When Maren Morris said this album would be a return to her Texas roots, it was only fair to take her word for it and give it an objective listen. After all, Morris started his career with a rather rootsy song in “My Church,” and his contributions to The Highwomen project were very country (and well-written), including the song “Loose Change.” So we know she has it in her.
Similar to Carly Pearce, Maren Morris is also continuing his career after the untimely death of producer busbee. She said last year, “My last record was very pop. I think with this one I’m going back to that Texas and roots style I grew up in. I think it has a lot of American elements in it, a lot of grounding. It looks like me, but a very stripped-down version of me, and it’s still extremely fun and energetic.
But of course we’ve been here before. Remember when Kacey Musgraves made similar claims about how her latest album damn would be more country than golden hour? That’s not exactly how it happened. And the same goes for humble quest. Apart from a solitary track (“I Can’t Love You Anymore”), there is nothing really “country” here. Although later in this record it gets surprisingly deep, and perhaps more “Americana”.
Gender isn’t really the big deal with humble quest, but. It’s the energy, or lack thereof, and the generally uninspired approach to the lyrics and the music too that make humble quest just kind of pedestrian, especially for country pop. And while it won’t have you running for the hills like mainstream worst, it really doesn’t offer much to hold your attention either. At least with an aggressive pop record there are catchy hooks or something to grab. A lot of humble quest is just adrift.
The album is largely inspired by Maren Morris’ marriage to fellow performer Ryan Hurd. After starting the album with the autobiographical, but not particularly compelling “Circles Around This Town”, the first half of this record is one song about the perfection of her love with Ryan Hurd after another. “I Can’t Love You Anymore” essentially repeats the title phrase over and over for lack of a lyrical hook. “The Furthest Thing” and “Background Music” also lean heavily on this affinity for her lover.
But there is nothing really interesting here. Country music often finds its inspiration in conflict, divorce, rejection and desire. Few really want to hear about the perfection of your marriage, especially when it’s about to boast about it. The songs don’t really offer insight into life, nor do they feed off the emotional labor of relationships. Maren’s marriage could be perfect. But it wasn’t the right muse for a music record, except maybe a song or two.
Maybe that’s why the way this record was marketed had nothing to do with the message or the music, and everything about the character of Maren Morris, who likes to portray her as some sort of victim. The title of land of rolling stonesThe characteristic of this disc was, “Maren Morris has a three-word message for Twitter haters. It’s not “I love you” highlighting how grievance is the primary way Morris seeks to bring attention to herself and her career.
This was further emphasized by American songwriter‘s around the recording, titled “Maren Morris Still Defends Filming ‘Playboy’ 2019,” She defends “still” a Playboy a shoot from three years ago where nothing was really shown, and they had the answers to the “haters” before they even said a word? It shows how starved Maren Morris and the media are for a compelling narrative to sell this record with. Everyone has haters online. Twitter manages that only puppy videos are harassed. Maren Morris is no one special in this regard.
Even the music on the album fails to justify itself. It was produced by Greg Kurstin, who came to help finish Maren’s latest record. DAUGHTER, and who’s known for working with artists like Sia, P!ink and Adele, so not exactly a campaign veteran. While it’s fair to say that the pop inflections on this album are muted, so is everything. Sometimes Morris sounds like Nelly Furtado, full of R&B attitude and swagger. At other times the delivery is quite dry. But at no point does this record produce a sound that is in any way unique, unexpected or implied. It’s understated, but in a safe and directionless way.
By the time you reach the song “Nervous” on humble quest, you’re almost thrilled with at least some kind of musical topography, even if this song is the most shameless pop track on the record. “Tall Guys” is really the only time Maren takes her love for the hulking Ryan Hurd (6′ 3″ to be exact), and turns anything resembling entertainment with her funny and clever wordplay, aided by co-writers Natalie Hemby and Aaron Raitiere.
There are nine tracks left before we really find a song inspired by Maren’s humble quest (the title track is also a nap), and it’s a song called “Hummingbird”, clearly inspired by the birth of Maren’s son. Personal and poetic, it is perhaps the best argument in favor of the work. However, when you check the liner notes and see that the Love Junkies co-wrote the song (Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, Liz Rose), it makes sense that this is the ringtone for the set.
Morris turns in another great track at the end of “What Would This World Do?” and the album ends really strong in a way that makes you want to love it more than the whole experience deserves…or at least not hate it as much as you hoped. But in the current era of mainstream country music where women like Carly Pearce, Lainey Wilson and Ashley McBride are setting the tone very aggressively with gripping songs amid an unabashed return to country roots, a record as humble quest just feels directionless and superfluous, despite some good songs towards the end.
Maren Morris had her moment as the best new female artist in traditional country pop. But country music is cool again in country music, and although humble quest may spare it the worst of country pop’s decline, it’s also not powerful enough to keep it from being overtaken by the more traditional country resurgence that is pushing traditional country forward.
– – – – – – – – – –