Our Take: “Deeper Well” Is a Too-Tranquil Comedown From Kacey Musgraves’ Cosmic Country

Kacey Musgraves 'Deeper Well' © Kelly Christine Sutton
Kacey Musgraves 'Deeper Well' © Kelly Christine Sutton

Sam's Take

7 Music Quality
5 Sonic Diversity
6 Content Originality
6 Lyricism
5 Memorability
8 Arranging
8 Production
Despite its easygoing nature, Kacey Musgraves’ fifth album ‘Deeper Well’ offers a watered-down, tame version of the brilliant songwriting charm the country star usually has in spades.
Stream: ‘Deeper Well’ – Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves likely has one of the most successful stories of a country artist going mainstream.

Taylor Swift mixed in pop sounds with 2012’s Red, then fully discarded her country roots by 2014’s 1989, but Musgraves’ success with the cultural staple Golden Hour was due to leaning into country conventions and themes while making them more accessible. A wider sound, a hint of twang, and a chill attitude made her instantly recognizable, relatable, and replayable — it’s no surprise she took home Album of the Year in 2019.

Golden Hour - Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Golden Hour’ received universal praise upon its release in 2018

While prior albums Same Trailer Different Park (2012) and Pageant Material (2015) were firmly in the country circuit, paving her way with clever lyrics and a lightheartedness to the genre, Golden Hour’s success opened up a new genre for Musgraves.

Labeled ‘cosmic country,’ she explored further in star-crossed, her ill-fated 2021 follow-up. While it drew criticism for over-reliance on production and a three-act structure, leading to three separate feelings, it had enough of the raw talent of her previous efforts to not be labeled as an unworthy complement.

Enter Deeper Well, her folk pop revisit to more traditional song structures and simplified songwriting – a comedown from the high she had on Golden Hour.

On its lead single and title track, it renounces weed altogether: “Everything I did seemed better when I was high, I don’t know why,” she sings, before revealing she’s found more intrinsic, beneficial ways of spending her time. “I’m getting rid of the habits I feel are real good at wasting my time… I found a deeper well.” It’s a profound, moving statement from country’s stoner queen, an exercise in maturity, but also finding oneself. The message is clear”: Musgraves is maturing.


:: REVIEW ::

While “Deeper Well,” the song, marks new territory in personal development and songwriting, Deeper Well, the album, does not.

On each of Golden Hour’s thirteen tracks — hell, throw in star-crossed, too — she presents an approach to writing, love, and viewing the world wholly idiosyncratic, lyrics worthy of journal entries, mantras to live by, or turns of phrase continually rattling around in your head. The songs on Deeper Well, though, progress like a dull folk album whose themes are revisited, over and over, to no additional nuance or weight to one’s words. It’s a largely homogenous project with few ups, few downs, largely made of quiet, unassuming tunes.

Deeper Well - Kacey Musgraves
Deeper Well – Kacey Musgraves

Musgraves had the uncanny ability to distill the breadth and wonder of world’s life into a few majestic sentences in songs like “Slow Burn” and “Oh, What A World,” spectacular songs that proves her strength as a poet. But on Deeper Well, her lyrics are mostly constrained, observations tied to specific songs, and not paired with the scope that made her so alluring.

Cardinal” sounds like a Mamas & Papas cut (complimentary) but spends its runtime gazing at its titular bird; “Jade Green” is an ode to the color of a bracelet her partner got her; she takes inspiration from a palm tree flowing in the wind on “Sway.” With her simple take on Nora Ephron’s “What I’ll miss, what I won’t miss” essay, “Dinner With Friends,” she seems to run out of steam, grasping for scraps of the world: “The feeling you feel when you’re looking at something you made,” late night “convos,” too. “Moving Out,” while infused with poignant memories, is clearly trapped within the confinements of the apartment she writes about: “Four walls and so much space was way more than just a place, wasn’t it, babe?” she opens, plainly.

Even songs that attempt the otherworldly awe she so successfully captured previously feel corny here.

The Architect” opens with a line so clearly unabashed in what it’s getting at, the beauty of the universe, it can’t help but produce eye-rolls. “Even something as small as an apple, it’s simple and somehow complex, simple and divine, the perfect design,” she sings.

For the first time, she comes across as unbearably twee. While the song also confronts body image, the existence of God, planetary alignment, it’s clear what the goal of this songwriting session was, making it difficult to view it as unfiltered, creative pondering. It’s as if, on the heels of “Oh, What A World,” her label demanded a duplicate.

Even something as small as an apple
It’s simple and somehow complex
Sweet and divine, the perfect design
Can I speak to the architect?
And there’s a canyon that cuts through the desert
Did it get there because of a flood?
Was it devised, or were you surprised
When you saw how grand it was?
Was it thought out at all, or just paint on a wall?
Is there anything that you regret?
I don’t understand, are there blueprints or plans?
Can I speak to the architect?

Deeper Well is helped, thankfully, by a handful of songs that push Musgraves’ skills as a writer.

The surprisingly dark “Lonely Millionaire” is a meditation on wealth vs personal friendships, appreciating her partners instead of her financial success. “When I get paid, I wanna spend it all on you… I’d burn it all to keep you warm” — finally, a striking visual! “Anime Eyes” is a gorgeous, if a bit trite, tribute to the overwhelming and dramatic love animators represent through huge heart eyes. She namedrops Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese filmmaker, while healing through her partner, a thematic callback to “Butterflies.”

Her use of vocoder is always thrilling (again, see “Oh, What a World”) and despite a rushed, on-the-nose ending (“Sailor Moon’s got nothing on me”) it’s still one of the tracklist’s highlights. The aforementioned title track and “Giver / Taker,” with its complete devotion to another partner (“I would give you everything that you wanted / And I would never ask for any of it back”) also shine.

Kacey Musgraves © Kelly Christine Sutton
Kacey Musgraves © Kelly Christine Sutton

It’s worth noting that at some point before Deeper Well, Musgraves added the ‘Songwriter’ business label to her Instagram profile (Joe Biden’s POTUS account, for example, reads ‘Government Official’). I’d hardly keep harping on her songwriting tactics if she hadn’t put such an emphasis on them, not only with the rootsy adoption of this chiller, back-to-basics sound, and the genuinely impeccably written songs of her past.

Nearly everything on Golden Hour, cuts on star-crossed like “if this were a movie..,” “justified,” “breadwinner,” and the razor-sharp commentary on her first two records, with “Follow Your Arrow,” “Biscuits,” “Blowin’ Smoke,” amongst others are jaw-dropping in their intelligence.

But here, there’s just little to note. It’s difficult as a writer to call another writer’s work disappointing, which is helped only by the plethora of excellent songs to her name. But in their wake, Deeper Well is meek, breezes right by without you knowing or paying too much attention to what it has to say.

Kacey Musgraves © Kelly Christine Sutton
Kacey Musgraves © Kelly Christine Sutton

Deeper Well is pleasant, but certainly not a bold or exciting listen from an artist who has previously bolstered herself on dazzling, intimate works whose influence is so great, it helped propagate country to the mainstream (or at least, her music certainly found its way onto broader playlists).

The album is grounded, serene, for sure, but in planting herself firmly on Earth, Kacey Musgraves loses much of the wonder and thought that made her so refreshing in the first place.

— —

:: stream/purchase Deeper Well here ::
:: connect with Kacey Musgraves here ::
“Too Good to be True” – Kacey Musgraves

— — — —

Deeper Well - Kacey Musgraves

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? © Kelly Christine Sutton

Deeper Well

an album by Kacey Musgraves

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