Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Miranda Lambert

  • Kerosene [Epic, 2005] Choice Cuts
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [Sony/BMG Nashville, 2007] A
  • Revolution [Columbia, 2009] A-
  • Four the Record [RCA, 2011] A-
  • Platinum [RCA, 2014] A
  • The Weight of These Wings [Epic, 2016] B+
  • Wildcard [RCA, 2019] A-
  • Palomino [Vanner/RCA, 2022] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Kerosene [Epic, 2005]
"Kerosene," "What About Georgia," "Me and Charlie Talking" Choice Cuts

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [Sony/BMG Nashville, 2007]
Good thing she sets off four firecrackers--pulls a gun on her big-fisted ex-boyfriend, belts two hard-headed sermons on small-town life, rips up the title tune--before wasting precious tracks proving she can also do mature. But she can--shortly after "Love Letters" waltzes with Nashville nostalgia, "More Like Her" sidles up to the complexity one values in mature types. Whereupon, the clinchers: the mature firecrackers "Down" and "Guilty in Here." Followed, for the alt-country contingent, by a Patty Griffin cover she ignites and a Carlene Carter cover she doesn't. A

Revolution [Columbia, 2009]
Of course she's quieting down as she grows up, plus covering her bases, so after half a dozen winners she levels off into a nine-song sequence that begins lame with "Makin' Plans," ends lame with "Virginia Bluebelle," and strides along quite nicely in between. And since growing up also means learning to hit your target without discharging your weapon, the grinning "Only Prettier" and the killer metaphor "Me and Your Cigarettes" establish a welcome lightness. In case you had any doubts, Lambert asserts her distance from Music Row by covering John Prine, Julie Miller, and Fred Eaglesmith, the last of whom buys her a gun. Which I guess is how it comes to pass that, in the one that she wrote with her squeeze, the girl catches the boy in bed with some other her and shoots that sinner dead. A-

Four the Record [RCA, 2011]
Lambert's not in it for another "Kerosene," not with the Pistol Annies ready whenever she feels like a joy ride. She's in it for another "The House That Built Me"--a heartsong that lets housewives-they-wish forget their day jobs for the length of a bathroom break. She's too brand-savvy to lead with the soft stuff: "All Kinds of Kinds" stars a cross-dressing congressman, "Fine Tune" links Auto-Tune to sexual excitation, and the Angeleena Presley-assisted "Fastest Girl in Town" ends with Miranda abandoning her man for the cop who caught them speeding. But this does wind down into your basic quality country album. Corn is fine with me--the two-sided "Safe," say. "Dear Diamond," "Oklahoma Sky," the oh-so-soulful Blake collab "Better in the Long Run"--they're cornball. A-

Platinum [RCA, 2014]
Sixteen songs in an hour, half with her name on them and half farmed out, add up to 2014's most ambitious and accomplished big-ticket album. Pragmatically, Lambert front-loads the hookiest material, getting us to track 11 or 12, with four of her cowrites tailing off just slightly at the end. Among those, "Holding On to You," although not quite a grabber, mixes formal exercise with idealized autobio the way pop songs do, a connubial hymn it's hard to imagine Blake Shelton deserving--and hard to imagine Miranda Lambert deserving if he does. I also fall for its opposite number, the Miranda copyright "Bathroom Sink," a crucible her mama taught her to clean at 16--she doesn't like what she sees in the mirror there and doesn't like that she's still fighting with her mama either, but she takes her meds and faces the day. I must also mention "Platinum," about her records and hair, and "Gravity Is a B**ch," about her breasts, thighs, and girlfriends. Nor are the farmed-out sure shots any shorter on sass. Apolitical de facto feminism at its countriest. A

The Weight of These Wings [Epic, 2016]
Although singles are country's lifeblood, this Nashville chartbuster has been popular music's most consistent album artist for nearly a decade--four solo plus two by the triple-threat Pistol Annies. But on this double-CD, one subtitled "Nerve" and the other "Heart," she overreaches, sells herself short, or both--particularly, surprise surprise, on the "Heart" disc. Maybe she wants to prove something to her ex Blake Shelton, who I doubt is smart enough to justify the effort. Or maybe she just wants to convince herself she's worthy of a schmaltzfest like "Tin Man": "If you ever felt one breakin'/You wouldn't want a heart." Needless to say, I greatly prefer the album's sole solo composition, her current hit "We Can Be Friends"--rude couplets like "If you use alcohol as a sedative/And 'bless your heart' as a negative" are why I'll love her forever. But it would be sexist to insist she be all feisty all the time, and a co-write with Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe called "Use My Heart" is the love song that proves it--by pondering whether Lambert lacks the "nerve" for love. Here's hoping she learns how to put the two together. She deserves it and we need it. B+

Wildcard [RCA, 2019]
The first nine seconds of "Too Pretty for Prison," wherein Miranda and her pal Maren decide not to snip his brake linings or antifreeze his Gatorade because orange isn't their color, deploy guitar-bass-drums suitable for climaxing a Motley Crue ballad--and for reminding Luke Combs et al. that Lambert has been outrocking the penis-packing "country" competition since her 2005 "Kerosene." In a Nashville where steel guitars are as vestigial as Harlan Howard covers, she's a rawer version of Tom Petty with more help on the songwriting (Luke Dick-Natalie Hemby snag five cowrites, Lindsey-McKenna-Rose four). Hence all the songs stand up in a row, and this still being Nashville--not only was it recorded there, the onetime Oklahoman now shares a nearby mansion with the NYC cop she just married--the metaphor bank has a ring that's more like a twang. She's got an Airstream to go with her new truck, "It All Comes Out in the Wash" recommends the spin cycle, and "White Trash" catalogues upscale versions of the real thing from a Cadillac on cinder blocks to dog hairs on the Restoration Hardware. Like she says: "Pretty bitchin'." A-

Palomino [Vanner/RCA, 2022]
I hope those who climbed on her fanbase circa 2005's "Kerosene" imagining that Miranda was the kind of gal who'd set a guy's house on fire have outgrown their touching belief in self-expression. If not, however, this 15-track exercise in Nashville bad girldom should do the trick. In utterly indelible songs of highly credible spunk, the TX-to-TN woman who spent post-lockdown telling the press how the domestic intimacy imposed by Covid firmed up her impulsive marriage to an NYC cop tells how one rootless heroine after another works variations on wanderlust and sexual autonomy and acting up and feeling strange and country money and rolling down the river and actual stabs at actual stability. True, these songs are naught more than skillful entertainments and proud of it. But let them be that and that alone and they're guaranteed to enlarge. A

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