"The last year of my life has been one of heartache and healing...of learning to be honest...accepting the flaws and celebrating the smiles," Miranda Lambert reflected on Instagram earlier this summer. Lead single "Vice" had just dropped; a revelatory piece on heartache, anonymous sex and a bottle of Jack. Forever feeling "addicted to goodbyes," Lambert wasn't afraid to let herself bleed, let herself feel anything, really. "Finding peace in dark places...having some moments alone with me...facing fears and feelings...all of them," she continued, ultimately detailing the blood and bones and skin of what would soon become one of the most important country albums in years. "I got to know my guitars...became friends with a pencil and paper....used melodies to lead me places I had never been...made music with my friends, because music is medicine."
Intent on pouring every imaginable human emotion onto crinkled paper, Lambert bucked mainstream Nashville squarely in the chest and crafted an immersive 24-song record, one entrenched in the darkest and most brutal of experiences. The sorrow, the pain, the self-loathing seep into the murkiness of the album's arc; sometimes the blurriness and confusion act as a needles correcting itself. "Happiness ain't prison but there's freedom in a broken heart," she swears on album opener "Runnin' Just in Case," the genesis which sends the entire narrative into a tailspin. But she's not alone in this journey--her bevy of friends, which include Natalie Hemby, Shane McAnally, Lucie Silvas and Ashley Monroe, are along for the ride and intertwine their own world views into an opulent but weathered quilt of down feathers. On many levels, it's rather comforting, but the safeguard against such a barbaric world can be cast aside by even the mildest of windstorms. That's the beauty in Lambert's double-album. She doesn't mind having scars, and here, she shows them to you, every single one, no matter how ghastly.
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Take a look at our definitive ranking of all 24 songs below:
24. "Six Degrees of Separation"
Songwriter(s): Natalie Hemby, Nicolle Galyon and Miranda Lambert
Key Lyrics: "You're all over this damn nation. Well, I'm out of your reach, geographically. But you still find a way to get a hold on me."
The production is a bit too thick, the voice filter a bit too distracting to work. Lambert attempts to separate herself from the ghost of her former lover, but she's stuck with countless reminders popping up all over the map, from New Orleans to New York City. She just can't escape his memory. But she's not pained or glum; rather, she finds annoyance in not being able to completely free herself of the past.
23. "Covered Wagon"
Songwriter(s): Danny O'Keefe
Key Lyrics: "Get the lead out, mama. Pack up everything we own. The smog's about to get me, and I've got a mind to roam in my covered wagon."
Lyrically a bit repetitive, Lambert makes the best of the harsh, blustering guitar solos (matching her blurry mind's eye), and lines like "I've got an itch to ramble" and "I feel so free and easy" bespeak her erratic behavior which soaks "The Nerve." She's uncertain of where she's headed, but she readies herself anyway. Trading in the piano tumble of O'Keefe's 1971 original, she goes for a more polished, filtered-through-alcohol feel.
22. "Bad Boy"
Songwriter(s): Mando Saenz and Miranda Lambert
Key Lyrics: "Sure, you can light my cigarette. Don't think you can light my heart. Don't think I hadn't figured you out from the start."
By this point in Lambert's story, she knows exactly how to play the game. She might flirt with a bad boy, but that doesn't mean she's falling in love. She's already taken stock of her heartache, let time be her remedy and now she's easily able to detach from the world without it further damaging her core. The slinky pop-like melody rolls off her tongue, supported by a grunge-rock current and a whisking rhythm. "How long you gonna hide behind them walls of stone," she later prods her bad boy, seeing herself (from songs ago) in him. The unconventional "what's the intro?" inquiry in the song's opening makes Lambert even more accessible in the eyes of her fans and refocuses her humanity.
Songwriter(s): Miranda Lambert, Natalie Hemby and Aaron Raitiere
Key Lyrics: "She's hard to love and hard to please. Always has a way of saying no way. Some people don't get her but that's okay."
Lambert deconstructs the expectations of femininity (the Southern Belle) with this low-key Americana track. In the process, she also embraces her own contradictions: she's strong but weak, wild but easily contained, glamorous but a tangled mess. "She's got a softer side she'll never let you see, with tears in her eyes, she'd rather be caught dead." She owns up to her her flaws, every mistake she's made, accepting they give her character and are worth more than not having any.
20. "Pink Sunglasses"
Songwriter(s): Rodney Clawson, Natalie Hemby and Luke Dick
Key Lyrics: "My pink sunglasses always make the world look a little better."
