The Weight of These Wings
Miranda Lambert - 2016
I can’t recall a double album ever making it onto one of my top tens before this year. Actually, I can’t remember a time I (a) even considered one to be in a top ten and (b) enjoyed a double album from beginning to end. Often I find two-sided albums are overly self-indulgent and full of a whole bunch of fluff between sporadic moments of brilliance. I am glad to say, that at long last (if ever before), someone has written a double album of worth - great from beginning to end. Being late to the Miranda Lambert party (I only became a fan with the release of 2014’s, Platinum), I am still in awe at how truly country her music is and in particular her voice is. You might think, “Yeah. She’s a country singer. She’s supposed to be ‘country’ sounding.” I challenge you to turn on your local country radio station and find even a handful of artists these days that actually sound like they’re from Tennessee (not faking a vocal twang) and whose music sounds more country than it does pop. In an ocean of watered-down, pop-sweetened, kind-of-country sounding artists, there is thankfully, Miranda Lambert. True, honest, sincere country gal, Miranda Lambert.
Twenty-four songs and ninety-four minutes of music is a stretch for even the most die-hard fans, with this usually being the case because half of the songs simply should never have been recorded. The Weight of These Wings however, is no burden to listen to as it strikes gold (not silver, not bronze) on twenty-three of the twenty-four tracks (“Keeper of the Flame” is an utter embarrassment and disaster). For the listener to strike oil basically every time a new track beings is an incredible achievement and makes me wonder how many tracks she actually wrote for this album, so to get twenty-three perfect songs.
One of the main reasons I believe this number of tracks works so well, is because the two sides to the album are, although not completely different, enough so, that you don’t tire of listening to Lambert. The first-half of the album has the more traditional (real) country sound to it, with original gems such as “Ugly Lights,” (“I don’t remember when the liquor starting kicking in/It’s been awhile since I’ve been off the stuff/I really hate to say, I’m turning into a cliche/I’m hoping that nobody brings it up”) “You Wouldn’t Know Me,” and “We Should Be Friends” (“If your mind’s as cluttered as your kitchen sink/If your heart’s as empty as your diesel tank/If all your white t-shirts have stains.../We should be friends”). Classic country cliches abound but never do they feel so familiar as to be boring, as Miranda has her own cheeky ways of getting around overused country ideals, in both her lyrics and music. By the time we get to track eight, “Vice,” we’re in need of a break from the country gal routine, and Lambert delivers beautifully on this, the first single from the album (an odd choice in my opinion, but still a brilliant song). From there until the end of the first side, Miranda slowly starts to talk to more serious subject matter and the songs gradually lose pace but never intensity. Within those last four songs, sits inconspicuously, “Smoking Jacket.” Not only is this one of the best songs on the album, but is quite easily one of the best songs of the year by anyone. (“I don’t need a diamond/I like wearing his smoke rings.”)
The second half of The Weight of These Wings, in most part ditches the playfulness of the first twelve tracks. The opener, “Tin Man” (“Hey there Mr. Tin man/You don’t know how lucky you are/You shouldn’t spend your life wishing/For something bound to fall apart,”) sets the tone for a more somber affair, but what the following eleven tracks lack in tempo and upbeat flavoring, they make up for in passion and elegance. “For the Birds,” “Things That Break,” and “Tomboy” give us a needed taste of Miranda’s country quirkiness, and “To Learn Her” sounds like a Conway Twitty classic. These four tracks single handedly keep the second half from being too much of a down hearted affair, and although two of the twenty-four tracks that are not spectacular, fall in this half (the already mentioned bomb, “Keeper of the Flame” and “Six Degrees of Separation,” which on any other country album would be considered quite good), all is forgiven with the incredibly beautiful, “Well Rested” - a heart-breaking ballad of such emotion that at times it’s difficult to listen to without welling up. On this track, Miranda’s voice is ethereal - her control over everywhere it roams, stunning. Of course, that’s the true success of these twenty-four tracks. Miranda. Her voice. Her personality. Her music. She’s a sensation, as one must be to produce a double album that absolutely gets it right from beginning to end (except, “Keeper of the Flame” - I hate that song so much for existing).
The band, as to be expected, is of equal talent as Miranda, and the interplay between her and those backing her up, can be heard throughout (you get to hear her ask her band for help at the beginning of “Bad Boy,” as she apparently forgets how the introduction goes). All in all (as I cannot think of how to wrap this up), it’s a masterpiece of epic proportions, and the first double album of my lifetime that I’ve sincerely loved. Based on the quality of all other two-sided music extravaganzas before this one, it might end up being the only one at that.
Andrew Scott ranks this as the
#2 favorite album of 2016