Album Review: 'Starting Over' Is a New Beginning for Chris Stapleton
Updated: Feb 9, 2021
By Emma Duncan--Eagle Staff Writer
Since 2013, Chris Stapleton has been writing, recording, and releasing country music hits such as “Tennessee Whiskey”, “Nobody To Blame”, and “Broken Halos”. On Nov. 13, Stapleton made his most popular single “Starting Over” the title track of his recent album.
Starting Over combines country tunes with rock flair and Indie emotion, creating an iconic sound that could only belong to Stapleton. While this brings diversity, the songs kept bouncing back and forth between sentiment, reflection, and anger, constantly changing listeners attitude throughout the album.
“Starting Over” is a traditional, feel-good country hit about spontaneity.
“...it don’t matter to (him) wherever we are is where (he wants to) be, and honey for once in our lives let's take our chances and roll the dice”. This means Stapleton would go anywhere as long as he could be with his wife, Morgane.
When listeners hear “Starting Over”, they won’t be able to stop themselves from humming along to this modern, take-a-chance love song. However, from this point on, the mood starts to change in two drastically different directions.
Next, Starting Over falls into a rock-and-roll theme, as “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice ”, “Cold”, “Arkansas”, and “Hillbilly Blood” blast ears with Stapleton’s unique vocals. Full of power, all of these songs will be enjoyed by listeners, but “Arkansas” really makes an impact.
An electric guitar strums, cymbals start to clash, and then bam!, the fun begins. This sudden jolt may be startling, but that feeling soon turns into amazement. “Arkansas” is all about being wild, doing what you want, and living the good life, as Stapleton sings, “havin’ so much fun that it’s probably a little bit against the law”, in the chorus.
Between these songs, Starting Over slows down for some heartfelt pieces about Stapleton’s family. “When I'm With You” and “Joy Of My Life” once again discuss his wife, who is actually Stapleton’s backup singer. Although some lyrics are quite sad, these tracks are calming and beautiful, giving a breath of fresh air in between the three rock hits.
Another more emotional song in Starting Over is “Maggie's Song”. Its music is more upbeat, but the story is a tearjerker that all pet owners can or will relate to. Maggie is Stapleton’s dog, who passed away at 14. She was a rescue, as Stapleton sings, “somebody left her in a shopping cart in a parking lot for us to find.” When talking with National Public Radio (NPR), Stapleton said he isn’t really a dog person, but this tribute song shows otherwise.
Starting Over’s next three songs, “Whiskey Sunrise”, “Worry B Gone”, and “Old Friends” also fall on the sentimental spectrum but have three completely different sounds. First, “Whiskey Sunrise” is more Country, while “Worry B Gone” is somewhat Rock-and-Roll, and “Old Friends” sounds quite Indie.
After the heartwarming “Old Friends” comes sinister “Watch You Burn”. This track is similar to “Arkansas” in sound, but their meanings are total opposites. This rock track is about revenge for those who've done wrong, as Stapleton sings “you’re gonna get your turn, and we’re gonna watch you burn”. The song features suspenseful backup vocals, a strong guitar solo, and powerful drums, but then, everything stops abruptly.
The drums come back slowly, an upbeat tune plays from the guitars, and then Stapleton starts to sing “You Should Probably Leave”, another complete switch from his previous song.
“Watch You Burn” shows Stapleton’s anger and yearning for payback, but this song manifests that Stapleton has a sweet side. When he sings “I know it ain’t all that late but you should probably leave”, Stapleton is trying to let someone down easy before things go too far. However, it seems Stapleton is losing his own battle as the song progresses. He shows his temptation by singing “like a devil on a shoulder you keep whisperin’ in my ear And it's kinda hard for me to do the right thing”.
To finish the journey of Starting Over, listeners hear a story of leaving home: “Nashville, TN”. This song is bittersweet because Stapleton sings about growing to love Nashville when singing “you showed me how to write a song, we wrote some right, we wrote some wrong, I was down and out, you let me in, at times you were my only friend”.
In the chorus, however, Stapleton’s words seem to show something happened in Nashville that really changed him, by singing, “so long, Nashville, Tennessee, you can’t have what’s left of me… you built me up you set me free, you tore down my memories”. Whether or not Stapleton was singing about someone he met in Nashville, something that happened, or the city itself, we may never know, but listeners understand Stapleton was changed by this experience.
The tone and meaning of this album can be found in both the music and album cover. As seen in the cover shot above, Starting Over is all white, which represents the blank slate that comes with new beginnings.
Songs such as “Starting Over” and “Whiskey Sunrise” are about starting fresh and hoping for something new. On the other hand, “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice”, "Maggie’s Song”, “Nashville, TN”, and others are about reflecting on the past to go on and possibly do better in the future.
Stapleton put a lot of emotion into this album, as he does with most songs, but Starting Over may have been a little much for one record. Each song on its own tells a story full of passion. However, when this album is listened to all the way through, these stories and their individual sounds jumble together, creating a musical roller coaster ride that could have been organized differently, or split into two EPs.
While switching up the tune in an album can provide a breath of fresh air, there needs to be time for each tune to settle with listeners before moving on to the next sound. However, Stapleton's many points of view allow him to reach a broader audience. Rolling Stone agrees, naming Starting Over the ninth best Country Album of 2020.
No matter one's story, most everyone will be able to relate to Starting Over’s vulnerability, resentment, and reflection on the past. This album is supposed to encourage listeners to move forward and grow, just like Stapleton himself.