Album Review – Miranda Lambert’s ‘The Weight of These Wings’

miranda-lambert-the-weight-of-these-wings

Making a great album is a tough challenge. Making a great double album, though? You’re taking on an almost impossible task that many of the best artists can’t even pull off. I’ve made my stance on album length quite clear, with simple math telling us that the longer an album is the more chances you have of making mistakes. The biggest challenge with taking on a double album is finding enough great content to fill it up from start to finish. Most artists can’t put together 10-12 track length album because writing songs is hard. So when I heard Miranda Lambert’s new album would be a double at 24 songs long, I was worried about it. While no doubt the heartbreak and turmoil she’s experienced over the last couple years while also beginning a new chapter of her life would certainly give plenty of inspiration, I was skeptical if she could find enough for a double album. There would undoubtedly be great songs on it, but there could also be ample bad songs that could drag the good down. Not to mention I’ve lost track of how many different albums from major labels have been wrecked by bad production choices. On the flip side the names involved with the project inspires a lot of positive thinking. So with all of this in mind I dug deep into the mammoth-sized double album, The Weight of These Wings.

The album is broken into two 12 song parts, with the first part being called The Nerve and the second part being called The Heart. I’m going to review the first 12 songs together first and the second set after because this is how the album is intended to be listened. The ominous “Runnin’ Just In Case” opens it up and sets the tone for the album perfectly. Written by Lambert and Gwen Sebastian (who is part of writing some of the best songs on the album), the song is about running from the pain of love or love itself, not exactly sure of which it really is. What really captivates me is the raw emotion on display from Miranda, something that happens a lot on this album.

The decidedly upbeat “Highway Vagabond” is bound to be a future single and I’m surprised it wasn’t the follow-up to “Vice.” While the nature of the song is kind of kitschy, it’s also fun-loving and doesn’t take itself seriously, which is why I think many have already gravitated towards it. The album’s second single “We Should Be Friends” is another upbeat song, which Lambert wrote entirely herself. It’s a clever song about Lambert identifying who she has a friend in, from the frankly honest to the heartbroken. She keeps the song simple and it works. I’m not sure if country radio will get behind it though. I have to say I’m glad there are some upbeat songs on this double album because if it were just entirely heartbreak and dark songs it would be a draining listen. Also by having some lighter songs it acts as a great contrast and helps the darker songs stand out even more.

Lambert sings of helping a friend get out of a bad relationship in “Getaway Driver.” Written with Hemby and her boyfriend/Americana artist Anderson East, it’s a somber Bonnie & Clyde type song. Instead of gleefully riding into the sunset guns a blazing like in the movies, we get something real. Lambert duets with East on “Pushin’ Time.” It’s a song about falling in love, which I imagine is based on these two falling in love. Even if you had no clue these two were together when you listen to this song, you can feel the genuineness and love shine through in every aspect of the song. The steel guitar work by Spencer Cullum goes fantastically with the lyrics. This is hands-down one of the best songs of the album.

The Muscle Shoals-influenced “Covered Wagon” is one of those feel good songs that’s easy to sing along with. “Ugly Lights” sees Lambert incorporating a garage country like sound that Aubrie Sellers really brought to light with her debut album. It really suits both Lambert and the song, which is a sort of gritty and dark tune about hiding in a bar with your broken heart. The lyrics do an even better job of capturing this feeling, which doesn’t surprise me considering Lambert wrote it with Natalie Hemby and Liz Rose. The bluegrass-tinged “You Wouldn’t Know Me” speaks to the truth of not knowing a person just by asking them how they’re doing. A person can change everyday, so you really don’t know someone. It’s one of the simpler, more overlooked songs of the album, but it’s definitely one of my favorites on The Nerve.

