I got a bad feeling about Maren Morris’s sophomore album as soon as she dropped the title track. “Girl” is a song that tries very hard to sound powerful, but doesn’t actually have much to say.
Unfortunately, the album follows suit. Morris is so eager to prove she’s a different kind of country singer that her natural instincts get lost in contrived profundities and unnecessary pop flairs. While it certainly has bright spots, “Girl” is ultimately a disappointing follow-up to her promising debut.
“Make Out With Me” is an instructive example. Smack in the middle of the 14-track album, Morris inserts a gimmicky preface that instructs listeners to switch their record over. There’s a recurring echo distorted to sound childlike, a distracting touch on a lush song about making out.
But the lyrics are grounded, and Morris’s delivery is soulful and convincing. With just a little less production—like using the live drum kit from start to finish—it would have been a better song, and truer to the distinct sound she debuted on “Hero.”
Allusions to supposedly verboten topics like weed and the Dixie Chicks (“Shut up and sing? Well, hell no, I won’t.”) feel forced, as though Morris, who co-wrote every song on the record, is on a mission to make sure we all know she can be popular and cool at the same time.
You get the same impression from the album’s sound, which is very conscious about breaking the rules, but doesn’t quite manage to congeal. Even her collaboration with Brandi Carlisle, a laughably heavy-handed meditation on unity or something (“If I’m being honest, I don’t know what God is. We got way too much in common.”) is forgettable and uninspiring.
Still, Morris’s talent for writing strong hooks is on full display, and some songs blend country, pop, roots, and R&B much more successfully than others. Despite the cringey phrase in its title, “The Feels” is a good example. Frothy but sharp, all its pieces fall into place, from a catchy acoustic riff to finger snaps, playful lyrics, and an energetic beat (reminiscent of “Sugar” and “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry”).
“The Bones” is another highlight. It’s certainly not country, but raw vocals and smart lyrics not set on lofty statements make it a pop song with an edge of authenticity. Actually, the lyrics unintentionally provide a helpful way of looking at whole the album. “The house don’t fall when the bones are good,” is how Morris ends the chorus. As an artist, she definitely has the bones, and consequently “Girl” is still a decent listen.
But “Hero” was better, and largely because it was all about the bones, allowing her voice to shine in pared down productions that gave life to a distinct style. With the sophomore pressure behind her, hopefully Morris will find her way back.