I said to my dear wife the other evening that Platinum is basically the pop album of my dreams—something that might be a slight exaggeration but is close enough to the truth: Now that Miranda’s fifth album has been heard in its entirety—and played on near-constant repeat around my house for several days—it’s clear that it’s a record dense with ideas, but never actually one that feels heavy; it’s a record brimming with humor and personality and melody, one that rewards thought and analysis but by no means demands them.
As suggested by the eight-song teaser, posted to the Web the week before the album released, it’s also a bit of a mess: It has 16 songs that feel, at least at first, like they don’t belong on the same album together, so presenting the record as a “sampler” didn’t actually obscure its character, even if it did undermine its real depth.
The charm of the record is in the sprawl, and in light of that, the best way to unpack it further may be with a few bullet points:
- I’ll admit that I’m more than a little smitten with Miranda Lambert, and this record hasn’t done anything to minimize that. Think of the position she’s in, and how well she’s handling it—how ably she plays both sides of the fence: If she isn’t the biggest female star in country music she’s surely one of the top two or three (and really, I’d say that she is the reigning queen, if only because Taylor Swift’s music has less and less to mark it as identifiably country), and on Platinum she both pushes the country mainstream forward while taking it back to its roots; the album is cohabitated by smart, edgy singles and more rootsy songcraft, songs that sound like the country radio of 2014 mingled with songs that honestly could’ve been cut in the 1970s.
- I said that the album is dense with ideas, and I think it is: There’s much to be said about the feminism on this album, which reflects both feminine strength and vulnerability, suggesting that the two are not entirely unrelated; the record is also about nostalgia versus living in the moment, and here again Miranda seems to suggest that the two are not mutually exclusive—that perhaps we can find strength for the present by looking back to the past.
- There are a lot of thematic threads that stitch different songs together, suggesting that it’s less of a hodgepodge than it first seems. Surely it’s no accident that Marilyn Monroe is invoked by name in both “Girls” and “Platinum,” or that smoking and drinking play a significant role in both “Hard Staying Sober” and, well, “Smokin’ and Drinkin.’”
- These through-lines and dichotomies are what give the record such richness: Like on so many classic, sprawling double albums—which this one is in spirit, if not in actual runtime—the songs mirror each other, answer each other, exist in conversation with each other. There are some obvious examples and some not-so-obvious ones—the most obvious being how the nostalgia in “Automatic” is followed, just minutes later, by the even more overt and specific celebration of tradition in “Old Shit,” basically a bluegrass number; that song, in turn, gives way to the Texas Playboys-style swing of an old Tom T. Hall song (“All That’s Left”), performed with the Time Jumpers and sounding like it could have appeared on my favorite Merle Haggard album, his winsome Bob Wills tribute album A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World. Old shit, indeed.
- Of course, not all of these nostalgic songs are as simple as they first seem. It’s hard to shake the notion that the last line in “Automatic,” about shaking a Polaroid, is a nod to a certain Outkast song—clearly, Miranda is someone who’s more than a little familiar with the pop charts—and while “Old Shit” may celebrate her grandfather’s values, it does so with a cheeky album title that members of her grandfather’s generation might frown on.
- Another connection: Note how “Priscilla”—in which Miranda beseeches Mrs. Presley herself to offer advice on successfully staying married to a man who’s “married to attention”—finds Miranda wondering how she and Blake might “be the first to make it last” in the tabloid spotlight. “Automatic” is the next song in the sequence, and its line about “staying married” being the only way to work out problems almost seems like the answer she was looking for. (And, by the way, it’s also an example of that “old shit” coming in handy.)
- Note how a trip to the hair salon is celebrated as a source of feminine strength in “Platinum,” even as the wonderful “Bathroom Sink” suggests that glamor is a form of “hiding”—the kind of seemed contradiction that makes Platinum so richly human and appealingly messy.
- … or maybe Miranda means to suggest that we can find strength in vulnerability and brokenness, something that’s also, subtly in view on the delightfully punky “Little Red Wagon”—which is all feminine strutting, except for the actual chorus. “The front seat’s broken and the axel’s dragging” is a metaphor for brokenness, but not one that holds our narrator back from her “backyard swagger.”
- My comments above might suggest that I’ve warmed considerably to “Automatic,” a single I didn’t much care for at first but appreciate more in the context of the record; alas, the same can’t be said of “Somethin’ Bad,” the album’s lone misstep: Miranda sounds a little desperate to keep up with Carrie Underwood on a tune that’s basically 80s hair metal in its production, TV pageantry in its composition.
But as with so many great double albums, even the weaker material seems somehow to have value: It provides context for the true brilliance on display everywhere else, and brings into focus just how much Miranda has accomplished on this excellent LP.