a cohesive way. I think “The Middle,” and touring around the world the last couple of years, has made me see beyond the frame of the U.S. There are fans all over the world who love all kinds of music — and I’m one of them, so my album reflects that…” I reckon if I had a crystal ball and peered into the future, to see which artist would be on almost everyone’s playlists, and who’s songs would be on the lips of everyone who can sing or at least try to; it’d have to be Maren Morris. Frankly, I hadn’t heard much of Maren prior to hearing “The Middle” last year (first as a Cimorelli cover, then later on the original when the jewellery store opposite our café started playing the song on heavy rotation!), but last year (or was it early this year?) when I finally found out about her fame and her highly successful debut album Hero, not to mention her country/gospel infused debut single “My Church”; I realised that Maren was one of the artists that I needed to listen to, just to answer some questions my curiosity had- was she as good or better than “The Middle”, which was pretty popular but outside of her ‘genre’ of country?
Again, Maren wasn’t a Christian artist, although she has recorded a number of deep and meaningful tracks, and some could be viewed as Christian or spiritual when looking from a different point of view; but the philosophy of me listening to only Christian music went out of the window a couple of years ago, and particularly this year when Jon started on his new blog post about Most Influential Artists of all Time. Seeing as Jon didn’t include artists that were new and up and coming on his list, and he had a lot on his plate as it stood; I decided that because influential artists can rise up quite quickly over time, there needed to be a category of future influential artists. Maren, because of quite a lot of her relatable melodies and honest material, needed to be one of those artists, and that was how I stumbled across Maren’s brand-new album GIRL. So, without going into the history of Maren, her music and her core values (which will be saved for another Momentous Mondays post altogether!), let me dive into one of the most surprising albums of the year so far, and probably one of the most important and impacting.
Opening the tracklist is probably the most relatable song of the whole year- the title track “GIRL”. Well, relatable amongst females at least, as Maren directs this anthem/directive/song of advice to girls of any age, and any walk of life. With a country and gospel infused twinge that is quite unique and utilises Maren’s genre talents of pop and country, marrying them together quite well; Maren passionately and gently encourages her friend, or even an acquaintance who is doing it tough to ‘…girl, won’t you stop your cryin’?…’, and then later reminds her that ‘…I know that you’re tryin’, everything’s gonna be okay, baby girl, don’t you hang your head low, don’t you lose your halo, everyone’s gonna be okay…’. While on the surface about girls, a deeper look in my opinion reveals a song that can be applicable to everyone. Maren imparts to us that the bad times will end and that we will step out of the pit and the tunnel eventually- and by that time it will be a beautiful outcome that will arise. Encouraging us to keep fighting the good fight and pleading to us to never give up, “GIRL” is brilliant for the first single and the opening track- as it speaks about Maren’s earnest plight to encourage us to stand up for what we believe in, no matter if people around us are negative towards our views.
The rest of the album features Maren hopping all over the place in terms of genre and in terms of lyrical content (serious versus silly songs) but for some odd reason, the entire album flows quite well! On the heels of “GIRL”, “The Feels” is next, and is as bubbly lyrically as it is musically. As pop as can be, Maren recounts how her husband gives her the ‘feels’ and how much she is in love with him, so much so that all she wants to do is be alone with him without any distractions. For some of us who are married or in a relationship, this song is super relatable, but even if we are single, aiming for a feeling like that with a potential significant other in the near future could provide us with the impetus and catalyst to chase after who we want to be in a relationship with us. “All My People”, featuring the guest vocals of country duo The Brothers Osborne, is next and is a party song similar to Group 1 Crew’s “Live It Up”, where Maren and TJ Osborne trade vocals effortlessly relaying to us how they spend their weekend with their favourite people; yet while on the surface the song seems to be unnecessary and surplus (particular in a track list of 14 songs!), we are nonetheless presented with a deeper look at friendship and the kind that we’d all want. Friends that stick by us through thick and thin, and friends who’d love to hang out with us, without any agendas.
One of my favourite songs on the record is “A Song For Everything” as Maren goes quite meta and sings about the importance of songs and their overall meaning and impact on one’s life, that music has the power to transform even the hardest of hearts. Maren imparts to us that no matter if we all knew it or not, ‘…one [song] danced you through love, one rocked you through lonely, mixtaped your heartbreak and made you feel holy; for the hits and the misses, for the fire and rain, close your eyes and listen ’cause there’s a song for everything…’; a chorus that does ring true, particularly proving my point that a ‘most influential artists of all time’ list is needed for different people, as people are influenced by music in many different ways. Another song that seeks to bring people together is “Common”, featuring the superb guest vocals of Brandi Carlile. As Maren and Brandi dabble in religious and spiritual imagery in this slow tempoed ballad, we are reminded that despite all of our differences, in essence we’re all the same, we do have ‘way too much in common’, regarding the fact that we’re all human, having the same wants, needs, desires, when you strip away the outside influences that divide us. It’s a notion that we sometimes don’t understand, or don’t even want to understand, but Maren and Brandi convey this point with such aplomb and professionalism that this track becomes all the more poignant and real the more times we listen.
