After the commercial falloff of Keys to the Highway, Rodney Crowell took two and a half years crafting his seventh album, Life Is Messy, in the interim going through a divorce from his wife, Rosanne Cash. The most notable characteristic of Life Is Messy was that it marked a complete return to his original style. With nary a steel guitar or fiddle to be heard, and featuring top pop session musicians as well as a slew of pop guest stars (Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, Steve Winwood, etc.), Life Is Messy wasn't really a country record at all. A couple of songs had a country-rock, honky tonk feel, but the dominant musical style was a pastiche of late-'50s/early-'60s pop. The title song was a somewhat abstract meditation on romantic discord and career disappointment that was followed by the equally despairing "I Hardly Know How to Be Myself," which actually had been co-written with Cash. These songs sounded so pained and deeply felt that some of the more uptempo songs came off as trivial, even if they made for a change of pace. But other songs came up to their standard without being quite so low in mood. "Alone But Not Alone" found the singer beginning to find his way, and "It's Not for Me to Judge" revealed the noncommittal feelings one can have when emotional certainties are uprooted. Taken together, the songs on Life Is Messy made for a fascinating portrait of an artist at a personal and professional crossroad -- but it didn't have much to do with commercial country music circa 1992, which is what it was primarily marketed as. After a few months, Columbia Records pulled the plug on promotion and parted ways with Crowell, who moved on to MCA Records.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann