Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

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  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from chorus.fm for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    Earlier this year, in a 10-year retrospective piece for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium, I talked at length about the impossibility of double albums. The crux of my argument there was that the double album was something of a cautionary tale. So many artists have tried and failed to make compelling double albums, free of filler and with enough thematic or sonic cohesion to hold together over the course of two discs. Even as a songwriter myself, I can’t fathom wanting to attempt a double album. The idea of writing lots of songs is that you can take the finest ones, the ones that best cohere to your vision, and put them on a record together.

    For the most part, it seems like artists in the country music industry agree with me on that account. Double albums in country have historically been a lot less common than double albums in other genres. There are exceptions, of course. Vince Gill did a double double album with 2006’s four-disc These Days, while country music veteran Marty Stuart tried his hand at the double album just two years ago, with 2014’s Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. Meanwhile, Shania Twain’s 2002 smash Up! came out in three different versions: a “pop” version, a “country” version, and an “international” version. Sure, marquee country artists will often release long albums, records that would have been doubles in the vinyl days. (Recent favorites like Taylor Swift’s Red and Chris Stapleton’s Traveller both top out at more than an hour in runtime.) Usually, though, country artists don’t have quite the power or hubris to go for a double album.

    Apparently, Miranda Lambert is the exception to that rule. Coming into 2016, Lambert had four number one country hits, five previous solo albums (all of which went platinum in the United States), and six straight wins for Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMA Awards. With Taylor Swift officially embracing her pop star status, Miranda Lambert is easily the biggest female artist in country music. She was also part of one of the biggest tabloid news stories of 2015, when she divorced from fellow country star Blake Shelton. All of these factors lead to The Weight of These Wings, Lambert’s sixth full-length solo album and the rare country music double album.

    The good news is that, as a double album, The Weight of These Wings is fairly restrained and non-indulgent. As far as modern double records are concerned, Weight’s runtime of 94 minutes is relatively modest. (For reference’s sake, Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience is almost exactly 50 minutes longer.) It still has some of the weaknesses that always come into play with double albums: it’s too long and too jumbled, sometimes failing to make its aching ballads and loose rockers meld into a cohesive statement. At 24 songs, the album could have been improved substantially by losing about four of them. Lambert has co-writes on 20 of the 24 tracks here, and for the most part, the weaker songs are the ones she didn’t have a hand in. “Highway Vagabond”—written by country music giants Shane McAnally, Natalie Hemby, and Luke Dick—is a bass-heavy groover that never quite finds a compelling melody. The album’s two covers, meanwhile—a foot-tapping take on Shake Russell’s “You Wouldn’t Know Me” and a fun, bluesy run-through of Danny O’Keefe’s “Covered Wagon”—are perfectly enjoyable, but are curious inclusions given how much original material Lambert obviously had to work with.

    Covers would make more sense here if the original material wasn’t of such high caliber, but it is. Lambert—along with a murderer’s row of A-list co-writers—has created a self-contained songbook here that Nashville artists will probably be covering for years to come. Lambert’s songwriting skills have never been in doubt: one of the most engaging and unique songs on her last album, “Bathroom Sink” from 2014’s Platinum, was a solo composition. However, some of her best and biggest singles in the past have come from other writers. Her first number one, the wistful “The House That Built Me,” was penned by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin and was originally intended for Blake Shelton, while the fiery “Mama’s Broken Heart” was arguably the piece of songwriting that put both Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark on the map. Here, though, Lambert had a bigger role in writing, and the result is easily her most personal—and best—collection of songs yet.

    The ballads especially shine. Album bookends “Runnin’ Just in Case” and “I’ve Got Wheels” are lush beauties that frame the album as a late-night lonesome roadtrip. Lead single “Vice,” meanwhile, is a soulful slow burn that starts with Lambert singing a cappella over a gentle vinyl scrape. The song finds Lambert wallowing in heartbreak and succumbing to alcohol, one-night stands, and sad songs to get over it. “When it hurts this good you gotta play it twice,” she sings resignedly at the end of the first verse. It’s an instant classic “sad song” line, but you also sense a bit of wry sarcasm in Lambert’s voice, like she knows that listeners expect her to wallow over Shelton and is steering into the skid.

