To get this out of the way first: I adore Miranda Lambert. Kerosene and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are both incredible albums and Revolution clears the bar set by her catalogue thus far. It’s slightly more “mature” – fewer barn-burners, fewer bar fights, and while the guns are still all over the place, they’re less in-your-face. A gloopy love song or two aside, she acquits herself well on the slow stuff. ‘Me & Your Cigarettes’ is a great little extended metaphor between a destructive relationship and a smoking habit, with Miranda as cancer stick. (“It ain’t love but it’s just like nicotine / You’re addicted to a feeling you can only get from me and your cigarettes / Light us up and then throw us down / Walk away when we hit the ground”). ‘Airstream Song’ does the wistful wandering thing of ‘New Strings’ but less triumphant and more conflicted. “Unbridled or tethered and tied / the safety of the fence or the danger of the ride / I’ll always be unsatisfied,” is the most eloquent expression of the passive/active, risk vs. adventure dilemma I’ve heard in a while. Miranda plays hopscotch with the different waves of feminism…carries a gun, looks out for herself and her own, wants freedom and the prerogative to seek out daytime boys and nighttime boys, but keenly aware of her emotions, vulnerability and desire to put down the burden of constantly having her back up. It’s all very werewolf/vampire boyfriend. Anyway, the point is, I like this album. A great deal. And the uncomfortable ways in which a few songs push my buttons shouldn’t detract from that.
BUT…first, there’s the cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s ‘Time to Get a Gun’, which is a funny little number about the need to protect yourself and your Second Amendment rights etc. Except that it’s scattered with lines about how “when the talking is over / it’s time to get a gun.” And uses the spectre of cars stolen from driveways and rising crime rates and locking the doors to explain the need for firearms. Then it suggests that guns are needed to protect yourself from government men who come to your door “because even while we were talking right here where we stand / they’re making plans for a four lane highway and a big old overpass.” And while on prior albums, I would have written it off as playing a role, or expressing a legitimate viewpoint, in the current climate of guns at Obama rallies and Orson Scott Card calling for revolution over gay marriage, the guns against the government line is a dog-whistle that I can’t really avoid hearing. As people will point out, politics and art are independent of one another, and the song is still good art…great art, even, given the response it elicits from me, and it’s certainly a viewpoint that I don’t necessarily oppose on principle, but it makes me feel funny. Especially when digested at the same time as “Only Prettier” (youtube embedded below).
‘Only Prettier’ is great. A ‘fuck you’ to people too uptight to have fun. A thumb in the eye of elitists. Proud to “have a mouth like a sailor” while “yours is just like a Hallmark card,” but imbued with enough Southern charm to just say “Bless your heart!” (and mean “Fuck you very much!”), Miranda gives us a live and let live anthem. She doesn’t belong with you and your high life friends, but she’ll pretend to like you anyway. She’ll get to know her enemies, especially when they’re 5″3 and 100 lbs and “get skinnier” instead of having fun and drinking. Basically, it’s an anthem for girls who know how to have fun vs. the skinny, rich, ‘classy’ crowd. Which is all well and good…clashing social classes are a time-honoured tradition in most genres, from Ella’s ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ on down (I get too hungry for dinner at eight / I like the theatre but never come late / I never bother with people I hate). But that CHORUS. That chorus. “So let’s shake hands and reach across those party lines / You’ve got your friends, just like I’ve got mine / We might think a little differently / But we got a lot in common, you will see / We’re just like you / Only prettier.” For the first time since I’ve gotten into country music, American Ride aside, I feel like I’m exluded from being part of the audience – pointedly so. The party lines in an American country song in 2009, metaphorical or not, conjure up Democrats and Republicans, the “we” and “you” no longer vague and open to interpretation, no longer simply broad social categories, no longer earthy red-dirt girls vs. image-conscious high society wives, but Left vs. Right, Urban vs. Rural, etc. My brain might be doing the gestalt thing here, and filling in the blanks with things not necessarily implied, but those two words transform a track that I’ve been blasting out my window and drunkenly singing along with into Sarah Palin’s personal theme song. And again, maybe that’s what makes it good art. Or maybe I’m reading too much into something that was never intended to be so weighty. But for 3 minutes, Miranda’s no longer singing for me, but at me, and it doesn’t feel good.
I gave it a :
As she chastises him for cheating with red-headed Bernice, and warns him that she “wouldn’t want to be in [his] shoes,” it’s easy to assume this is a country cliche. Then, with a minute left, Miranda flips the script. Confronted with his cheating and lying, she needs to grapple with her own. Her “why“s are as perplexed by her motivations as by his, and her ultimate bombshell is part apology, part gloating and part absolution. It’s an effective trick, changing the song’s entire context and adding emotional heft in less than 10 seconds. Not as hungry or detailed or conflicted as the best of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (”Guilty in Here”, “Famous in a Small Town”), but Lambert’s latest is textured and warm, with a story to tell.