Let’s talk about artist loyalty, more specifically about an artist’s ability to make fans crave new music. I know that’s framed badly, so let me elucidate what I’m trying to say.
The wait for new music from Miranda Lambert has felt like an eternity already, and I feel confident in saying that I’m not the only one who thinks that outside of her core fan base. Really, it’s only been two years, and yet it’s still felt about as long as the wait for that new Jamey Johnson album that apparently still isn’t coming (dammit!).
I think part of this has to do with Miranda keeping a low profile over the past year or so (yes, I know it’s because of that. Trust me I’m going to try to do this review without mentioning it). That low profile in the mainstream is definitely noticeable, but really, Miranda has been doing some really cool things in the independent world. She was a part of Dave Cobb’s killer album, Southern Family, and her contribution to that project is part of why I consider it one of the best country albums in years. Then of course you see her working with artists such as Jack Ingram, Brent Cobb, Ashley Monroe, and of course, Anderson East, and it’s safe to say that Miranda hasn’t exactly been gone, she’s just rejuvenated her career.
Well, I hate to drag out this prelude, but I don’t want to answer that just yet, mostly because there’s still more to say about this album before we actually dive into it. Now, at this point I’ve seen many different opinions circulate around this album, more so than I’ve seen in awhile. I’m not one to let other opinions influence mine, so fret not about a biased review. With all of that being said however, I’ve always stated that you should hear something for yourself before really judging it, and this album may be the shining example of that statement. No review will accurately encapsulate the entire picture with this album, and that’s alright, especially since I believe the best music is made to challenge us as listeners. One thing is for sure – The Weight Of These Wings is one of the most complex, interesting albums I’ve heard this year.
I’ve seen comparisons to Aubrie Sellers’ New City Blues, and of course, that one album that dropped in May, however, when listening to The Weight Of These Wings I’m reminded a lot of Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood. Now, prior to making both this album as well as Misunderstood, both artists really seemed lost artistically speaking, once again going back to my talk of rejuvenation. However, much like Eric’s album, Miranda’s latest project feels like she’s making her mark as a true artist, symbolizing the rare exception of a mainstream country artist who is in control of their music rather than the other way around. In other words, The Weight Of These Wings is definitely well worth your time.
I can’t drag on the prelude any longer, but honestly folks, I’m puzzled as to where to start when discussing this album. I guess we’ll start with Miranda Lambert as a vocalist. Now, she’s always had a sort of ragged edge to her voice, and that’s worked on hard hitting tracks like “Gunpowder and Lead”, and “Kerosene” among others. However, she’s also been really great at handling the more gentle tracks as well like “More Like Her” and especially “The House That Built Me”. On this album, you’re going to get a ton of the latter and essentially none of the former. There’s a sense of rawness to this album in terms of her delivery. You can tell that she’s pouring herself into this album, and the end result is something that’s just plain and simply, real. If I were to nitpick though, it would be that some tracks don’t really benefit from that type of serious delivery. Take the covers of “You Wouldn’t Know Me” or “Covered Wagon” for instance. On the surface, yeah, there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but on this particular album they just feel unnecessary. Both songs are opting for more of a fun, breezier delivery and I just don’t feel as if they honestly belong on this particular album.
Of course, that leads us to another question, does this even work as a double album in general? Well, yes and no. There are some great, no, excellent songs on here, some of which could compete for that coveted “song of the year” award. In addition, both sides of this album do stick to their respective themes of either touching on nerves or focusing on the heart. However, I’m not quite sure we needed two discs to do it. Now, that’s more of a nitpick more so than an outright criticism of this album. After all, I said at the beginning that this was one of the most complex albums I’ve heard all year, and I truly mean that.
So enough rambling, let’s dig into the two albums separately and come together as a whole shall we? “The Nerve” begins with the spacey, atmospheric “Runnin’ Just In Case” which really sets the stage for the album, in a sense providing a background of Miranda’s life up until that point in order to really move on with the duration of the album. Now, many people have expressed criticisms that the album drags on too long, especially with the increased amount of slower, more melancholic songs. Personally these songs are my favorite because they provide a real sense of nuance and show Miranda really growing as a writer, showing that she’s really refined her sense of detail.
Now, we don’t get as many of those on “The Nerve”, and the results sometimes don’t always work out. The biggest reason for this lies in the production. It’s noticeable on “Highway Vagabond”, and really my lack of knowledge about production techniques is about to show. It’s weird, scuzzed out rock that more or less compresses Miranda’s vocals, and that leads to a really uneven flow during the chorus that I didn’t really care for. Then you have the same thing with “Pink Sunglasses”, a song that I consider to be the worst on the entire project. It matches bad production with a really pointless theme of hiding behind sunglasses in order to make your troubles go away, in other words, setting up a cute little fantasy that obviously doesn’t work. You also have a song like her newest single, “We Should Be Friends”, which feels like Miranda is harping on a theme that she’s done better before with “Heart Like Mine”. Again, not horrible songs, just unnecessary in regards to this album.
