Same Trailer, Different Park
4.5 out of 5 Stars
It takes only a glance at the title of Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park to get a sense of the depressed misfortune and relentless boredom that commands and often dictates the 24 year-old Texas singer’s debut album. That sense of being trapped, of feeling stuck with a relationship, home, or job that refuse to live up to their promise, is best conveyed in “Merry Go Round,” Musgraves’ debut single released last fall that served as a warning call, a way for Nashville to tell the rest of the country about its brightest new star.
Musgraves’ middle-American melancholy avoids big-picture moralizing and small-town stereotyping . Instead of leaning on empty rural signifiers, Same Trailer relies on its stories of defiance and defeat faced by the men and women struggling with their surroundings in the album’s dozen songs. Same Trailer’s stories are full of upswings and nosedives; there are sporadic highs and dramatic lows. The song’s singers are well-wishers and help-seekers,deadbeats trying to be better and do-gooders that are falling behind. Musgraves likes to focus in on her characters at these small, pivotal moments, when they come to terms with their own faults and dreams, when they’re on the verge of a breakthrough or a meltdown.
On Same Trailer, there’s a brave nobility in fucking up. Her heroes are pot-smoking, bad-decision making outcasts whose only ways out of their own depressed lives are through big mistakes and blind commitments to instinct. They dodge church, chase emotionless sex, crave old love they should have long forgotten. For Musgraves, to strive to be better is to mess up trying.
The takeaway point of “Follow Your Arrow,” the album’s centerpiece that preaches a faithful march to the beat of one’s own drum, would perhaps feel like a cliche in different hands, but Musgraves, who wraps her songs in self-conscious humor and sharp wordplay, delivers the album’s penultimate song as a solution to the rest of its problems. “Every arrow that I am is true,” she sings on “I Miss You,” another way of saying that plenty of her arrows are missing. Musgraves places great beauty and hope in those arrows that miss their targets, in the missteps and risks that lead the characters of Same Trailer, Different Park down dead-ends and dark corners. “If you’re ever gonna find a silver lining,” she advises in the album’s opening track, a preview of lessons to come, “it’s gotta be a cloudy day.”
Musgraves, who sings with a detached indifference, as if to say there’s nothing especially unique about her stories of small-towned despair, has learned a thing or two from her characters. Her major label debut, which moves from country waltz to roadhouse blues, from rootsy singer-songwriter narratives to irresistible country pop, follows its own relentless arrow throughout, and the result is one of the most fully-formed, arresting debuts Nashville’s seen in years.