There’s a couple of songs on The Nerve that get away from this simplicity and make things too complicated. “Smoking Jacket” is a straight up sex song. This itself isn’t bad; I’m just calling a spade a spade. What else can be gleaned from the line, “every night he makes his magic on me”? That being said this song just doesn’t do much for me, perhaps due to it being too long. One of my least favorites of the album and the worst on The Nerve is “Pink Sunglasses.” The production on this song is just way overdone and self-indulgent. Not to mention the song feels like it drags. It feels like six minutes when it’s only four. This all takes away from the theme of the song, which centers on the sentimental value and confidence one can gain from simple objects.

The final track of The Nerve is “Use My Heart,” which serves as the perfect transition into The Heart. The reason being is the song revolves around the phrase of “I don’t have the nerve to use my heart.” To boot it’s a great song, as Lambert sings of dealing with the inner demons of trying to move on and reconcile with what has happened. Lambert wrote the song with Ashley Monroe and Waylon Payne. I point this out because this is one of two songs this specific troika wrote on the album and both songs are excellent.

Kicking off The Heart is “Tin Man,” probably the most heartbreaking song of the album. It’s about Lambert and the tin man of the Wizard of Oz, who famously always wanted a heart, discussing the merits of having one. She explains to him how he doesn’t know what kind of pain he’s asking for when he asks for a heart and it’s not worth the trouble. By the end of the song she offers to trade her heart, which is shattered into pieces and covered in scars, to him in exchange for his armor. Written by Lambert and Jack Ingram (who is quite proficient in the art of writing about heartbreak), this is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard from Lambert.

Lambert’s sassy happiness shines through on “For The Birds.” It symbolizes her re-awakening so to speak after her breakup, wanting happiness and sunshine back after going through so much darkness. It’s finally finding that light at the end of a long tunnel. “Good Ol’ Days” is about Lambert willing to go back to where it all began for her to rediscover herself and her truth. It’s about re-examining everything and figuring out just where to go from where you’re at currently. The song does a great job of capturing the humility of the subject, which doesn’t surprise me because Brent Cobb and Adam Hood wrote the song with Lambert. “Tomboy” is a personal anthem from Lambert about her and everyone like her. She’s a proud tomboy who does it her way and this is her way of telling young girls it’s cool to be this way too. For this reason I think this would be a great choice for a single.

If you feel like you need more steel guitar in your life, just listen to “Things That Break” and “Well-Rested.” It’s as thick and infectious as molasses on each song. These are classic heartbreak country songs in every sense. There are a lot of great songs I enjoy on this album, but if I had to pick the best one on this expansive double album it would have to be “To Learn Her.” Written by the praised above troika of Lambert, Monroe and Payne, this song is pure country music. If you asked me to define country music, I would point to a song like this one. The heavy steel guitar makes me smile from ear-to-ear. This song is Lambert at her very best.

The other songwriting trio I absolutely enjoy on this album is Lambert, Hemby and Rose, who get their shining moment on “Keeper of the Flame. “ I didn’t even have to look at the credits to know these three wrote this because their fingerprints are all over it. The very best of these three come together to create this soaring love anthem that you just want to listen to over and over again. I even surprisingly enjoy the synthesizer on this song, which gives the song some real energy and urgency. “Bad Boy” is the weakest track of The Heart, but even it isn’t a bad song. It’s the fact that rest of it is so strong that a just solid song doesn’t quite stand out. While the song relies on the predictable trope of falling in love with the bad boy, I really enjoy the instrumentation. The song starts off with a harder rock edge before giving away to twang pedal steel guitar towards the end.

I really applaud Miranda for going completely outside the box on “Six Degrees of Separation.” I love it when an artist tries something completely different and takes risks and this song is a perfect example of why. The vocal layering combined with the grungy guitars and snappy lyrics make for an infectiously great song. Lambert’s ode to the sun “Dear Old Sun” shows a more subdued soulful side of her. It’s probably the most spiritual Lambert gets on the entire album, as you can really feel the heart in her voice as she sings. Then again Lambert bared her entire self in every part of this album.

