Being a fan of country music is like being in a love/hate relationship. This is the genre defined by Johnny Cash as “three chords and the truth”, but it is also an inclusive, almost elitist, circle where America is presented as a country of tailgates, truck-lovers and white Christians. Mainstream country has come under criticism for being too generic, with songs of love and heartbreak as polished as the ones about partying with plastic red cups.
Miranda Lambert has toyed with the mainstream; she has given them smashing radio hits like “Gunpowder and Lead” and “Fastest Girl in Town”. But she seems to revel in keeping them at arm’s length, plucking away at her pink guitar, doing music on her own terms and at her own pace. Her new album is a product of her doing exactly that. The Weight of These Wings is a two-discs offering (the first disc is “The Nerve” while the second is “The Heart”) and it is not only Lambert’s statement about her divorce from fellow country superstar Blake Shelton, but it is also a statement that the six times CMA winner for ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’ is not that interested in playing the game. Lambert – with her twangy tunes and razor-sharp lyrics – would rather be doing her own thing, thank you very much.
Our female protagonist in The Weight of These Wings is trademark Miranda Lambert: she is feisty and strong, yet vulnerable and extremely broken. Lambert has always been exceptional at crafting incredibly nuanced women in her music. They can range from the vengeful, angry “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” to the cunning, unforgiving bride in “White Liar”, and to the heartbroken, bitter spurned lover in “More Like Her”. With this new album, Lambert proudly carries on her tradition of going against the “All-American girl” image. She lays it all out in the first line of the album, singing in “Running Just In Case” that “there’s trouble where I’m going, but I’m gonna go there anyway”. Our heroine “hate[s] Sunday mornings” and uses “alcohol as a sedative” (“We Should Be Friends”). And rather than being a nice, smiling, joyful woman (which Lambert is frequently lambasted as not being at award shows), she croons that she is “reckless, tangled in her messes” (“Getaway Driver”).
The women Lambert sings about in The Weight of These Wings are more mature and more layered than the ones in her previous work. They can be funny and unpretentious; in “Pink Sunglasses”, the protagonist declares that she is a “firm believer in the power of the plastic, positive plastic”. They are unapologetic in their pain and their mess – “I don’t try to justify the reason I’m not livin’ right, I wear my sadness like a souvenir” (“Ugly Lights”). Throughout the entire album, Lambert veers between the woman with “the nerve” of steel to the woman with “the heart” who is still reeling from the end of a relationship. There is a degree of cynicism that has creeped into her music – a more bitter, sadder look at love. She even sings in “Pushing Time” with her boyfriend Anderson East that “sometimes love acts out of spite.”
In the album’s highlight “Tin Man”, Lambert tells the Wizard of Oz character that he is not missing anything by not having a heart, “cause love is so damn hard” and that he can “take [my heart] if you want it, it’s in pieces now”. It’s in slower songs like “Tin Man” that Lambert’s sharp, clear, pain-laced voice and lyrics take centre-stage, cutting through all the production and gripping the listeners’ attention like no other artist in country music can. From the heartbreak of lost love, to the desperate search for positivity, and to the defiance, self-reflection of songs like “I’ve Got Wheels”, “Well-Rested” and “Dear Old Sun” – it is an extremely brutal and honest journey she takes you on.
Country music still has a long way to go before it can break away from its elitist nature and its boys’ club mentality (just ask The Dixie Chicks). But with female artists like Miranda Lambert (as well as her underrated pal Ashley Monroe and the whip-smart Kacey Musgraves), the message is clear: male country artists better step up their game.
Miranda Lambert is not only an artist with a voice. She is an artist with something to say.
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