Lambert believes in the "power of the plastic, positive plastic" as a disguise from the real world and a way to mask her feelings. Easily the distant cousin to "Little Red Wagon" (from 2014's Platinum, "Pink Sunglasses" has a bit more edge, further alternative-leaning music and a thoughtful, lyrical complexity. The song is akin to many of her previous "badass" songs, but there is a contemplative sorrow just below the surface which propels the song forward. There is a reason she pays tribute to her pink sunglasses; they give her license to ignore the heartache, a smart nod to the spirit of John Conlee's 1978 hit, "Rose Colored Glasses." She also examines her celebrity status and the weight that comes with the flash of paparazzi cameras and her former high-profile marriage.
19. "Keeper of the Flame"
Songwriter(s): Natalie Hemby, Liz Rose and Miranda Lambert
Key Lyrics: "Keeper of the flame, the teller of the story. Keeper of the flame, I'm not doing it for the glory but for those little pilot lights waiting to ignite, like fireflies in the rain."
Lambert's best example of "bombastic" singing comes in the latter-half of "The Heart," entrenched in gutsy songwriting and rigid determination. Not only is she making a declaration that she is only human--"I'm made of flesh and bone, not made of steel," she coos--she takes up the torch of her predecessors like Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless, no matter how cumbersome that may be. Much like previous Queens of Country Music, Lambert isn't "doing this for the glory," perhaps a deliberate response to her countless CMA Female Vocalist trophies--which many see as unwarranted. But she would have you know, she makes music not to appease critics or drive label payback but to inspire. She makes it her life's work to never let the country music she so dearly loves be extinguished.
18. "Good Ol' Days"
Songwriter(s): Brent Cobb, Miranda Lambert and Adam Hood
Key Lyrics: "Oh Lord, when will the road run out. I'm on a roll but I'm in doubt. I don't know why, still I second guess my pace. I stand to lose from winning, to find the truth I'm willing to start back at the beginning of the good ol' days."
The theme of the highway is one of the album's most-used themes, and for good reason. Lambert finds herself reflecting on, throwing away and eventually dealing with her emotions through lengthy stretches of gravel, dirt and asphalt. The breezy guitar line of "Days" blows effortlessly beneath Lambert's cool vocal. There a tiresome and quivering timbre here, too, as she considers restarting her heart back to the good ol' days when it wasn't bleeding from within.
17. "Ugly Lights"
Songwriter(s): Liz Rose, Miranda Lambert and Natalie Hemby
Key Lyrics: "I don't try to justify the reason I'm not living right. I wear my sadness like a souvenir. I drink too much to fall apart. That's how I fight this broken heart. So what if I feel more comfortable in here..."
Filtered through the scratch of fluorescents bulbs, much like she did on "Fine Tune" (off 2011's Four the Record), Lambert claims her seat at the bar and becomes "the girl bartenders hate"--staying until the ugly lights flicker on and push her out. The buzz of sweet elixir entices her to reject the reasons she ain't living right and distracts her from feeling much of anything these days. While she might "where my sadness like a souvenir," she downplays the pain with plenty of booze and a high so intense, she can't remember how she got home. Even the spoken outro "that wasn't any good" underscores her intent.
16. "We Should Be Friends"
Songwriter(s): Miranda Lambert
Key Lyrics: "If you use alcohol as a sedative and 'bless your heart' as a negative, if you ride your white horse like the wind, if what you see is what you get, we'll then, we should be friends."
While "Friends" is not nearly as well-written as many of Lambert's previous solo writes, including Platinum's affecting "Bathroom Sink," the blue-collar anthem expands Lambert's inner circle to include shabby outlaws and bullish outliers. It is one of album's few assertive moments, which makes it a perfect second single choice (following the introspective nature of "Vice"). Oh, and if you've experienced indescribable pain, too, "well then, we should be friends," she advises.
15. "For the Birds"
Songwriter(s): Aaron Raitiere and Miranda Lambert
Key Lyrics: "I'm against them feelin's, that ones that get revealin', slamming hearts right into the ceilings, you feel me? And I guess I'm anti-tears. I'd rather sip an ice-cold beer, listen to some country music until dawn."
"For the Birds" features a heavy Texas swing, a celebration of the things which make Lambert content--she shies away from tears and feelings that "get revealin'." Instead, she'd rather pop a top and "listen to country music until dawn." The Kitty Wells swagger is a riveting juxtaposition to the deep anguish pulsing throughout most of the album; even here, there is a reverb of self-awareness in Lambert's presentation which is quaking yet vulnerable. "I'd rather have a conversation about nothing in particular at all," she attests.
