Friday, July 17th, 2020

The Chicks – March March

Presumably won’t be sued by Judy and Suzanne Donaldson


Katie Gill: Let’s get this out of the way first: to the best of my knowledge, “March March” had already been written by May 1, the originally announced release date of Gaslighter. I suspect there’s already an article out there claiming the Chicks are jumping on the #BLM bandwagon, which 1. ain’t true in the slightest, and 2. if you think the group that was willing to publicly criticize the Iraq War in 2003 is doing this for brownie points, I’ve got some swampland in Florida to sell you. This is an absolutely powerful song that pulls no punches. The minimalist backing highlights the power of Maines’ vocals and the group’s lyrics. That “cut the shit, you ain’t going to the gun range” is perhaps the most haunting aside I’ll hear in all of 2020. And the transition from minimalist backing to that absolutely sublime violin solo is top-notch. But the majority of the power from this song comes from the video, which recontextualizes the song’s more general indictment of various protestable problems like school shootings and climate change to focus on the current Black Lives Matter movement. The video is a triumph of editing, especially the absolutely arresting and heartbreaking list of names at the end. The moment when they start moving faster, fast enough to the point where you can’t read them all, feels like a punch in the chest. If the VMAs actually gave a damn about music videos outside of the 20 or so approved VMA winning artists, this would be a shoo-in. But it does make you wonder how well “March March” plays on the album itself or in a performance context, without the sublime video to bolster it.

Edward Okulicz: It’s almost a pity that this isn’t the debut single by an actual new group called The Chicks, because the opening lyric “march, march to my own drum,” delivered like a serpent ready to strike, is as potent a statement of intent as Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels.” Only it sounds more like Lorde. Any country elements are ghostly, threatening to run away in the mix if you focus on them. The Chicks have done what Lady A(ntebellum) failed to do and met the moment head on.

Jackie Powell: I appreciate that The Chicks are “meet[ing] the moment” by not only reflecting inward, but also giving voice and handing their platform to those who have been actually marching in the past two months. They know they shouldn’t be in this video, and for the most part they aren’t. I don’t mind that we see Emily Erwin’s hands plucking her dobro. The Chicks understand that their rebranding is more than a statement of their potential wokeness and clout (cough cough Lady A). “March March” has less of a sonic punch than its predecessor, but it does accomplish a lyrical gut-punch. “What the hell happened in Helsinki?” is delivered with such sarcasm but also a defeatist tone, and the guitar and banjo harmonize the answer. I remember that day, and I remember how Twitter and the news machine reacted. It was horrifying. The final chorus crashes with a percussive convergence, as a thunderous bass drum attacks the first syncopated motif from the first measure. The “march” is layered and has intensified. Overall, the track would have served The Chicks even before the world’s racial reckoning. It could be interpreted as a bit more conceited: Natalie Maines and co. once again positioning themselves as the country stars who have “taken on” the Nashville establishment while making “the personal political.” They’ve been “March March”ing to their own drum for a while. With their first full-length release in almost fifteen years, they ought to know they aren’t marching alone.

Tim de Reuse: Dramatic, unfocused rambling that could’ve come from any white country up-and-comer trying to cram a profound single into their feel-good debut album. The “lies are truth and truth is fiction” bit is wishy-washy enough, but choosing to end your second verse with an apparent plea that we all keep Russiagate in our minds betrays a catastrophic failure to understand what most of the country does and does not give a fuck about right now. A band that got nationally blacklisted for the better part of a decade after daring to condemn the Iraq war should in theory be positioned pretty well to say something incisive — and yet, and yet…

Alfred Soto: What makes “March March” a minor triumph aren’t the lyrics, which are of course audible but nevertheless weirdly and touchingly mild for these anxious times, but the way the Chicks let the song expand its lung power. A trippy, haunting example of the genre’s recombinant abilities unfolds in the last minute as Old Country’s handclaps, banjo, and fiddle meet the echo and slight distortion of New Country. To deal with anxious times, art should remind audiences of how we see traces of what is lost in what is new.

