I’m no longer sure whether Maddie and Tae doubling down on the EP release approach is a smart and safe option … or just plain frustrating. I can’t entirely blame them; their career has felt mismanaged ever since their debut, and the fact that their record label never capitalized on the comeback success of “Die From a Broken Heart” is damn-near criminal.
After hearing the second volume of their Through the Madness project, however, I’m going to have to label it as a confusing choice, given that this really is just an extension to the first volume from earlier this year (and also feels like an extended expansion from their 2020 album). And I’m not sure focusing squarely on tiny little projects like these in 2022 is the smartest way to establish momentum moving forward.
But whatever, I’m here to review what we have and not what I want … and despite my criticism toward the release approach, this actually may be the duo’s most consistent project since their debut, if only for finally sporting a needed refinement in production. There’s still the occasional overdone moment like the snappy, synthetic waltz cadence anchoring “Girl After My Own Heart” that doesn’t really come together, even despite sporting a good lyrical hook. And they also try to remake Miranda Lambert’s “Baggage Claim” with kiss-off closer “Spring Cleaning” … right down to that same clunky groove.
But you know, even if this material does overall trace very familiar arcs for them – enough to where I can say they’re often retreading ground they’ve done better before – by tempering the production with a lot of warm, rollicking electric and acoustic flourishes and the occasional bits of pedal steel and mandolin for good measure, they’ve established a solid pop-country sonic foundation for themselves. Though I still think the writing is the underrated star of the show, eschewing some of the more playful, gimmicky moments of the first volume and their last album in favor of a more consistent project steeped mostly in heartbreak.
The big highlight for me in this regard is easily “These Tears,” which is the sort of mature, restrained heartbreak ballad they’ve proven they can sell well before – and this can easily join the ranks of those past songs, too. And it’s that same maturity that can make the wistful remembrance of “Well in Your World” hit effectively as well, even knowing a past partner has likely moved on and found happiness while their character maybe hasn’t but can still hope for the best for them regardless. I also enjoyed the solid bounce and melodic flow of “Drinking to Remember” as a possible extension of that same theme.
With that said, even if I do think this is a good refinement of a previously established foundation, I do think they’re still shy of greatness. Maybe it’s the writing needing a bit more raw punch or detail to really elevate the duo beyond themes and tropes they’ve covered effectively before. And placing this alongside the first volume might make certain songs on either side seem a bit repetitive – especially the more straightforward love songs – hence why I can understand why splitting them up might have actually been for the best – if only from an artistic standpoint. Still, taking this for what it is, it’s solidly likable, but I still know the duo is capable of more.
- Favorite tracks: “Well in Your World,” “Drinking to Remember,” “Watching Love Leave,” “These Tears”
- Least favorite track: “Spring Cleaning”