The pain of a broken heart has long existed at the root of country music. For decades it seemed to be the central theme of nearly any great country song, making the genre a hillbilly cousin of the blues. And while love and loss has found its way into all manner of popular music over the last half century or so, it’s presence within country music has somewhat lessened in favor of a particular lifestyle aesthetic.
Miranda Lambert came to stardom via reality TV, so living in public isn't unusual for her, yet suffering through a public divorce from Blake Shelton had to take its toll. Lambert, however, doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve on The Weight of These Wings, a sprawling double-disc album released in the wake of her separation from Shelton. She channels whatever sorrow she has into a moody, muddy production that has more in common with the impressionistic smears of Daniel Lanois than whatever sounds were emanating from Nashville in 2016.
Country superstar Miranda Lambert’s first collection since her divorce from Blake Shelton isn’t an archetypal breakup album. Much of it finds her playfully embracing the single life, with songs about drinking, desire, escape and riding white horses. However, as the album unfolds, we find that much of this is her putting on a brave face. “I drink so much I fall apart, that’s how I fight this broken heart,” she sings, while Vice tells of the solace of music and sex and finds her psychoanalytically wondering if she is “addicted to goodbyes”.
Miranda Lambert's latest opens on a classic country image: a weekend hangover echoing the one in Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down." But "Runnin' Just in Case" is no brooding existential ramble. It's a gravel-spitting exit from sorrow's driveway, bad memories shriveling in the rearview. And it sets the tone for the Nashville star's most ambitious LP, a range-y two-disc set ditching country's mainstream playbook for the sort of Great Album rock acts used to spit out regularly back in the day.
Miranda Lambert’s music has always existed in extremes. Throughout the Texan’s previous five albums, she has established herself as a no-nonsense country-pop troubadour whose response to emotional turmoil could be separated neatly into kerosene-fueled revenge fantasies and “American Idol”-ready torch ballads. Right from the start, however, it’s clear that The Weight of These Wings is a different type of album for Lambert.
When first single "Vice" was released, I hoped that The Weight of These Wings would be Miranda Lambert's Blood on the Tracks. Considering how sophisticated that song was, I was even hoping for an album as good as Tammy Wynette's D-I-V-O-R-C-E, a baroque work of broken feelings, of self-loathing over bad men and worse relationships. But Blood on the Tracks is over in 10 tracks, less than an hour, and Tammy Wynette does the same job over 11 songs and 29 minutes.
Miranda Lambert keeps making plans for a getaway on “The Weight of These Wings,” the country star’s first album since her very public divorce last year from another Nashville heavyweight, Blake Shelton. “I wanna go somewhere where nobody knows,” she sings in “Highway Vagabond.” Later, in “Vice,” she specifies her desire for a place “where my reputation don’t precede me.” This is a modal window. You can appreciate Lambert’s longing.
In a lot of ways, country singer Miranda Lambert was probably an inevitable candidate for the audacious artistic statement that is a double album — since her first release, 2005’s “Kerosene,” she’s been beloved for speaking her truth, no matter how incendiary it might be. But what’s truly stunning about “The Weight of These Wings,” Lambert’s sixth album and first to reach double-LP status, is how much richness she’s been able to mine from country music, reaching back to its honky-tonk roots while also looking forward at an era where shimmering feedback can make as much of a noise as a pointed line. Lambert became one of country’s brightest stars because of kicky songs that picked apart the assumptions people have not just about her, but about small-town southern living.
Yes, “The Weight of These Wings” is Miranda Lambert’s first album since divorcing her fellow country star Blake Shelton last year. And yes, it is filled with songs about romantic skepticism and ones about how the first steps you take after an old love breaks are tentative and fragile. And yes, it is a double album, the sort of gesture intended to connote seriousness of artistic and spiritual purpose, as well as suggesting that the font of feelings serving as inspiration is a roaring waterfall that cannot easily be contained.