Half-Review: Miranda Lambert, “Platinum”

platinumMiranda Lambert’s big breakout album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—a stone classic—is rightly heralded for many things, high on the list being the album’s lean, focused strike: In its relatively brief running time and its streamlined track list, the album felt more like an outlaw country record anything out of contemporary Nashville, where big, bloated, hour-plus programs have become the norm. Every song on Crazy Ex felt like part of a larger narrative, and every song played an integral role in the set’s musical and emotional momentum—even the covers.

What’s weird is that the records that Miranda has made since then have been in many ways just the opposite, with long tracklistings and no real sense of thematic or musical focus, yet the music has suffered little as a result of it: A set like Four the Record is great in different ways than Crazy Ex was, emphasizing the sheer breadth of what Miranda can do so well, the depth of her musicality; I’d trim a couple songs from its 15-song running order, but if being slightly overgenerous is her biggest fault then who’s really complaining?

The unimpeachable Miranda will soon return with a fifth record, this one called Platinum. Weirdly, exactly half the album is being streamed in advance—and even with its abbreviated running order, it’s a whopping eight songs. The record is going to be a monster, in other words, and in more ways than one: 16 tracks is lengthy by any stretch, but the album also seems to be overflowing with different, often competing ideas about what country music can be.

Frankly, none of the eight songs being streamed in advance sound like they belong on the same record together—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Something like Sign ‘o the Times or The White Album is appealing precisely because of the sprawl, so Platinum being incoherent isn’t such a bad thing. It’s a double album in spirit, if not in actual assembly, and that’s something that I can rally behind.

What really makes this eight-song teaser such a promising precursor to the full album release, though, is that all of the songs are excellent—and in fact, all are better than “Automatic,” which was released as a single but underwhelmed me, sounding like Miranda was drifting a bit too close to sentimental, red-state-country balladry for my tastes.

The songs on the sampler handily best the single, making its selection as the single a little baffling. The opener, “Girls,” is a kind of mid-tempo power-country number, not unlike “All Kinds of Kinds.” “Little Red Wagon” is a burst of pop-punk album and snotty, tough girl strut (“you can’t step to this backyard swagger!”), but with weird flourishes of country twang and old soft-shoe pizzazz lurking around the edges. If there’s any through-line connecting these songs—thematically and spiritually, if not exactly musically—then it’s the kind of spunky feminism that you’ll hear in “Bathroom Sink,” a song that grapples honestly with regret and self-image; some of the biggest pleasures, though, are the oddball tracks like twangy, appropriately traditional yet endearingly crude “Old Shit.”

It’s a mess, but an endearingly one—and frankly more human and unpredictable than the album title, cover, or first single might have suggested. One can only hope that the songs still unheard add further charm, further reach to this program—adding up to a weird and wonderful blockbuster.

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