“Flavor”, Maren’s attempt at a bonafide rock song, contains quite a lot of cooking references, and musically seems a bit all over the place, but thematically is quite strong, as Maren owns her own identity here (with regards to her being a country artist or a pop artists) and relays to us that she’s being the best version of herself she can be (and if people don’t like it, they don’t have to interact with her at all!); while the 2 minute pop ditty “Make Out With Me” again speaks about the love she has for her husband, but is a tad weak and could be trimmed out of the track list, or even added to a potential deluxe edition, in order for the album to feel more ‘complete’ and ‘relevant’.
The laid-back piano pop track “Gold Love” is another song about the bond she shares with her husband, as Maren channels her inner Nichole Nordeman and Britt Nicole vocally, and highlights that ‘…I guess I always knew there was something more to you, if my stars burn out of light, if my diamond loses shine, your gold love gets me through…’; while the light rock anthem “Great Ones” continues with the vein of a one-in-a-lifetime type of love, with Maren encourage us to never give up on love, because you never know if you’ll find a love that will stand the test of time, because ‘the great ones do’ – and it is these songs that remind us that a song can still be impacting and influential to any who listen despite the narrow niche of the subject matter. Unfortunately the lowest point of the album comes next with the semi-explicit “RSVP” (yep, even lower than “Make Out With Me”, where Maren highlights in depth about a physical encounter with her lover. I’m not sure what she’s trying to convey here, or whether she just wants to be edgy, but the track comes off all kinds of awkward, and frankly the track list would have been better had this song been left off all together!
Throughout this album, Maren has sung about a variety of topics, and this is no different in “To Hell And Back”- a stark reminder that though our flaws may be accepted by our significant other, it doesn’t mean we don’t have to work on them ever. With the persona in the song describing how her lover takes her vices and twists them to strengths; this confronting melody is sure to promote discussion as to what is a healthy relationship versus what is actually destruction masked as security. Part pop and part country, “The Bones” is next and was a promotional single for the album- and as far as lyrics go, is quite deep and reminds me of the parable of the house on the rock and the house on the sand in the Bible, as Maren eloquently relays to us that ‘…when the bones are good, the rest don’t matter, yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter, let it rain ’cause you and I remain the same, when there ain’t a crack in the foundation, baby, I know any storm we’re facing will blow right over while we stay put, the house don’t fall when the bones are good…’, alluding to the fact that any successful relationship needs that foundation that is common for both parties, be it God or whatever else.
While the jazzy and bluesy penultimate track “Good Woman” has Maren singing to her husband about the fact the at least one of his dreams will come true (the fact that she’ll always be a good woman to him); “Shade” ends the album on probably the brightest tone ever, as Maren delvers quite possibly the most inventive relationship style song in recent memory, as she likens her husband’s love and his devotion to her as her perfect ‘shade’- the colour in her life that will always stay constant and true. And with that, GIRL ends, and there’s plenty to be discussed around at the dinner table, that’s for sure!
“…Hero was a chapter of my life where I was going through a “first love falling apart” phase, and figuring my early 20s out. It’s that stage in life where you’re not ready for marriage yet, you’re not ready to settle down, but you’re not a teenager anymore. You’re in this weird in-between that can be really fun and also really heartbreaking. That’s what the last record was about. And I feel like the last two years, after touring and growing up a bit more — and obviously I’ve found somebody that understands me now, and have fallen in love and gotten married — my [perspective on] songwriting is just a little different. It’s a little lighter than it was the first time around! [Laughs.] I’m not quite as bitter. Me choosing “Girl” as the first single, it’s about transitioning from someone who felt like she didn’t need anybody into someone who very much needs people, and is okay with admitting that. That really frightening vulnerability that I’ve been trying to avoid, I’m not doing that any longer. This album is really about self-acceptance and partner acceptance. The first half of the album is very self-reflective, and it’s more about me. Then the second half of the record transitions into me being the counterpart to somebody else. I didn’t have any love songs on Hero, so there are a lot more on this one, and I think that’s been a really beautiful side to being a touring musician: You never see the person, you miss them all the time, and he’s a musician as well, so we’re constantly writing with each other or about each other. A lot of these songs reflect that. He actually wrote a couple of songs on this album with me. I feel like I’ve grown up more in the years since I released that album. And this is the timestamp of that…” Maren Morris may not have been a household name before, but I guarantee you that from this album GIRL, that she will be now. With plenty of relationship style songs, some party songs, some reflective songs and some spiritual songs, Maren has cast a wide net, and succeeded in almost every area that she has invested into. A worthy album that surprisingly enters into my ‘best of 2019’ list thus far, this album is a must for those wanting pop and/or country with more of a message than most artists these days. Even if you aren’t a girl and are single like myself, I’m certain that you will glean something from this project. 14 tracks are a mouthful, but let me say that it will be worth it! So let us crank up the volume and remember that everything’s going to be ok.
5 songs to listen to: GIRL, A Song For Everything, Common, The Bones, Shade
RIYL: Kelly Clarkson, Britt Nicole, Francesca Battsitelli, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood