For years, Brandy Clark has been one of country music’s most reliable provocateurs. She writes witty songs about characters with endearing quirks: the woman who would kill her cheating partner if not for the fact that she knows the prison jumpsuit wouldn’t suit her; the wild child who issues the simple ultimatum: “If you want the girl next door / Then go next door.”
Clark’s self-titled fourth album, produced by US singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, is supposedly her rawest since her 2013 debut 12 Stories. That may be true – there are gorgeous songs here about Clark’s Pacific north-west home and her family – but it often feels as if she has mistaken seriousness for honesty. Aside from a few lovely ballads, such as the sparse Buried and plaintive maybe-breakup song Come Back to Me, most of these songs feel anonymous. A line like this, from 2020’s Pawn Shop – “Someone told me it cost a lot / Man, ain’t that the truth” – feels far more revealing than “There’s a blue sky / Up above the clouds” on this album’s Cecilia’s Song.
When the lyricism falters, Carlile’s production often picks up the slack: Tell Her You Don’t Love Her, built around fingerpicked guitar and muffled drums, offers an inventive counterpoint to Clark’s rich vocal melody; Take Mine, on which Clark sings over Mellotron, walks a similar line between intimacy and gravitas.
The song that really sticks is the opener, Ain’t Enough Rocks, on which Clark writes vividly about a girl who conspires to kill her abusive father. Clark tosses off the song’s chorus like a grizzled onlooker: “There ain’t enough rocks to drown that pain.” It’s a tantalising glimpse of the Clark that lies underneath.