Two years after the release of her 2016 debut Hero, Maren Morris scored a genuine crossover smash with "The Middle," a collaboration with electro-pop producer Zedd. "The Middle" wasn't a country song, it was a pop move so bold it felt defiant: if country radio wasn't going to make her the star she deserved to be, she planned to head elsewhere. That same sensibility runs through Girl, Morris' ambitious 2019 sophomore album. In a sense, Girl is the sequel to "The Middle," not Hero. Largely produced by Greg Kurstin -- the Bird & The Bee veteran who became the producer du jour after his Grammy-winning work for Adele and Beck -- Girl is bright, shiny, and big, an album designed to appeal to any imaginable audience. Morris doesn't abandon country -- she duets with Brothers Osborne on "All My Favorite People," a salute to blue collar revelers -- but she favors a pan-cultural pop that draws elements from soul, dance-pop, indie, Americana, and rock, all polished so they can fit onto many different stylistic playlists simultaneously. Morris takes this as a point of pride. She sings she's "cooking up my own flavor," intent on being an original, a sentiment that mirrors the self-empowerment of the album's title track. Both songs are admirable if a bit on-the-nose, which happens to be the defining quality of Girl. No longer content to massage her message, Morris tackles all of her targets directly, offering no shade or subtlety in either her music or words. Sonically, this approach can be dazzling. Her hooks are striking, the production is vivid, and she sings with the casual assurance of a superstar. Where this approach falters is with the individual songs. By foregrounding her lyrical intent and offering no room for interpretation, Morris winds up with songs that feel less imaginative than their execution, a flaw that is by no means fatal but does mean that Girl plays on a smaller scale than intended.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine