Some breakups are so contentious, even artists confident enough to title their previous album Platinum can't make it through them untarnished. One year after a very public divorce from Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert gets the last word with The Weight of These Wings, a double-disc magnum opus that tackles breakups, booze, friendships, fetishes, old scars and new beginnings over the course of 24 songs.
Shelton rush-released his own tribute to Splitsville, If I'm Honest, in May, billing the record, whose songs were mostly written by outsiders, as an honest look at his personal life. With her byline on 20 songs, Lambert more than sextuples the amount of original material on her release, and her outside song choices (including a pair of under-the-radar covers by Danny O'Keefe and Shake Russell) help complete an album whose uncompressed guitar tones, daredevil drums – courtesy of original Pearl Jam member Matt Chamberlain – and left-of-center arrangements ignore the trends of Top 40 country radio. Lambert isn't chasing success here; she's chasing the muse. The result is a pure, pointed look at heartbreak and reconstruction, delivered by a writer who's at the top of her game and a band that's encouraged to get weird.
Lambert isn't taking any interviews these days. She's tired of the media hoopla that surrounds a major-label country release, and besides, she'd rather let the music do the talking. Luckily, The Weight of These Wings – produced by Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf and Eric Masse – says a lot, offering heft and honesty in equal numbers. We break down the album's two halves – titled The Nerve and The Heart, respectively – days before the album's official release on November 18th.
DISC ONE: THE NERVE
1. "Runnin' Just in Case" (Miranda Lambert/Gwen Sebastian)
"There's freedom in a broken heart," Lambert promises at the close of this highway anthem, which kicks off These Wings' first disc with ringing reverb, muffled percussion and the airy atmospherics of Reagan-era U2.
2. "Highway Vagabond" (Luke Dick/Natalie Hemby/Shane McAnally)
Written by Natalie Hemby, Shane McAnally and Luke Dick, who co-wrote Eric Church's "Kill a Word," "Highway Vagabond" is equal parts country-funk road song and hillbilly nursery rhyme, delivered by a touring pro who's seen her share of mile markers.
3. "Ugly Lights" (Miranda Lambert/Natalie Hemby/Liz Rose)
Lambert reinvents herself as a barfly who slurs her way from happy hour to last call, refusing to leave the premises until the barkeep flips on the fluorescents and pushes her out the door. Slaphappy one minute and sad-eyed the next, it's the sound of a bender's boozy highs and hungover lows.
4. "You Wouldn't Know Me" (Shake Russell)
Texas songwriter Shake Russell first recorded this rowdy kiss-off in 1996, aiming its lyrics at an unnamed ex who broke his heart. Two decades later, Lambert reclaims it as her own divorce song, dressing up the tune with Telecaster twang and coed harmonies.
5. "We Should Be Friends" (Miranda Lambert)
Featuring a song-stealing drum groove from Matt Chamberlain, "We Should Be Friends" feels like the country-pop punchline to Jeff Foxworthy's string of "You might be a redneck" one-liners. Here, Lambert solicits new recruits for her social circle, reaching out to those who, like her, proudly sport stained T-shirts, closets stocked with borrowed dresses and hearts as empty as diesel tanks.
6. "Pink Sunglasses" (Rodney Clawson/Luke Dick/Natalie Hemby)
Lambert is a "firm believer in the power of plastic," speak-singing this ode to accessories while electric guitars buzz, burp and blast in the background. A Valley Girl theme song on the surface, "Pink Sunglasses" packs a surprising punch at its core, with Lambert – who launches into the second and third choruses with a grunted "Uh!" – nailing a rare mix of trailer-park sass and hip-hop swagger that her cowgirl contemporaries can't seem to match.
7. "Getaway Driver" (Miranda Lambert/Anderson East/Natalie Hemby)
Ah, yes – the long-awaited co-write with Anderson East, Lambert's boyfriend. Pitching its tent halfway between Platinum's "Smokin' and Drinkin," and Revolution's "Virginia Bluebell," "Getaway Driver" is swooning, sexy and soft-hued, with synthesized strings that drift toward the horizon. Lambert switches gender roles during the song, too, singing "Getaway Driver" from the perspective of a man who keeps a close watch on his trouble-prone lover, ready to spirit her away whenever she gets "tangled in her messes." Gorgeous.
8. "Vice" (Miranda Lambert/Shane McAnally/Josh Osborne)
We've all heard These Wings' lead-off single before, but "Vice" sounds like a new song here, sandwiched between the lush loveliness of "Getaway Driver" and the heated, horn-dog slow burn of "Smoking Jacket." It also marks the moment where Wings takes its very first dark twist, with Lambert letting her guard down and showing the depths that loom beneath all that armor.
9. "Smoking Jacket" (Miranda Lambert/Natalie Hemby/Lucie Silvas)
Picking off where "Vice" left off, "Smoking Jacket" finds Lambert prowling for a nicotine addict who'll "make a habit of loving me 'til it hurts." Dark, dangerous and irresistible, with a four-on-the-floor kick drum anchoring the song's mix of trumpet, guitar tremolo and spooky steel.
10. "Pushin' Time" (Miranda Lambert/Natalie Hemby/Foy Vance)
Lambert co-wrote this ballad with Irish singer Foy Vance, but she sings it with East, turning "Pushin' Time" into one of the album's most heartfelt moments. "If it has to end in tears, I hope it's in 60 years," she promises during the final verse.