The Weight of These Wings closes it’s story with “I’ve Got Wheels.” It’s where Lambert finally moves on from her demons. As she sings, she’s got wheels and now she’s using them to get away from the heartbreak that haunted her for so long. It’s that sobering feeling that you’ve finally picked up all of the pieces and can move on with your life to something after being consumed by something old for so long. And that itself is another chapter that won’t be easy, but Lambert at least knows she’s moving forward now.

After thoroughly listening to The Weight of These Wings from front to back and over again several times, Lambert accomplished something I’ve seen for the first time while running Country Perspective and that’s releasing a great double album. This is an amazing accomplishment that should make her proud because this is nothing to scoff at. If I had to pick the best side, it would definitely be The Heart. There’s not a single bad song on this part of the album, while The Nerve is hampered by the only three missteps of the entire album.

Lambert put every bit of her talent into this album; there was no holding back from her. She utilized some of the best songwriters in country music today, while also showing off her own songwriting chops. We not only get to see her at her most country, but she even takes some risks and pulls them off well too. Frank Liddell, Eric Masse and Glenn Worff for the most part did a great job producing this album and not falling into the usual mainstream pitfalls. Miranda Lambert did something many artists have trouble with and that’s channeling pure, raw energy into beautiful art. The Weight of These Wings is arguably the crowning jewel of Lambert’s entire career.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – Yes!

Album Highlights: Tin Man, To Learn Her, Ugly Lights, Runnin’ Just in Case, Vice, Pushin’ Time, Use My Heart, Good Ol’ Days, For The Birds, Six Degrees of Separation, I’ve Got Wheels

Bad Songs: Pink Sunglasses & Smoking Jacket

Wallpaper: None


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33 thoughts on “Album Review – Miranda Lambert’s ‘The Weight of These Wings’

  1. Never was a huge fan of her music especially Mama’s Broken Heart and Somethin Bad but this is the best mainstream album of the year by a mile. Traditional country, Americana and great substance. Incredible album

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  2. I really did not like 6 degrees or Ugly Lights. I would trade out those two for Smoking Jacket (It grew on me) and I might be in minority here but I really liked Pink Sunglasses. Its a feel good spicy type song. I think the album is so deep it needed a few tracks of that merit

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  3. Great review, Josh.
    .
    I agree: “Pink Sunglasses” is the low point of the collection: to me it felt like it belonged on “Platinum.” While I respected the theme of the song, the execution of it felt like the more novelty approach (for lack of a better term) that bogged down “Platinum.”
    .
    I also wasn’t a huge fan of “For the Birds,” but I definitely felt the inspiration of “Bad Boy” given the last year of her life.
    .
    I know it seems cliche to compare it to Shelton’s album, but given that they are both their first post-divorce releases, it seems worth comparing and appropriate to do such. So I’ll re-write what I wrote in my own review of this album:
    “Looking back to what I heard when I reviewed Blake Shelton’s album, I heard nothing worth remembering. I heard superficialness and failed attempts to convey emptions and as a result, the album failed. With Lambert’s album, I heard an array of emotions: anger, sorrow, sadness, regret, a sense of humor, and hope.”

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    • Thanks Cobra! “Pink Sunglasses” would have definitely been a better fit on Platinum.

      The reason I don’t mention Blake at all is I wanted to focus on the music, as I’ve seen a lot of articles on this album focus around the divorce. Plus as you can see my review was already running long and I didn’t want to write five books worth haha. I completely agree with you though in your comparison of the two albums. Blake sounded business as usual, whereas Miranda really brought her A game.

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      • That’s understandable. I didn’t want to focus on it too much either, but given that that’s probably where a lot of her inspiration came from, I felt it worth examining, especially since Shelton claimed that’s where his inspiration came from as well.

        I can understand not wanting to spend time focusing on that, however.

