Right now, music critics are trying to invoke the perfect superlative to bestow upon the new Dixie Chicks album. “Stunning,” “mature” and “rootsy” will be popular, but “boring” probably won’t crop up as often as it should. If you haven’t heard, the Chicks cranked things down a few notches on Home, an acoustic affair that’s being touted as the trio’s third release. Not so fast, little ladies. Home is actually the sixth effort from the Chicks, which axed half its original lineup (and enough cheesy Western-wear to stock a Dale Evans estate sale) before transforming into Nashville sex kittens and aiming straight for the national bull’s-eye.
Hiring spark-plug vocalist Natalie Maines was also part of the mainstream bid, and she rightly remains the primary attraction. Stripped of the group’s patented driving rhythms and cowboy-boot-knocking hooks, Maines’ sirenlike singing assumes a central position, backed by the capable harmonies and reverent instrumentation of her bandmates. Purist pundits will squeal about the sepia tones and lack of drums, but those ingredients aren’t an automatic guarantee of high quality. A few tunes (“White Trash Wedding,” “Tortured, Tangled Hearts”) rip and snort with typical Chick vim, but the effort is weighted by Hallmark ballads and somber missives that should be all the rage at the next big soccer-mom party. That makes perfect sense, considering the Chicks abandoned the backwoods and moved to suburbia years ago.
Since issuing Fly in 1999, Maines — who once sported a leather miniskirt while belting out “Sin Wagon,” the greatest feminist ode to getting laid since Liz Phair fucked and ran her way through Guyville — got hitched, got pregnant and mellowed into the minivan mentality. Hell, she even hired her dad to produce Home, further underscoring the record’s buttoned-up nature. Your father will love it, too — especially if he’s one of the millions who snapped up the O Brother soundtrack. The rest of us will just wonder who put out the fire.