11. "Covered Wagon" (Danny O'Keefe)
First tracked by Danny O'Keefe in 1971, this slab of greasy, hippie-friendly country-rock gets a modern makeover from Lambert, who replaces the original recording's barroom piano with the wail of an overdriven slide guitar.
12. "Use My Heart" (Miranda Lambert/Ashley Monroe/Waylon Payne)
Layered and lovely, "Use My Heart" finds Lambert working with longtime buddy Ashley Monroe and new collaborator Waylon Payne, who portrayed Jerry Lee Lewis in Joaquin Phoenix's Walk the Line. The result is a piece of classic, steel-heavy country balladry – with an expletive-filled twist.
DISC TWO: THE HEART
1. "Tin Man" (Miranda Lambert/Jack Ingram/Jon Randall)
Lambert sings to the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, assuring him that circulatory organs aren't all they're cracked up to be. "If you ever felt one breaking, you'd never want a heart," she promises. Behind her, synthesizers and reverb-heavy electric guitar swirl up a stunning wall of white noise.
2. "Good Ol' Days" (Miranda Lambert/Brent Cobb/Adam Hood)
Like much of These Wings, "Good Ol' Days" skews closer to Americana than modern country, with Brent Cobb ¬– cousin of the genre's reigning producer-in-charge, Dave Cobb, which more or less makes him Americana royalty – claiming a co-writing credit. Accessible and agreeable, with vocal harmonies running throughout the song's three minutes.
3. "Things That Break" (Miranda Lambert/Jessi Alexander/Natalie Hemby)
Like the soundtrack to a sock-hop slow dance during the 1950s, "Things That Break" swoons and sways, with a guitar riff that splits the difference between surf rock and dancehall country.
4. "For the Birds" (Miranda Lambert/Aaron Raitiere)
Lambert channels Lone Star statesmen like Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker, offering up a convincing combo of Texas twang, cowgirl wisdom and top-notch internal rhyme (example: "I'm against the notion of drinking witchy potions and causing big commotion, you know, son?").
5. "Well-Rested" (Miranda Lambert/Anderson East/Aaron Raitiere)
Showcasing Lambert's vocal chops like few songs before it, "Well-Rested" is a slow, stunning waltz, co-written with East and accented by the oscillating throb of a tremolo guitar. You can hear the vintage amps humming during the final moments, a reminder that great performances pack a stronger punch than perfectly polished production. Real and raw.
6. "Tomboy" (Miranda Lambert/Natalie Hemby/Aaron Raitiere)
The third song in a row to feature co-writing help from Aaron Raitiere, "Tomboy" plays up the connection between Lambert and her two backup singers: Gwen Sebastian and Madi Diaz. The three women coo, croon and pile their voices into harmonized triads, turning "Tomboy" into, ironically enough, one of the album's most feminine moments.
7. "To Learn Her" (Miranda Lambert/Ashley Monroe/Waylon Payne)
Spencer Cullum's pedal steel and Hargus "Pig" Robbins' saloon-style piano lead the charge on this honky-tonk home run, which would've found a welcome home on golden-era albums by George Strait and George Jones. Co-written with the same team that whipped up "Use My Heart," "To Learn Her" finds Lambert delivering another stunner of a vocal performance, with guitarist Frank Carter Rische tracing her melodies in perfect harmony. A master class in classic country.
8. "Keeper of the Flame" (Miranda Lambert/Natalie Hemby/Liz Rose)
"Somebody blazed this trail I'm treading on," Lambert says, tipping her hat to the songwriters who came before her. Fueled by arena-rock percussion and chiming guitar riffs, "Keeper of the Flame" doubles as a power-ballad empowerment anthem, with Lambert finding courage to move forward by looking back at the craft and courage of her songwriting idols.
9. "Bad Boy" (Miranda Lambert/Mando Saenz)
A loose, lanky look at the magnetism of dangerous dudes, with a less-than-perfect vocal take – "What's the intro?" Lambert asks during the first 15 seconds, cutting off the band before revving up the song's engines once again – that makes this "Bad Boy" feel infinitely more human.
10. "Six Degrees of Separation" (Miranda Lambert/Nicolle Galyon/Natalie Hemby)
Our heroine high-tails it from New Orleans to New York, in the hopes that a busy travel schedule will help her forget about a former flame. She can't seem to outrun his ghost, but she does manage to rhyme "bus stop bench" with "Merrill Lynch," which sounds like a solid win in our playbook.
11. "Dear Old Sun" (Miranda Lambert/Terri Jo Box/Gwen Sebastian)
Lambert sends a prayer skyward, mixing Southern soul and country-gospel into a stunning love song to the sun. "I still see your light" goes the refrain, beefed up with double-stacked harmonies from Lambert's acoustic guitarist, Frank Carter Rische, and frequent Jack White sidewoman Lillie Mae Rische.
12. "I've Got Wheels" (Miranda Lambert/Gwen Sebastian/Scotty Wray)
The Weight of These Wings began with a highway song, so it's appropriate that Lambert winds everything to an open-ended close with another ode to "rolling on." Here, guitarist Luke Reynolds steals the show with a searing solo, while Lambert drives her band forward at cruising speed, eager to chase down whatever's next.