Retro Is Still Cool and So Is Maren Morris: A Review of Maren Morris’ Debut Album, Hero


A debut album is one of the two most important albums of any artist’s career, with the other being their second effort. With a debut album, it’s important that listeners get a sense of who an artist is and what they have to offer. Also, quality music is kind of important, too. Kind of.

Maren Morris didn’t just release one of the best debut albums of 2016 – she released one of the best albums of 2016. Now, before I go any further, I’d like to clarify something. Maren Morris is labeled as a Country artist, and her debut single, “My Church,” is unabashedly rooted in the genre, but the album is far more sonically eclectic, so much so that it probably shouldn’t be classified under any specific genre at all. Very comparable to Elle King’s Love Stuff, or Gary Clark Jr.’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim; retro, twangy, and simultaneously produced under an urban-alternative umbrella. But above all else, here’s why everything on Hero works so well: Morris doesn’t really give a crap about censoring herself, especially when it means telling the truth about whatever she’s singing. She’s got a voice that’ll turn heads, and her writing is relentless in the honesty it bears.

Hero’s opening tongue-in-cheek anthems, “Sugar” and “Rich,” bear strong resemblances to each other sonically, but lyrically are polar opposite. “Sugar” rips through that kindergarten crush we’ve all had at least once in our lives, while “Rich” rips through that man that ended up screwing everything up.

Oh, boys. Stop pissing off songwriters. Know what you’re saying. Know what you’re doing. Read the room. C’mon, now.

If I had a dollar every time that I swore you off,
And a twenty every time that I picked up when you called,
And a crisp new Benjamin for when you’re here then gone again,
And a dollar every time I was right about you after all,

Boy, I’d be rich. Head-to-toe Prada
Benz in the driveway, yacht in the water
Vegas at the Mandarin, high-roller gambling
Me and Diddy drippin’ diamonds like Marilyn.
No, I wouldn’t be drownin’ in all your IOU’s.
Every promise you made me would have some real value.
Cause all the little lies rolling on your lips
Is money falling from the sky
sh*t, I’d be rich.

Other uppity moments on Hero come from the refreshingly retro “80s Mercedes,” the humorous “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry,” and Morris’ debut single, “My Church,” which finds the singer using the concept of religion and its attributes as an analogy of her idea of a perfect escape from the real world. Getting in a car, rolling the windows down, and turning up the radio helps her get that sense of relief, calling it “[her] church.” The song is, undoubtedly, one of the freshest and most unique ways of approaching the whole “YOLO” mentality. And to those of you who aren’t really into the whole *religion* thing, don’t worry. The song ain’t Christian rock, and neither is this album.

Despite all the fun and brutal fast-paced hits that pack the album, the finest moments from Hero come from the places where Maren Morris slows everything down. “I Wish I Was” is one of the most profoundly gutting and boldly-written songs I’ve heard this year. Morris sings from a place of guilt, even though she doesn’t need to bear it, as it discusses her apologetic emotions towards someone she knows loves her, but just doesn’t, and can’t, feel that in return, but she wishes she could.

On paper we go together.
I know that we look the part,
But almost never hangs on forever.
I know I’m breaking your heart.
So go on, say what you want to;
I’m not gonna stop you.
You can blame it all on me.
I’m not the hero in the story.
I’m not the one that gets the glory,
‘Cause you’re lookin’ for true love, and I’m not the one,
But I wish, oh, I wish I was.

Two other strong ballads, “I Could Use a Love Song” and “Once,” act as two strong choices for future radio singles from the album. The former bears the pain of wishing for the kind of love that won’t make us feel so damn annoyed by everyone else’s love. (I identify strongly with this song. Anyone that knows me knows that I’ll scoff at any and every couple I see being blatantly couple-y in public. It’s not that I’m not happy for y’all; I’m just bitter. Don’t have pity on me, I’ll be fine. Being annoyed by things is my church. SEGUE!)

There are no words to describe the love I have for “Once.” It’s such an attractive and big song. Its retro, echo-y (echo-y? echo-ey? Journalism!), and so sad and I just LOVE SAD MUSIC SO MUCH, IT MAKES ME SO HAPPY.

Are music psychopaths a thing? Because I think I am one. I’ve unofficially self-diagnosed myself as one as of right now.

Anyways, long story short, Hero is stellar. If you’re into Maren Morris and the album as much as I am, then good news! She’s playing Bumbershoot this September! If you need me, I’ll be in the front row.

The album is now available to purchase and stream (and not available to illegally download).

(…okay please just be good people and buy it and/or stream it.)

CRAIG JAFFE | Music Psychopath? | KXSU Reporter

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