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Miranda Lambert - Wildcard Music Album Reviews

With her seventh album, the country star cheerfully exposes her sometimes-chaotic inner life, wearing her heart on her sleeve as she reaches for another shot of tequila.

Miranda Lambert opens Wildcard with confidence: “I’m finally on the up and up.” It’s jarring to hear her use the word finally here, as she’s seemed to be on a long ascent for the past few years. Following the public dissolution of her marriage to fellow country star Blake Shelton, her 2016 double album The Weight of These Wings debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s country charts. Last year’s reunion with the Pistol Annies delivered another bout of biting, clear-eyed songwriting from Lambert and her bandmates. With Wildcard, she cheerfully exposes her sometimes-chaotic inner life, wearing her heart on her sleeve as she reaches for another shot of tequila.


Lambert packs Wildcard with her quick-witted, cheeky observations about her world; it’s as if she strode off the set of a Steel Magnolias reboot and headed straight for the studio. Opener “White Trash” contrasts her have-not days with her more glamorous present, while “It All Comes Out in the Wash” offers reassurance that no stain—be it a splotch of Merlot or some messy gossip—is permanent. The songs are warm, funny, and comforting, acknowledging the hassles of existence outside of the upper class while transforming them into sing-along choruses. Maren Morris joins Lambert on “Way Too Pretty for Prison,” which makes for a punchy later-day foil to the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl.” Lambert and Morris let their cooler heads prevail upon considering the practical realities of incarceration. “The bars there ain’t got boys to buy us drinks,” for one. The pair flip the traditions of timeless murder ballads: they don’t go through with their crime of passion, but they could get away with it if they really wanted to.

Wildcard hits its hellraiser high-water mark with “Locomotive,” a rollicking number where Lambert draws on a familiar country artifact to make a case for her own unbridled power. She belts every verse before careening into a rapid-fire chorus, while a harmonica imitates the long wail of a train horn in the background. The track’s funky instrumental coda sends it out with a stomp. “Tequila Does,” which arrives late in the album, is a steller last-call anthem. Lambert tempers her casual dismay about barroom wannabe-cowboys (who are “all hat, no cattle”) with a chorus that radiates the warm, rosy glow of one-too-many. Not one to sully her beers with tears, Lambert relishes the prospect of going home alone rather than surrendering to potential disappointment. Lambert’s sleight-of-hand with country tropes distinguishes her as a clever songwriter who honors the music’s history without kowtowing to the hagiography of the genre.

Lambert balances her high-spirited romps with more contemplative numbers, cooling off long enough to reflect without flagging Wildcard’s momentum. With “Settling Down,” she examines the forked road ahead of her as a 35-year-old woman, wondering if it’s better to follow her restless spirit or settle down; a gnarled bassline in the bridge recalls the restless churn of an anxious stomach before Lambert bursts into a sunnier chorus. And though Lambert’s mentions of alcohol across Wildcard are mostly celebratory, she acknowledges the more heartbroken side of such pleasures with “Dark Bars.”

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Lambert uses these songs to share some of her reservations about what the next few decades hold for her, but when she takes stock of it all, she lands on a firm conclusion: It’s pretty bitchin’. The heyday of “bitchin’” as a “cool” qualifier came and went with the Reagan administration, but Lambert injects them with new vitality, singing the four-syllable refrain of “Pretty Bitchin’” as equal parts schoolyard taunt and tongue-in-cheek recognition that she does, indeed, have it pretty great.

Wildcard shines in part because Lambert comes across as neither the damsel in distress nor a lone-wolf heroine. The album doesn’t feel “relatable” inasmuch as Lambert and her stable of co-writers (which includes Highwoman Natalie Hemby among other Nashville lights) have distilled common anxieties and insecurities into a batch of excellent country tunes. And though Wildcard is fun as hell, Lambert sounds relaxed, playful, happy, and comfortable throughout. Her “up and up” feels earthly and attainable—it’s not just the Restoration Hardware furniture or the Airstream trailer with white-wall tires. Lambert celebrates the multitudes of being a hot mess, prioritizing the joy of personal growth over lamenting the pitfalls and potholes. Life is, in fact, pretty bitchin’.


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