Miranda Lambert may have named her sixth studio album The Weight of These Wings, but she’s never been the kind of girl who claimed to wear a halo. Sprung from the unlikely launchpad of a second-tier TV talent show called Nashville Star circa 2003, the Longview, Tex., native offered country music the walking contradiction it didn’t know it needed: a six-string rebel capable of writing massive mainstream hits; a dimpled blond kewpie doll with a gas can in her hand and a fresh box of matches in her back pocket. (Even the titles of her first three releases—Kerosene, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Revolution—sounded like fire hazards.)
For more than a decade the hit singles and gold trophies rolled in, and the klieg-light blast that came with her 2011 marriage to Blake Shelton imbued them both with fresh power-couple luster: the Brangelina of down-home Oklahoma. Then came their now-infamous 2015 split, and an ugly tabloid echo chamber to gleefully document the wreckage in real time.
But D-I-V-O-R-C-E, of course, is exactly the kind of emotional cannon fodder that immortal country songs are made of. And Weight‘s double-album length is a gold mine for anyone looking to know exactly where the ex–Mrs. Shelton’s head is at. “I carry them around with me, I don’t mind havin’ scars/Happiness ain’t prison but there’s freedom in a broken heart,” she sings plaintively on the thrumming, expansive opener “Runnin’ Just in Case.” Taken together, these 24 songs—notably free of slick production and special guests—do feel like a sort of emotional jailbreak, restless open-road anthems and raw-nerved confessionals written by a woman with her hands on the wheel and no particular desire for a steady plus-one in the passenger seat. There may or may not be bourbon in her Big Gulp cup; if some of those late-night pit stops and detours lead to bad choices, she’ll own them.
In a lot of ways Weight lines right up with Nashville’s recent small-batch bid for renewed authenticity—a bro-country course corrective spearheaded by lauded outlaw revivalists like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. But the major players in that movement have mostly been men, beardy and reverent and nowhere near Lambert’s level of fame. Though her star power here is undiminished, the album feels looser and more vulnerable than her earlier work, sometimes even surprisingly subdued. But the melodies, once they start to dig their hooks in, sound as if they’ve always been there—especially on early standouts like “Pink Sunglasses,” a swaggering celebration of “the power of plastic—positive plastic”; jangly jukebox ramble “Highway Vagabond”; and sly last-call stomper “Ugly Lights.” Even as Lambert’s stylistic reach swerves from hip-cocked honky-tonk to delicate back-porch balladry, nearly every track has at least one line that should find immortality on a throw pillow or a tombstone.
Double albums often run the risk of offering too much; that 22nd bite of pie never tastes quite as sweet as the first five. And more than a few songs here could probably sneak out the back door without being overly missed. There’s something pleasingly organic, though, in Weight‘s cohesiveness; it asks for patience and rewards it, weaving true tales of regret and resilience into one fiercely honest, gloriously flawed whole. Bless this mess.
Vice: The lead single’s rueful love letter to wrong turns and misdemeanors
Highway Vagabond: A near-perfect wanderlust anthem
Pushin’ Time: A lovely heartbreaker of a ballad
Ugly Lights: Every barfly’s best nightmare
The Weight of These Wings