RS500 #480: Miranda Lambert — The Weight of These Wings
Year Released: 2016
Have I Heard This Before?: I am a country music neophyte at best, especially when it comes to modern country music. As such, I only have a passing knowledge of Miranda Lambert’s music, as well as her reputation among music critics.
High Points: I’m not sure what I expected before putting this on, but The Weight of These Wings pretty well subverted whatever expectations I had. Given that Lambert landed firmly in the mainstream end of country music in a way that doesn’t always guarantee a degree of creative control, I was taken aback not only by how often this album doesn’t sound like a Nashville record. At times, Wings veers into folk, and it finds ways to borrow modern alt-rock atmospherics in a way that doesn’t feel like cheap co-opting. The varied styles on this album play into Lambert’s varied mood; while Wings is marketed as a breakup album in the wake of Lambert’s high-profile divorce from Blake Shelton, Lambert doesn’t air dirty laundry here. Instead, she creates a mood of being aimless, unmoored after being removed from a place of stability. Sometimes it leads to forced positivity (“Pink Sunglasses,” “We Should Be Friends”); sometimes it leads to despair (“Vice”), but it all connects to that same feeling of freedom and terror that comes from having one’s world upended.
Low Points: Honestly, I do wonder whether or not Wings had to be a double album; the supposed concept doesn’t quite gel, and the two discs don’t feel distinct in the way that perhaps Lambert intended. Also — and I will admit that this is my personal bias talking here — the less conventional tracks are way more gripping than the songs that feel like straightforward, modern country music. Granted, these are pretty good country songs overall; Lambert is a good songwriter and a great performer. But some of these songs feel too familiar on an album that, at points, looks to upend the expectations of what a country album could be.
Loose Thoughts: Spotify’s algorithms are in the news lately, but Lambert’s top-played songs aren’t nearly as weird as Pavement’s. However, they do indicate that Wings, while being loved by critics, isn’t the most popular album among her fans and among listeners as a whole. This could be the first instance we’ve encountered of the disconnect between what critics like in an artist and what the average listener likes in an artist, but it definitely won’t be the last.
Rating: This is a Good album, with moments that hint at Greatness. I don’t know that it lives up to its lofty ambitions, but it’s well worth your time and it demonstrates that Lambert is a songwriter worth taking seriously.