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.
Rubberneckers have anticipated The Weight of These Wings since Lambert split from Blake Shelton, ending their four-year term as country’s First Couple (another thankless job). Sure, it’s a “breakup record.” But it’s more about songs for the ages than tabloid raw meat. With an A-list coauthor team including Natalie Hemby, Liz Rose, Ashley Monroe and Lambert’s boyfriend, Anderson East, Lambert cowrote 20 of 24 tracks and filled out the rest with well-chosen covers; see “Covered Wagon,” a 1971 jam by singer-songwriter Danny O’Keefe, and “You Wouldn’t Know Me,” by Texas troubadour Shake Russell.
The album’s two parts – “The Nerve” and “The Heart” – pivot on songs about romantic rebound. “Use My Heart” chronicles a sort of lovers’ PTSD; “Tin Man” extends the cardiac metaphor per The Wizard of Oz; “Pushin’ Time” is a steely but fragile duet (with East, fittingly) about late-game relationships that can’t afford to dawdle. Emmylou Harris’ 1995 LP Wrecking Ball, with its floaty Daniel Lanois production, seems a touchstone here. But this is also an album with dirt under its manicured nails: There’s the hoarse hollers and guitar skronk on “Pink Sunglasses,” and the perm-damaged hair-metal riffs on “Vice,” where Lambert’s declaration “said I wouldn’t do it/But I did it again” echoes Britney Spears minus the ingénue coyness, consequences clattering like leg-irons. There are goofs (“For the Birds”) and throwaways (“Bad Boy”). But these moments are often less lightweight than they seem; see “Tomboy” (rhymes with “move along, boy”) and “Getaway Driver,” its unsettled bromance as touchingly queer in its way as Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.”
The set’s most vintage moment is “To Learn Her,” a honky-tonk weeper worthy of George Jones, offering a lovers’ curriculum with no easy answers. It’s emblematic of an album that never wallows in breakup pain, but instead deals – making plans, getting drunk, flirting, testifying and, above all, moving on. And if you’re fingering a few scars of your own, you’ll be rooting for her.