14. "Smoking Jacket"
Songwriter(s): Lucie Silvas, Natalie Hemby and Miranda Lambert
Key Lyrics: "We go together just like nicotine and Chanel, and when he lights up, I'm his Luck Strike, waiting for him to exhale."
In the tracklist, "Smoking Jacket" follows "Vice," a purposeful 1-2 punch to drive home her aching desire for various vices. Likely the man with which she hooked up in the previous song, "Jacket" finds her grasping onto a mysterious man who can be her addiction, and odds-on her demise. "I want a man with a smoking jacket and he lights his matches with kerosene," she craves, over a barrage of steel guitar, severe trumpet and sooty percussion. The music is far less gritty than "Vice," pinned together with a gentle gallop. Here, she'd rather wear his smoke rings than be trapped by a diamond ring (her sense of long-term commitment). Instead of succumbing to the sorrow of her situation, she basks in the appetite of her physical needs.
13. "You Wouldn't Know Me"
Songwriter(s): Shake Russell
Key Lyrics: "Bad news is better than what you've been handing me. What's gone wrong with you, my friend. Promise me, promise me don't ask that of me now."
A cover of the 1996 Shake Russel song, Lambert's "You Wouldn't Know Me" could not be more different. The male-female perspective switch is the most obvious difference; Lambert keeping the "she" pronouns makes the kiss-off not only about the ex-lover but the new woman, as well. The music is far less honky-tonk, bluegrass-influenced but still contains the mood of the original. Lambert fills the story with her own experiences, and the two-decade stretch between the two versions is like revisiting a cherished novel--the wisdom only time can give is potent and revealing.
12. "Highway Vagabond"
Songwriter(s): Luke Dick, Natalie Hemby and Shane McAnally
Key Lyrics: "I wanna go somewhere where nobody knows. I wanna know somewhere where nobody goes. Following gold lines on the ground, Northbound. Southbound. There's something about the way I feel when the wheels go round and around and around."
The funkiest song of the bunch, Lambert offers up her answer to Willie Nelson's 1980 highway anthem "On the Road Again" (even referencing the song explicitly in the lyrics), with decidedly more purr and audacity. The rollicking speed of her vocal, paired with the jangle of the music, resembles the bouncy roll of her tour bus, wild and free. The feel of the open road allows her to escape her agony, and the music snaps the chains weighing her down (giving her enough time to reflect and mend).
11. "Things That Break"
Songwriter(s): Jessi Alexander, Natalie Hemby and Miranda Lambert
Key Lyrics: "Me. I don't wanna ever get too close or be held responsible for all the pain that you can't see. Somebody once broke me..."
Listing off things fragile and easily destroyed, "Break" sobs with the spirit of old school country. She--"born a bull in a china cabinet"--is determined to stay away from perfume bottles and "tempered glass in a window pane" and other such things that matter, even a heart which she often holds "so tight it shatters." She laments that everything she touches is tarnished, detaching herself from the physical world. "Time is ticking," she concedes, citing how someone once broke her and she refuses to do the same to somebody else.
10. "Dear Old Sun"
Songwriter(s): Gwen Sebastian, Miranda Lambert and Terri Jo Box
Key Lyrics: "February's been hard on a heart. But we're near the end and it's almost March. Though the sky's been grey, and in our way, I still see your light. Well, you melt the snow and you grow the roses. And you dry the tears and you freckle noses. Our little world revolves around you coming up and going' down."
Lambert compares the rustle of her heartstrings to the sun's annual plunge into winter. The prayer-like lullaby is crafted around the belief that the cold only lasts for so long, much like the heartache tearing out her chest. Again, she revisits the gravity of time on her recovery, and the sun, known in Greek mythology as Helios (who drove his chariot across the sky), signifies the release she finds within herself. The smokey, western-like production toils along, delicately and powerfully. The hope for brighter, clearer days looms like a highway sign whizzing past her headlights. The addition of full-bodied harmonies from Frank Carter Rische and Lillie Mae Rische are crucial to the song's energy.
9. "Runnin' Just in Case"
Songwriter(s): Miranda Lambert and Gwen Sebastian
Key Lyrics: "I carry them around with me. I don't mind havin' scars. Happiness ain't a prison, but there's freedom in a broken heart."