On the other hand though, you have tracks like “Runnin’ Just In Case” along with “Pushin’ Time” and “Use My Heart”. Again, it’s not that it’s more country oriented, it’s that these songs have the room to breath and really lead to some well-crafted nuanced songs that are some of the best of Lambert’s entire career. “The Nerve” also features one of my favorite songs on the album, “Getaway Driver” for balancing some absolutely beautiful acoustic textures with a theme that deals with being there for someone no matter what because they need you. Heck, that theme isn’t even stated right up front. It’s veiled behind some clever metaphors and really just clever songwriting in general. Again, I absolutely love this song, and while the subject matter and sound don’t seem like they’d fit, they oddly enough do, and that’s a testament towards Miranda as an artist.
See, where the production ultimately leaves parts of “The Nerve” falling flat with me, they’re essentially almost all erased on “The Heart”, an album that as a standalone is one of my favorites of this year. Where “The Nerve” found Miranda sort of embracing the darker side of life, in other words, external factors of her life, “The Heart” is more about Miranda exploring herself. The opening track, “The Tin Man” (written with the always amazing Jack Ingram) is probably my favorite track here next to “Getaway Driver”, and the reason relates back to her songwriting. Now, Miranda has always been a sharper songwriter than most of her mainstream peers, but here it just feels like she’s really stepped up her game in a huge way, and the evidence is on this part of the entire project. Going back to “The Tin Man”, it’s a song where she literally addresses the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz and tells him to be careful what he wishes for if it’s a heart. Miranda has one, and it’s been broken and tattered. What I love about this song is that it’s not just Miranda giving the Tin Man advice. After all, she’s still on her journey to become stronger, and that’s why I love the end where she asks if she can trade her heart for his armor. She warns him, sure, but she’s also still in need of advice, or rather directions herself. There’s a danger that comes with having only armor (seeing as how you shut everyone out), however that’s the beauty. There is no final conclusion. It’s just a brilliantly executed song that is so much more than what it details.
You also have tracks such as “Things That Break” with its darker, almost western feel, or “Well Rested” with the touch of reverb and passionate vocal performance. Moreover, you get a touch of classic country with “To Learn Her” which is another standout here due to some stellar production as well as the anthemic “Keeper Of The Flame” that really crescendos into an overall excellent song by its end and really feels like Miranda is back as an artist. Again, I know there’s a lack of sonic or tempo variety here, but when the songs are this consistent I can’t complain. Sure, I think “Dear Old Sun” drags on a little too long, but that’s just a nitpick!
What I really liked about this side of the overall album however was its consistency. Remember, I stated that certain songs on “The Nerve” felt inessential to the project, but aside from “For The Birds”, and “Bad Boy” from this side of the album, I can’t think of any that don’t add something of value to the project. I’ve seen criticisms of songs like “Tomboy”, but even here we have a song that’s championing individuality and staying true to that individuality. In other words, following your heart. More specifically with this song, I can’t help but feel this is the anti-“Different For Girls”, something we really need to counter that song. It gets even weirder when looking at “Six Degrees Of Separation”, because it’s got that same sort of scuzzy production that I wasn’t a fan of on “The Nerve”. Yet here, it doesn’t bother me at all, and the hardest part is explaining why. Maybe it’s because it feels like she’s giving this some true energy in her vocals, or maybe it’s just the infectiousness of it overall. I don’t know, but it manages to work.
So overall, the best way to describe The Weight Of These Wings would be like going on a roller coaster ride. There’s a lot to digest with this album, and it takes several listens to really grasp everything that’s going on here. That being said, while I don’t know if this necessarily had to be a double album, I do think that it is overall strong, which is why it’s getting a light to decent 8/10 from me. Yes, I know you’ve seen that grade a lot with these album reviews lately, but trust me, this album deserves a high mark. It’s intelligent, emotional, and raw – an album that challenged me as a listener. Yet, I can’t deny that it’s also one of the most rewarding listens of this year, and easily one of Miranda’s best albums.
Best Songs: “The Tin Man”, “Getaway Driver”, “To Learn Her”, “Keeper Of The Flame”, “Pushin’ Time”, “Runnin’ Just In Case”, “Well Rested”
Worst Song: “Pink Sunglasses”