Regardless of her personal life, I find myself seeing Miranda Lambert as one of the best artists working in mainstream country. She has her duds, but recently Lambert has proven that she still has respect for her rougher country beginnings. Just look at her song on Dave Cobb’s masterpiece Southern Family where she strips away her pop-country persona and goes back to her roots. That is all I really wanted from The Weight of These Wings and considering her personal life, a divorce from Blake Shelton, and the massive 94 minute runtime, I was expecting something special.
While some songs definitely attempt to have some crossover appeal, this album does not feel like an excuse to pump out singles, but instead feels like a Lambert putting several complex emotions into words. The music itself here is not overly showy, mostly relying on acoustic and steel guitars, with some great bass lines thrown in for good measure. Lambert is the star here, however, and she sells every word she sings.
It has essentially been confirmed at this point that Lambert cheated on her husband, leading to her divorce, making this record an interesting exploration into the mind of the cheater. The first half of this record, titled The Nerve is nearly flawless when dealing with these complex emotions. It starts off fittingly with “Runnin’ Just in Case,” a slow, subdued track that sees Lambert driving away from her heartbreak and pain, starting the downward spiral that she admits on several songs on this 24 track project.
On the fuzzy “Ugly Lights,” Lambert sings about her late nights spent drinking her pain away under the closing lights of a bar. “We Should Be Friends,” has her opening her social circle up to rougher characters while former Pearl Jam member Matt Chamberlain delivers a solid drum groove. And, of course, the fantastic lead single from this project, “Vice,” gets even better here given the broader context of the songs surrounding it. The song embraces the titular vices we all have, not in a boastful or shameful way, just in an honest way.
There are some songs that are aimed towards Lambert’s relationship with Anderson East that also go over well on this half. “Getaway Driver” is a nice, gender-switching, song where Lambert sings from the perspective of the driver who is getting her lover away from pain. “Pushin’ Time” is a duet with East that paints a complex and honest portrait of their relationship and really does come together beautifully.
The bridge between the two halves is well-executed as well. The Nerve ends with the song “Use My Heart” which repeats the line “I don’t have the nerve to use my heart” and focuses on Lambert’s deteriorated view of love in those difficult, post-divorce times. It is a great segue to the next half The Heart which starts with emotionally captivating “Tin Man.” Another painful song, Lambert sings to The Wizard of Oz character, telling him he would never want a heart if he actually had one.
This half of the album is effective at, as the title suggests, handling the emotions rather than the actions following Lambert’s divorce. We get Lambert’s newfound cautious attitude on “Things That Break” which has an authentic, throwback quality to it. “Well-Rested” is another heavy-hearted song that tackles the moments directly following the divorce. Lambert dives into the imperfections of her marriage with Shelton and the exhaustion that the heartbreak has caused.
“Tomboy” and “To Learn Her” are written from a third-person perspective and seem to be more for the audience than the album’s narrative. This detour is a little distracting, but the quality of the individual songs is still there. “Tomboy” is a clear ode to girls who are happy being independent and acting masculine and is more empowering than most “self-empowerment anthems” you hear on the radio. On “To Learn Her,” Lambert brings it back a little, singing about the importance of getting to know and relating to your lover.
“Keeper of the Flame” is a perfect candidate for the next single from this record, and is the closest to pop this half of the album gets to. The song is about Lambert’s role of a storyteller, not just for her personal story, but for the stories of all the people who have been in her place in life. The song is backed by a simple acoustic guitar groove that swells with percussion that is usually reserved for rock and heavier guitar work that really makes this song stand out in the track listing.
Following that song’s climax, the album ends off on a much slower note. “Bad Boy” aside, it is the worst song on here and I do not have much to say for it, the final three songs stick the landing for me. “Six Degrees of Separations” shows Lambert literally moving on, as she tries to escape her life while on a bus from New Orleans. Even when she is far away from her ex-husband, their song comes on the radio and the pain comes right back to her, showing the lasting effects of heartbreak. The gospel-influenced prayer of “Dear Old Sun” does not get as preachy as it could have and really does a great job of getting into Lambert’s soul.
The final song on here, “I’ve Got Wheels” is quite fitting, giving meaning to the title and giving this album the conclusion it deserves. Lambert sings about how heavy her wings get, which is why she has wheels to move her forward. The ending is not clean and closed but that is life and the obvious message of moving forward through the pain is the best way Lambert could have ended this. I adore this song and it just makes this album’s long journey feel all the more worth it.
While overly long and messy, The Weight of These Wings portraits an image of Miranda Lambert that is honest and mature which deserves a great amount of praise. The album is messy, but so is Lambert, and the parallel works for me and outside of a few forgettable songs, the vast majority of what is on here works for me. This is definitely one of the more special country releases of the year and definitely the most ambitious thing Lambert has tackled, possibly ever in her career.
Best Tracks: Runnin’ Just in Case, Vice, Pushin’ Time, Use My Heart, Tin Man, Well-Rested, Keeper of the Flame, I’ve Got Wheels
Worst Track: Bad Boy