Miranda Lambert - 2014
I’ll admit that I take a pre-listening, skeptical view towards albums that have a length exceeding twelve tracks. It’s not that I disregard them or make a motion to critique the music within, but I am always wary when an artist overloads an album with tracks. This unfortunate habit of slight judgment before auditory intake has been facilitated through the years by mountains of bad experiences with the majority of albums that past the twelve track mark. Of course, there are a number of great albums that have allowed for more than that set number of tracks but in general, most those that do, suffer. It’s exceptionally hard for an artist to find thirteen-plus tracks of equal value in greatness. Found in even four star reviewed albums of twelve tracks or less is at least one track that’s not quite up to the task. With this in mind and after many years as a passionate music listening geek, I have concluded that most albums that are great in length generally tend to be short in quality and coherence.
Now the flip side to this is when an artist manages to pull off an ‘epic’ album. If you can keep your listeners in awe and excitement from track one until the end of your album and it’s over twelve tracks, you’ve probably created a possible masterpiece at best or at worst, an exceptional work of art equipped for longevity (yes, in both senses of the word). This (finally) leads us to Miranda Lambert’s, Platinum.
Platinum is Lambert’s fifth studio album and her first to boast the generous offering of music to the tune of sixteen tracks. Fortunately, for all parties involved, this substantial gift of tracks does not leave us oversaturated with too much Lambert or under nourished in quality. Lambert has cleverly crafted the album to make minor changes in direction dictated by style in both the music and her performance, at three separate turns. It’s done without controversy or being handled with obvious intentions, meaning we only seem to notice we’re in a new chapter when we’re half way through each of the three colors of the album. Handled in such a manner and with all three parts interacting with purpose and relation, we are treated to almost 60minutes of pure country enjoyment.
For being so enamored by this album, it’s a strange thing to say at first, that as you are greeted by the first track off Platinum, ‘Girls’, I would recommend you skip past it altogether. Generally I would never ward anyone away from a singular track on an album but it is the least inspiring tune by far and a bizarrely unfortunate way to start such a good album. Time spent with Lambert’s album should start at the track it was really meant to – its namesake, ‘Platinum’. It sounds like the opener, it behaves like it, and this is truly where the tone for the first of the three colors begins. As with the best of the best on the album, ‘Platinum’ shows off Miranda’s great sense of humor which in this particular case comes wrapped in some amusing sarcasm. It’s a ‘what begets what’ at this stage– the stereotype or behavior. ‘What doesn’t kill me/Only makes me blonder’. It’s at these moments of honesty, if not at times biting humor, paired with a touch of feminism and a dash of country clichés that Lambert endears herself to us. During those tracks that boast this type of writing is when she engages with us with enough reality to make us believe she’s still just a good old country gal underneath all that fame and music glamour. It’s during the second of the three sections of the album where Lambert really exposes this country music style, authenticity and lyricism in such a way. Tracks 8-10 really act as an interlude between the opening scene made up of tracks 2-7 and the final scene (11-16) bringing humor and contrast to the album. The ‘interlude’ starts with ‘Old Sh!t’ (track eight), and here Lambert takes us back down to the deep south. She transports us to the good old days of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, back in the 30s when country music really came into its own and before it started crossing over with rock n’ roll and pop music. ‘Old Sh!t’, a mid-tempo western swing of a gem, sounds like a conversation some friends might have had on a porch in the sweltering heat. As Lambert speaks to a laundry list of otherwise discarded items and clothes or out of date appliances she admits, ‘If it’s out of style, sure drives me wild/I’m a fan of it, old shit’. Ending the ‘interlude’ is, ‘Gravity Is A B**ch’, a fantastic old styled honky-tonk, swinger of a tune where Lambert discusses the losing battle we put our bodies through with gravity – ‘You can nip it, tuck it, squeeze it/But you’re never gonna beat it/’Cause gravity is a bitch’. It’s hilarious and pure in its country representation. This ‘interlude’ works because it contrasts so well with what lies before and after it.
As to be expected, the opening section of the album (starting from track 2, remember), brings high energy with it as it integrates country rock (‘Little Red Wagon’ and ‘Bathroom Sink’), some south of the border upbeat acoustic flair (‘Priscilla’) and the first single/stadium anthem, ‘Automatic’. Whereas all the other opening tracks come across as sincere efforts, ‘Automatic’ is a gentle let down from that work. It’s clearly meant to be a single, written as such and the lyrics that speak to how we all now live in a world of expected automaticity, sounds contrived and tired. I would rather hear her sing about her ‘Little Red Wagon’ whose, ‘front seats broken and the axel’s draggin’. Her strong attitude and style on that song are far more appealing as is her decision on ‘Bathroom Sink’ to give herself the rough rock treatment/slap in the face when it comes to not being satisfied with herself even in her success. It’s this Lambert of strength and heart that makes her and her music a cut above the usual country fare. While others write ‘woe is me’ with some slow self-deprecating music, she tells herself to just get on with it. With the opening section being immersed in some great up-tempo country, it’s interesting to note that the best track of them all is actually the mid-tempo, summer saunter of ‘Smokin’ and Drinkin’. Captured perfectly in the soft sway of the song is a reminiscing Lambert who doesn’t glorify the past or long for it, but instead just remembers it for what it was – a simpler time where innocence still had a foot hold. ‘So here’s to all those nights/All we felt like was like smokin’ and drinkin’. Pure. Country. Class.
The country sway of ‘Smokin’ and Drinkin’ is highlighted again in the third and final section of the album with the final two tracks, ‘Hard Staying Sober’ and ‘Another Sunday in the South’ bringing the album the pure down south closure it so deserves. However, before Lambert brings her album to the end with these last two tracks, the other styles of the previous two sections are revisited in brief. The sensational ‘Two Rings Shy’ brings the old country feel back in this mid-tempo stunner. The attitude and humor are on show and the reverse tape effect on the guitar gives the song an almost Beatles-esque type of sound. The second single of the album, ‘Something Bad’ (duet with Carrie Underwood) brings back the rock of the first section but slows it down and adds a little funk on top of it (due to a wonderful cow bell part in the chorus). Similar to ‘Automatic’, this other single is not void of good musical taste but it’s not quite in the same league as the rest of the album.
Overall, Platinum is a brilliant success. It’s 16 (-1) tracks of a well planned out country music escapade that doesn’t have the sound of an album that we’ll grow tired of easily. It ranges from one country style to another, paying homage to the past and referencing the future in both the music and the lyrics. However, all the greatest song writing cannot make up for what really makes this album work and that’s Lambert. Truly this wonderful performer is a country legend currently in the making. She is someone who can be the country sweetheart or the gal down south that can take it to the guys. She can play the role of sultry and glamorous one minute and then tell you how to fix your truck the next. She can be understanding and sympathetic and then a bucket of cold water and adamantly encouraging. Above her style and her attitude is that voice. There isn’t another modern female country singer out there that has more of a fitting and fantastic voice, made solely for country music. Her ‘twang’ is authentic. Her country swoop is forever fitting. Her style has not faded in a decade and her commentary is always honest and without the sense of contribution. She’s the Queen of country right now and Platinum only reaffirms that in excess.Andrew Scott Back
Andrew Scott ranks this as the
#8 favorite album of 2014