Katherine St Asaph: I did not expect them to almost turn into “Army of Me” — not now, not circa Court Yard Hounds, not circa “Goodbye Earl” — which was a cover, anyway — not circa the bluegrass days. Jack Antonoff is producing (alongside Taking the Long Way‘s Dan Wilson), so “March March” mostly remains a yellow flicker beat. But as it progresses, it prove the Chicks’ name change wasn’t just cosmetic or #woke. They know half of you love them — their loyal fanbase, and lots more people who don’t listen to country but love the idea of them — and will forgive pandering, via a single that’s no more political or pointed than stuff by Brandy Clark or Eric Church or even occasionally Brad Paisley. (The “cut the shit, you ain’t going to the gun range” aside is sassy-great, if obsolete — the boogaloos aren’t pretending — and blunted when the Chicks reuse it on a throwaway line.) They also know there’s no point pandering to country radio, the half that already hates then, and likely also that they’re too much of a legacy act for pop-crossover radio. This gives them musical freedom, and unlike countless message songs with afterthought arrangements, they use it. “March March” dispenses with words for almost a full two minutes to show, not tell, via a Southern gothic (in both senses of the phrase) “I’m Not Done.” Sopranos ping like sonar, fiddlers play like they’re Nigel Kennedy, handclaps and banjos form a dense thicket. It’s striking, and made to listen to, not just to retweet and Google lyrics.

Steacy Easton: The harmonies are nice, and I’ve missed them, but the abstract, anxious and spiky instrumental — especially the banjos, handclaps and mysterious production on the last minute of the song — matches the innovation of the name change. 

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The Chicks occupy an odd space in my music memory. Their music was popular when I was a kid, but I was too young in 2003 to grasp how and why they were suddenly ostracized from the country music industry. After they disappeared, I never thought that much about it. It was only after Beyoncé and The Chicks’ 2016 “Daddy Lessons” that I started to understand the subversiveness of their music. And it was only after perennial problematic fav Taylor Swift explained her fear of speaking about politics, in the context of The Chicks’ blacklisting after speaking out about President Bush, that I began to understand how the country music establishment silences voices of dissent. “March March” is a band unapologetically doubling down on the principles that they were shut out for. It’s a band using their white privilege to vocalize an anti-racist message that prioritizes black, trans, and POC lives–reclaiming space and power in a patriarchal, racist industry. It’s a hyper-political country anthem that soundtracks this moment, but it’s also more than that.

Tobi Tella: Bluster and generic empowerment are not what white artists should be providing right now, nor does it match the mood of the moment. This is steely, gritty, minimalist, and resilient, from a group that’s been walking the damn walk for over 15 years.

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5 Responses to “The Chicks – March March”

  1. Well done, everyone.

  2. If you listen on a good pair of headphones, the production really blows you away; the mix is crystalline.

    There’s a very subtle flanger(?) effect on the “cut the shit” asides; at the second verse, a wobbly dubstep-adjacent(!) synth-bass sneaks in on the left; after this, that persistent metallic ‘ping’ crinkles with distortion, before disappearing at the handclaps; the industrial boom of the first half completely evaporates into an acoustic kit with the swelling fiddles at the end; and then the stereo-spanning filigree as the song climaxes…

    This is truly a masterclass in restrained, shifting, complex pop production. It sounds like a brilliant sculpture of metal and wood. The way the pedal steel curls around the distorted bass kicks to form this desolate, dystopian-Western sound, only to explode in green earth tones… I really could gush forever about this song. Antonoff and the Chicks should be extremely proud. This is beyond exemplary.

    PS: @Katherine: Yellow Flicker Beat was a Joel Little production (Lorde’s pre-Antonoff days) so the comparison is off–but still valid!

  3. read the alt text

  4. Katherine makes a v important point in one alt text. People are very quick to assume Antonoff is the creator of all of the sonic ideas while other people are kind of erased from the discussion for some reason.

    Also “Everybody Loves You” off The Chicks’ album is such a devastating song. I feel absolutely emotionally wrecked from listening to it, and I can’t help but put it on repeat.

  5. Missed the alt text on mobile and also the point of the comparison, sorry !

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