Subject To Change, by Kelsea Ballerini
Kelsea Ballerini is an artist who has found some success in country music and has a crowd of people who wish that she was able to obtain more success, and more crossover success, than she has yet received. I have not been too impressed with what I have heard of hers so far, but I tend to keep an open ear to music and the chance has come for me to review her latest album, subject to change. Admittedly, I go into this project with a bit of dread, not only because it carries with it the possibility of misandry, something I am always on the lookout against when it comes to singers, but also because for reasons unknown to me, the singer decided to title all of the songs with all capital letters, which is a very unpleasant sort of gimmick (and a gimmick which I have ignored when giving the titles of the songs in this album because it hurts my eyes). It is possible that I could be proven wrong, and I hope to be, but these are the sorts of aspects of an album that put me in a more critical mindset than I would normally be in. Naturally, only one of these songs has had any degree of success on country radio so far. Is this a good album? Let’s find out.
The album begins with the title track, which portrays the singer as being moody and temperamental and subject to drastic and unpredictable changes, which the singer seems to portray as a good thing but indicates a degree of craziness that is a definite negative. “The Little Things” follows, with its praise of the basics and the little things that make life enjoyable, which is by no means a groundbreaking song but it is pleasantly produced and is pleasant enough to listen to. “I Can’t Help Myself” shows a narrator singing about some deeply self-destructive habits of drinking with her girlfriends and losing her inhibitions leading to some self-destructive behaviors that harm her life. “If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Down Too)” provides a picture of two people who are friends with each other that both have shady business that they are both covering for each other, which the singer intends on being a sweet sort of devotion but that ends up looking like co-dependency. “Love Is A Cowboy” is a tender ballad, certainly a welcome respite from most of the songs so far, that looks at love in a familiar but beautiful metaphor that points to the bittersweet nature of love. “Muscle Memory” provides a case of the singer praising the sort of history and memory that her and a lover she sees in a bar have with each other. It’s hard to tell if the singer is talking about an on-again-off-again partner or singing something that she thinks would be relatable to others, though. “I Guess They Call It Fallin'” is another song that looks at the downside of love, talking about a situation where the singer jumped into a relationship but has regretted the fallout and being let down in the end. Again, is the singer singing about her own experience, or is she trying to relate to women in the same position? “Weather” points to the singer’s dissatisfaction with an unsteady and unreliable lover, which cuts against the first part of this album which praises the singer’s own moodiness and changeability, a quality she celebrates in herself but is unwilling to praise or accept in someone else. “Universe” is a mellow and gorgeous love ballad that reflects on the cosmic importance love and relationships to people, showing the singer’s devotion to a partner, pointing to a reciprocal kind of love that the singer praises God for. “Walk In The Park” understandably and beautifully and honestly portrays the singer as someone who is difficult to love and be in a relationship with, which is a reasonable understanding given this album and the way that quite a few people are indeed far more difficult to love than they would wish to be. “Heartfirst” is a beautiful and upbeat song that reflects the singer’s audacity and impetuosity in leaping into relationships with her heart and feeling that she needs to have the intoxicating rush of infatuation, which is easy enough to understand and relate to, but perhaps not the best attitude for someone already married to someone else. “You’re Drunk, Go Home” (featuring Kelly Clarkson & Carly Pearce) offers a dismissive tell-off to an unworthy would-be hook-up partner. This sort of song smacks of misandry even under the best circumstances–and a trio of women insulting a man is not the best of circumstances. Again, though, the singer herself at the making of this album was a married woman, so she should not even be entertaining romantic proposals from anyone else, which makes this song even more morally offensive. “Doin’ My Best” shows the singer portraying herself as an everywoman who learns from her mistakes and makes excuses for her lack of having everything all together, and some strikingly personal details about some of the mistakes she has made for the past couple of years, referencing some of her social media and career mistakes in the last album cycle, material that would only be interesting to those who are committed to the singer’s career and who buy her excuses. “Marilyn” provides a melancholy reflection on the contrast between Norma Jean and Marilyn Monroe from one woman to another, one of the many portrayals of this particular woman in music, it must be admitted. “What I Have” is an austere ballad that reflects on the singer’s attempts to find contentment with what she has–a relationship, a dream job (as a major label country singer), even if she sometimes wishes that she had more or that things were better. If this song isn’t particularly stellar because it’s so plain, and because reality has clearly not been kind to her in the months since this album was released with regards to what she has, this sort of mood would have been far more welcome in the rest of the album.
In reviewing this album, I am working under the assumption that this album reflects the actual life and behavior of the singer and not attempts at relating to others. There are enough songs on this album that are clearly personal and focused on the author’s mentality and behavior that I am judging this whole album as personal, and in that light, this album reflects poorly on the singer-songwriter behind it. It is at least more competently performed and played than the most recent Taylor Swift album, but both albums appear to be focused on presenting the warts and all view of the artists in their less than flattering lives. This particular album was recorded by a woman who was married at the time to a less successful but generally supportive country singing man. Yet this album presents the singer as mercurial, impulsive, and prone to cheating on him while going to the bar with her friends and meeting up with people talking dirty to her that have no business being around her in the first place. More so, the singer presents herself as doing the best she can when she is clearly not doing very well, struggling to find contentment in her marriage even as she acts recklessly with her heart and body, which does not sound like an auspicious reflection of the singer’s future as a married woman. All of this makes the album a troubling listen.