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  4. I agree Blake dont even deserve a mention. If for nothing else her music is leagues better. Miranda is real, has real substance in her music. Blake is just bull shit plain and simple, and theres no emotions there.

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  5. I usually don’t read reviews until I’ve had a chance to listen to the entire album. I’ve not been able to make it through this entire album yet after a few tries. And I’m with you on album length. For me the sweet spot is 9 to 11.

    I haven’t really heard anything I dislike, but nothing has just screamed greatness either. For that reason and also that it’s 24 freaking songs, it all starts to sound like background noise after a while. I found myself getting bored. And I’m an album person. I don’t bore easily.

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    • Well that’s one thing an album of this length requires and that’s patience. Also lots of listens. Not a lot stood out on the first listen for me either because there’s just so much take in. After five full listens it started to click for me big. If anything I recommend giving The Heart (part two) a good chance, as on its own would rival for some of my favorite albums this year.

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  6. A paraphrase of something from my review: “The Nerve” is Miranda running from the pain while “The Heart” is her confronting it head-on…anyway, I hated “Pink Sunglasses” and also the production of ‘Six Degrees of separation.” I think it worked on “Ugly Lights” but it just failed massively on “Six Degrees” in my opinion. It’s a shame because I really like what that song is trying to say. I did enjoy “Smoking Jacket,” and I thought it was well placed after “Vice.” Early favorites are “Runnin’ Just in Case,” “Tin Man,” “Pushin’ Time,” “To Learn Her,” and “Covered Wagon.” Best mainstream album of 2016, and even more impressive that it’s a double album, and that she helped write twenty of the songs. Oh, and that reminds me, something else I said, it’s no coincidence that “Pink Sunglasses” was not written by her or chosen by her as a cover. But her skill as a songwriter really shows here, as well as her ability to pick good covers and find good collaborators. Maybe her best album to date.

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  7. Very good (double-) album. It’s the next level for Miranda Lambert. Flawless? No. Album of the year material? Not my album of the year but not too far behind. A roller coaster ride? Yes.
    Heart or Nerve? Both. Both sides start with highlights (“Runnin’ Just In Case” & “Tin Man”). Both sides end with highlights (“Use My Heart” & “I’ve Got Wheels”).
    On the meh-side: “Pink Sunglasses” & “Six Degrees Of Separation”.

    Billboard Country Update (11/21):
    #1 – Jason Aldean (what a surprise)
    Cody Johnson (“With You I Am”) new on #55
    New #1 album: Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood (Christmas Together)

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  8. I’ve only had time to listen through the album once, and I love it. Let’s hope that “We Should Bring Friends” and whatever singles to come will penetrate the radio market and yield some #1’s. This album needs to shake up the radio market, which remains the last bulwark against reviving authentic country in the mainstream.

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    • I am starting to think that Miranda may not give a damn if radio shows her love or not. Yes she cares because if you want to continue getting record deals in your 30’s you need radio. But since she isn’t giving any interviews re this release I figure she is working on her own terms for here on out.

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  9. I got the album on the release date and have only been listening to Disc 1 as I want to really embrace it before going on to Disc 2. I love it. I like Smoking Jacket a lot and Pink Sunglasses is alright as well. It does remind me of Fine Tune on Four The Record, which I also like. Hell, I am just a fan of ML and while I might have reservations about some tunes on all her albums all in all she can do no wrong in my eyes. I am no critic. I just love it so far.
    I won’t diss Blake because I do enjoy some of his work but I don’t see him having a decades long career like I think Miranda will have. I have always thought she will have a career like Lucinda Williams, Roseane Cash and Emmylou Harris. She will always be making music and touring and continue to get respect and acclaim.

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  10. I really can’t wait to get this album in my hands. I am still waiting for a gift card to buy it with. I have listened to this album in you tube and also on ITunes. I am hoping that I can get it in my hands soon forever…. Thank You for your music Ms. Miranda and I love every song on the whole album.

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