Two-thirds of the way through Hard Staying Sober, just when you think the song has come to its resigned conclusion, Miranda Lambert explodes into life again. "Why ya think the world drinks?" she demands, and the song abruptly turns on a dime from melancholy to defiant solidarity. Platinum, her fifth solo album, finds Lambert swaggering righteously like the Partonesque country superstar she is.
“I ain’t gonna get dressed up just to be your clown,” Miranda Lambert sings about three quarters of the way through her sprawling fifth album Platinum. It’s just one of many self-declarations–of vulnerability, of independence, of anxiety– on the 30 year-old singer’s latest LP. Lambert is a shapeshifter on her latest record, trying on a half dozen genres (soul, Western swing, blues rock) for size on the sixteen-track album, but Platinum manages to maintain a sharp focus and sense of purpose.
Since beginning her career with one of the industry’s most artificial jump starts—getting noticed on a talent competition reality show—Miranda Lambert has achieved pretty much every meaningless symbol of Nashville success that you can shove into a trophy case. She’s been named “Female Vocalist of the Year” five times in a row at the Academy of Country Music Awards, and she’s also won something called a Grammy. But she’s refused to let her music follow suit.
Country music is in a state of civil war, with old-time tradition on one side and the trucks'n'babes rock of Bro-Country on the other. Miranda Lambert, country's Beyoncé (with husband Blake Shelton as its Jay Z), plays both sides of the divide on this sixth album. The noisy mainstream rock of hits like Automatic and Somethin' Bad is a very distant cousin to the legacy of Cash and Parton, while All That's Left visits 1950s western swing, and the charmingly titled Old Shit celebrates "singing hymns and skipping stones".
Platinum is a double-edged title. The first edge refers to Miranda Lambert's hair -- as she sings on the title track, "what doesn't kill you only makes you blonder" -- the second refers to her fame, a topic she returns to often throughout her fifth record. A star since her 2005 debut Kerosene -- it was released on the heels of her also-ran placing on 2003's Nashville Star, so she's never known a time outside of the spotlight -- her fame reached the stratosphere in the 2010s, after she married fellow country star Blake Shelton in 2011, not long after he became one of the judges on NBC's The Voice.
The reigning CMA female vocalist of the year hit a creative peak with her 2011 release, “Four the Record,” which proved she had more in herarsenal than guns-blazing revenge tales. The Texas spitfire’s fifth album, “Platinum,” is a worthy follow-up; Lambert wrote or co-wrote half of the album’s 16 tracks, which bounce from humid honky tonk to glossy arena stage to rustic front porch with sass and ease. Whether belting to the back row on the sweetly cranky nostalgia anthem, “Automatic,” waxing playful in the title track, on which she giggles, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you blonder,” or going a few rounds with her own brutal inner critic on the driving “Bathroom Sink,” Lambert does something unique among her peers swimming in the same Nashville songwriter pool, simply by sounding distinctly like herself.
In the past, the country superstar Miranda Lambert has been ferocious but not light, a renegade but not urbane. She took the genre by force and by fire, not quite knowing how to massage it to her ends. On “Platinum,” her vivacious, clever and slickly rowdy new album, though, Ms. Lambert is ….