Lambert is barreling down highway 59, knowing full and well there is nothing but trouble up ahead. The key lyrics (above) are the manifesto of Wings--the tattered notebook she lugs around with her on which to scrawl her stories--and set the stage for Lambert's most ambitious and full-filling project. The resolve to which she clings gives her the fortitude to recover later on in the storyline, but knowing the pain she must first endure and voluntarily casting off her tough exterior are what make the journey all the more worthwhile. The mild rumble of the instruments mimics that of the tour bus racing down the plain states and deep South. She savors the freedom of the open road, even when she doesn't find what she wants or needs but she simply moves on to the next town, the next stage of her life with the woeful hope it'll be there waiting on her. "I'm looking for a lighter. I already bought the cigarettes. Guess I picked up a habit on my way out of Lafayette," she mutters, resolutely, of her first vice.
8. "I've Got Wheels"
Songwriter(s): Miranda Lambert, Scotty Wray and Gwen Sebastian
Key Lyrics: "When I can't fly, I start to fall. But I've got these wheels I'm rollin' on."
Lambert's journey comes full circle on the double-album closer. "Wheels" witnesses her finally being capable enough and ready to pick herself up off the dirt, brush off the debris and set her sights on her next chapter. Even her vocal has an uplifted and determined tone; she realizes the pain she sufffered throughout the entire record was a cathartic and imperative turning point, triggering her inner strength. Wray, who has been in her backing band since she was 17, and friend Gwen Sebastian offer a bit of insight--Lambert is now eager for that next adventure, scars be damned.
Songwriter(s): Michael Anderson, Miranda Lambert and Aaron Ratiere
Key Lyrics: "Well, this moment is heavy. For me, I'm not ready. Like a caged bird barely set free, forgive me, I'm finding my wings. While my body is present, my heart is absent. And my mind is racing. My feet pacing."
"I guess love ain't surviving," Lambert heaves on one of the album's most perfect templates of imperfection. She seems to be reflecting, once again, on time's resolve to heal her heart. She's not completely cured, but her revelations about herself are crucial to the process, which she later addresses on songs like "Dear Old Sun" and album bookend "I've Got Wheels." Here she's moved from bargaining to feeling the extreme heaviness of her emotions, unimpeded. The sluggish grind of the arrangement illustrates the misty, dream-like state of her vocal. With Anderson East sharing songwriting duties, the song refocuses his personal stakes into the story. Lambert compares their two journeys, "It's your tail that you're chasing. It's the past I'm erasing," and later, she projects, "I'm leaving. You're arriving."
6. "Getaway Driver"
Songwriter(s): Michael Anderson, Natalie Hemby and Miranda Lambert
Key Lyrics: "Miles were the only thing that saved us. Headlights were our only traces. No rearview mirrors. No looking back."
The first Anderson East co-write reads as an important prequel to the next track, "Vice," in which she muses "another vice, another town, where my past can't run me down." But on "Getaway Driver," Lambert finds herself "feelin' reckless, tangled in her messes" with her "wild eyes looking for a chase." The allure of the open road beckons to her, as she sits in the driver seat and considers the car itself as a partner in crime, a "Bonnie and Clyde reminder." Lambert is longing to get the hell out of dodge and away from the heartache--and as we already know she'll give in to her vices along the way. East gives proper harmonies on the song, a haunting murmur in the distance. The soft pitter-patter of the percussion is an effective parallel to the slow hum of a car barreling down the highway, reflecting Lambert's own escape from reality.
5. "Use My Heart"
Songwriter(s): Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Waylon Payne
Key Lyrics: "The thought of loving you just makes me sick. I don't have the nerve to use my heart."
What could very well be the impetus of the album's two halves, "The Nerve" and "The Heart," this reeling downtempo book ends chapter one--a story which found Lambert struggling with her vices and blood-thirsty inner demons. After being exposed to untold suffering the past few years, she finds love makes her physically ill, and her inability to use her heart makes the narrative all the more devastating. The heart is at the center of all life, literally and metaphorically; it drives us to feel, to live, to find purpose in the world. Lambert's vocal is suitably distressing, but the music glimmers with undetectable hope--this stage of heartache is necessary but not terminal. Better days are ahead for Lambert, which she adamantly explores in the album's second chapter.
Songwriter(s): Miranda Lambert, Shae McAnally and Josh Osborne
Key Lyrics: "All dressed up in a pretty black label, sweet salvation on a dinning room table waiting on me, where the numb meets the lonely."
As is her way, Lambert goes against the grain of what terrestrial radio so desperately wants. Despite the song (speckled with a marshy mix of guitar and drums biting at her vocal) not breaking the Top 10, "Vice" landed a pair of 2017 Grammy nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance--punctuating the song's very palpable impact on the format. Much like "Dead Flowers," which anchored her breakthrough album Revolution in 2009, "Vice" is textbook unconventional.