    The list goes on. “Tin Man” finds Lambert conversing with the iconic character of Wizard of Oz fame, cautioning him that he might not want the heart he seeks if he knew a thing or two about heartbreak. “To Learn Her” is a classic country weeper, about how developing a long-term intimate relationship with someone means discovering their secrets, memorizing their quirks, meeting their family, and losing all of the above when it ends. The wintry “Pushin’ Time” is a touching duet with boyfriend Anderson East, about never wanting new love to end. East also lends a co-write to the album’s finest song, the heartbreaking “Getaway Driver.” The song charts an aching narrative of a same-sex relationship where one partner is considerably more committed—and more in love—than the other. “So I’ll keep the engine running/She’ll be my gasoline/She treats my heart like a stolen car/All the while she had the keys,” Lambert sings on the wrenching chorus. It’s one of the best moments of any song this year.

    These songs are all magical and transportive, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg for The Weight of the Wings. The rootsy “Good Ol’ Days” features co-writes from Brent Cobb and Adam Hood—both country artists with terrific and recent albums (this year’s Shine on Rainy Day and 2014’s Welcome to the Big World, respectively) worth checking out. Other high-profile artists lending co-writes here include British singer/songwriter Lucie Silvas (for the Kelly Clarkson-meets-country music mood piece that is “Smoking Jacket”), Irish troubadour Foy Vance (for the aforementioned “Pushin’ Time”), and the terrific Ashley Monroe (for the understated disc one closer “Use My Heart”). All of these artists have dynamic talents, and all help bring different sounds, styles, and directions to Lambert’s sprawling double album. This record may be long, but it’s never same-y, and the collection of different co-writers is probably a big part of the reason why.

    The weakness of the double album format is often that it gives a band or artist too much freedom to indulge their every whim. The flip-side of that flaw, though, is that a double album can give a songwriter the space they need to explore a huge array of different worlds. Lambert avoids indulgence, but embraces exploration, hitting everything from scuzzy honky-tonk drinking songs (“Ugly Lights”) to sultry pop (“Pink Sunglasses”), and from mainstream arena country anthems (“Keeper of the Flame”) to something like the garage-country style that Aubrie Sellers explored on this year’s New City Blues (“Six Degrees of Separation”). Whether you like country music or not, you’re almost guaranteed to find something to love on this record—be it the autumnal folk songs, the classic country throwbacks, the rock-tinged numbers, or the road trip anthems. If you’ve previously avoided mainstream country artists in favor of the fringe players who challenge the status quo (artists like Kacey Musgraves or Sturgill Simpson), The Weight of These Wings is an intriguing invitation to reconsider.

     
  2. Chase Tremaine

    theherox @oursbyaccident oursbyaccident.com Supporter

    Great review!

    It amazes me that every single album Miranda Lambert has made, even those with the Pistol Annies, has a score in the 80's on Metacritic. This album follows suit. I hope to check it out soon.
     
  3. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    I haven't listened to her earliest stuff, but I've heard the past three or four and they're all quite solid. This is my favorite thing I've heard of hers so far, though. I think you'd be a fan of a lot of it. Definitely reminds me of Monroe's The Blade from last year.
     
    Chase Tremaine likes this.
  4. Eric Wilson

    Trusted Supporter

    Fantastic review. Will have to give this a listen this week.
     
  5. Chase Tremaine

    theherox @oursbyaccident oursbyaccident.com Supporter

    THE BLADE IS MY FAVORITE THING.
     
    Craig Manning likes this.
  6. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Chase Tremaine likes this.
  7. Chase Tremaine

    theherox @oursbyaccident oursbyaccident.com Supporter

    Hilarious. I was snooping around Amazon, very nearly bought the Miranda Lambert album, but ended up buying Ashley Monroe's 2006 album instead :crylaugh:
     
  8. aerials

    Newbie

    Thank you SO much for this review. I'm a hugehugehuge Miranda fan and didn't even realize she had a new album out -- much less a double album!

    Immediately bought the album and listened to it the past few days. It's stellar (like the rest of her discography).

    Anyone who doesn't like country really needs to give her a fair chance. She elevates the genre beyond anything you've heard. Super solid songwriting.