Country Grammar is a recurring monthly column about country music. The purpose of this column will be to analyze and demystify country releases, large or small, and help halt the notion that Country music is somehow less deserving of introspective analysis than rock, rap, or pop. It will highlight the great moments, and occasionally, dig deep into the bad ones, but the goal is always to bring more attention to a genre that is far too often swept under the rug due to class assumptions or music criticism’s clear rockist past.
Miranda Lambert isn’t afraid to hurt you. Then again, what great country singer is? Great country songs are mostly weapons of pain, blunted so they don’t draw blood while they graze your skin. Blunted country songs about pain have been getting people through their own blown out grief for a lot longer than Miranda Lambert has been at it, but on her latest album The Weight Of These Wings, Miranda has synthesized about five decades of country sound for her hardest-hitting record to date, and she’s got a few things to smash. Pain is the thing that weighs this album down, but it’s also the thing that makes it fly.
If you’re a country fan, you’re well aware that older sounds and styles tend to get praise while anything that leans remotely into pop — or gasp, R&B territory (Hi Sam Hunt) — get automatically degraded. Well, unlike her fantastic 2014 album Platinum, there is barely a trace of any pop influence on Wings — this is her play for the authentic, “real” country sound that makes everyone fawn over outlier, outlaw guys like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson so much. (Sturgill was just nominated for a Grammy for album of the year, if you need proof that people still ascribe to this authenticity argument.) Most people believe that country with traces of pop is somehow a lesser form of music, I certainly do not, and sort of miss some of the bubblegum snap of Platinum. But that’s pretty much the only complaint I have when it comes to this album. Though it sounds more traditional, the record is groundbreaking in the path it cuts for female stars in a conservative genre.
The Weight Of These Wings is a double album, and as Steven Hyden pointed out in his comparison piece between this album and Metallica’s new record, that is a statement about the quality of the music, the purpose of the album. “Happiness ain’t prison but there’s freedom in a broken heart,” she sings on the closing line of the album’s first track, “Runnin’ Just In Case,” getting her country star divorce from Blake Shelton out there, first things first. But as that line suggests, this is not an album that spends its time moping around, Lambert has much more useful things to do with her pain. On Wings she’s forged it into a sledgehammer of an album, that lives up to its double album length and weighty artistic assertion in every way.