Lambert is clearly more concerned with her artistic integrity than catering to the mainstream, which is exactly why Wings works on every conceivable level. On paper, this particular lead single might not spark listener interest, but in reality, the song was one of the best-selling of the year. From the scratch of needle on vinyl in the stunning a cappella intro to the dark dance of the throbbing drums and synthetic swirl of the backing arrangement, "Vice" lives and breathes as a woeful Psalm Lambert has scrawled into her veins and encompasses the past few years of her life.
3. "To Learn Her"
Songwriter(s): Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Waylon Payne
Key Lyrics: "It's a lesson, it's a blessin'. You don't know everything. If you take her, you might hate her and be left with just a ring. To love her is to learn her. Hey, that's just how it works."
Lambert goes old school on this Patsy Cline-esque waltz. The faint whisper of "Crazy" (a Willie Nelson write) blows softly and tenderly behind the classic, low-swinging arrangement. The moan of pedal steel and the howl of guitar act as secondary characters to Lambert's narrator, pushing and pulling the lonesomeness to the brink. She surveys the tie that binds, the highs and the lows, the good and the bad times with profound plainness. But in that simplicity, she puts the burden on each word as if they were her last. Even on lines like "well, that's just how it works" and "some things you just can't learn," the Cline influence is indisputable. Lambert glides upward on the melody in much the same way Cline did on standards like "I Fall to Pieces" and "Faded Love."
2. "Pushin' Time"
Songwriter(s): Natalie Hemby, Miranda Lambert and Foy Vance
Key Lyrics: "And they say only time can tell. You already know me well. If it has to end in tears, I hope that it's in sixty years."
Lambert shatters expectations of what a "love song" should be. Instead of gushing like a school girl with adoration, she offers a somber note about rushing into a new relationship. While she basks in the music's soft, but wrenching, cry and Anderson East's swelling harmonies--paralleling their own very real affection for one another--there is an edge of heavy scrutiny and rawness in her voice. It's as if she's writing the song in real time. The crunch of her notebook is a fitting introduction, anchoring the story in an earthy varnish. Time has long been a necessary plunder for mankind and deities, alike; in Greek mythology, the god of time, Kronos, found himself at the relentless mercy of time, forever destined to be overthrown by his predecessors and bound to chase down the sun. "Can't take it slow 'cause you and I are pushin' time," Lambert concedes.
1. "Tin Man"
Songwriter(s): Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall
Key Lyrics: "Hey there, Mr. Tin Man, you don't know how lucky you are. You shouldn't spend your whole life wishin' for something bound to fall apart."
The tale of the troubled and heartless Tin Woodman, shortened to Tin Man in the classic 1939 film starring Judy Garland, is a timeless manifestation of the struggles of the industrial worker, who ultimately loses his passion for anything outside of work. The film adaptation of the L. Frank Baum original book (printed in 1900) certainly adds that glamorous, Hollywood razzle-dazzle, but the message remains the same: a lost soul wanders aimlessly in search of something. That something is the ability to feel again. Lambert's cultural framework allows her to examine her own sorrow within a similar thread line. While her parents, Rick and Bev Lambert, were well-paid private investigators early on in Lambert's life, the economy took a plunge and "my parents lost everything they had...we were homeless," she told Good Housekeeping. Life after that was much different, but they were dedicated to reclaiming their livelihood. A few years later, the family rented a small farm in Lindale, Texas, and Lambert's father began subsistence farming. As they regained a sense of stability and happiness, they returned to their PI careers, but there was a tangible shift in their appreciation for and approach to life. They also began taking in battered women and children, and the strong, independent woman would become a prominent, recurring character in Lambert's work for years afterward. On this theatrical production, Lambert mirrors Dorothy in the story; Dorothy's meager background on an Oklahoma farm sent her down a path of self-discovery, with plenty of heartache sprinkled in for suitable personal evolution.
Conjuring up an atmospheric but intimate echo in the music, Lambert (who has buckled under the tremendous weight of simply having a heart) implores a makeshift "Tin Man" that he doesn't really want one. From the guitar-driven arrangement to Lambert's soft coo, a quiet storm (not unlike the tornado which uprooted young Dorothy out of her home into a magical land of materialism and false hope) pummels the eardrums with a forceful gust of emotion--perhaps Lambert's most expressive and heart-wrenching recording of her career. Opening the back-half of her double-album, "Tin Man" appropriately sets the stage for Lambert to really begin using her heart's raw muscle on later standouts such as "To Learn Her" and "Dear Old Sun."