Review: Mitski’s Be The Cowboy will make even the Lone Ranger cry
Mitski is back and better than ever with her fifth studio album, Be The Cowboy. After the huge success of her 2016 album, Puberty 2, Mitski returns with a whirlwind of raw emotion that will hit you right in the feels. Be The Cowboy invites listeners to saddle up for an emotional ride that pulls on their heartstrings with its lonesome lyrics and ethereal vocals. She certainly had me crying enough tears to fill a 10-gallon hat.
Echoing similar themes of her past albums, Mitski bares her soul to listeners and tells of her struggles with love, loneliness, and self-fulfillment — things we all struggle with. She replaces heavy guitar and distorted, grungy vocals with pianos, synths, and almost angelic vocal tones (for best synths, listen to “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”). This shift in sound does right by the album, and combined with her vulnerable yet relatable lyrics, solidifies it as her best album to date.
The album opens with “Geyser”, a tale of her loyalty and commitment to music and her desperation to be in a perfect relationship with it. The song welcomes us with the sound of a booming organ, which soon transforms into a melodic synth. It’s captivating, enchanting, and sets the tone for the rest of the song. Mitski enters with the lines, “You're my number one / You're the one I want,” and sends the song soaring with her harmonious and almost ghostly vocals. I can’t help but feel emotional and helpless 20 seconds into the song. With violins and guitars blaring, Mitski has invited us into her world and I am completely encompassed by her vulnerability.
About halfway through the album, there is an obvious shift in sound. Somewhere around “Remember My Name” and “Me and My Husband,” we lose soft vocals and piano but gain even more synth, bass, and plenty of guitar. It seems to me that Mitski is drawing some influence from her 2014 album, Bury Me At Makeout Creek, with a mixture of emotional slow jams and upbeat bops.
The song that stood out to me the most during this shift is definitely “A Pearl.” We’re instantly hit with the lyrics, “You're growing tired of me / You love me so hard and I still can't sleep / You're growing tired of me / And all the things I don't talk about,” and let me just say, I felt that! Mitski sings of how the self-destructive behaviors, some of which you’re used to when you’re single, can destroy a relationship from within. You don’t even try to fix it because you just want to be unhappy. One can’t help but notice the anger and emotion in her voice throughout the song, as if this has happened to her many times before.
The biggest hit off the album by far is “Nobody.” With its disco-beats and repetitive chorus of “Nobody, nobody,” it’s undoubtedly the most upbeat and catchy song on the album. You will easily find yourself dancing alone in your room singing into your hairbrush. Mitski hits us with lines like “And I don't want your pity / I just want somebody near me / Guess I'm a coward / I just want to feel alright.” and “I've been big and small / And big and small / And big and small again / And still nobody wants me.” No matter what she does to and for herself, nobody ever wants her! Talk about a mood. One of the things I love most about this track is the emotional confusion I get. Should I be disco dancing on top of my bed? Should I be crying and having an existential crisis? I’m not really sure, but I can very much relate to what she is saying (almost everybody can, actually). This certainly isn’t a song to miss!
I talk very highly of this album and recommend it to anyone, but I have just a few qualms with it that kept it from scoring a perfect 10. First one being, there aren’t enough cowboy related songs or themes. The only slightly cowboy related content is “A Horse Named Cold Air.” It’s false advertising! Secondly, I feel the orientation of the songs could have been considered a bit more. The first half of the album is very strong, then the quality of song decreases towards the middle, gaining strength again towards the end. I feel a slight change in song order could have solved this issue. Lastly, I’m missing her usual bass playing. Mitski has handed off her bass to fellow musician Magana for the tour of this album to focus on some dance moves and to create a better space for her audience. I still respect her creative decisions, though.
Overall, this is definitely one of the best albums to have graced my ears in a very long time. There are very few weak songs, if any, and each one illustrates a different aspect of the happiness, anger, and pain life and love can cause a person. It's so refreshing to hear an entire album so true to life. I definitely felt a rollercoaster of emotions throughout and I’m so happy this album exists. Giddy up, pardner!
Top Tracks: Nobody, Lonesome Love, Geyser
For Fans of: Strong female-led indie rock, slow jams
Pros: Cohesive and stand-out songs, clean execution, a rollercoaster of emotions
Cons: Very depressing depending on your headspace, one or two weaker tracks, not enough cowboy content