Miranda Lambert - Four The Record

This is, admittedly, a bit of a curveball. Miranda Lambert is very much a product of pop-country’s starmaking machinery — a pretty blonde woman singing sparkling, glossily produced songs in an industry full of people who match that exact same description. She got her break when she came in third on the reality show Nashville Star, and the one time I saw her live was when she opened for Toby Keith at a New Jersey arena a few years ago. For plenty of the people reading this paragraph, all those things will immediately mark out Lambert as some form of The Enemy. But one thing that many stripes of music fans persistently fail to acknowledge is that Nashville’s assembly line is extremely good at what it does. If you turn on country radio at any time, you’re going to hear the work of complete professionals, songs immaculately written and beautifully performed, with plainspoken story-song lyrics that people relate to because, at their best, they’re absolutely and unapologetically moving, the same way a nakedly manipulative Hollywood film can be moving. And for the past five years or so, Miranda Lambert has been, quite possibly, the best thing to come out of that particular business.

Lambert’s first two major-label albums, Kerosene and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, are basically perfect. Lambert’s elastic twang works just fine for lovestruck power-ballads, but it’s way better on fire-eyed whoop-your-ass revenge-songs, and those dominate the first two albums. “Gunpowder & Lead,” the opening track on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, might be the best place to start, since it’s the one about Lambert waiting for an abusive man to come home so that Lambert can blast his head off with a shotgun. It’s also an excellent example of Nashville craft: A slicked-up, fast-chugging Southern-rockabilly burner with the sort of chorus that refuses to leave your head for days on end. Revolution, Lambert’s last album, came in the midst of Lambert’s public romance with lanky country-pop wiseacre Blake Shelton, and it was a bit heavier on gushy ballads than I would’ve liked, though it’s still a rock-solid piece of work. And just a few months ago, Lambert’s side-project Pistol Annies released an album called Hell On Heels, with a title track that shows off just how nasty Nashville nihilism can get.

Four The Record is Lambert’s most stylistically wide-ranging album yet, and it piles layer on layer. It’s her first since she and Shelton got married, but even “Dear Diamond,” the expected soft-focus wedding song, carries stinging implications that Lambert’s been out cheating — and Lambert wrote the song herself, so she’s the one who put it there. The tender ballads, like the album-closing one-two of “Nobody’s Fool” and “Oklahoma Sky,” are perfectly lovely; another, “Look At Miss Ohio,” is a committed cover of Gillian Welch’s minor alt-country classic. “Fine Tune,” is tipsy blues-rock, and the single “Baggage Claim” has an amazing Southern-soul organ solo right in between a couple of soaring choruses. But the fast-chugging spitfire-rage bangers, the sorts of songs that Lambert built her rep on, are the real highlights. And there are some diamond-hard snarlers on here: “Fastest Girl In Town” and “Mama’s Broken Heart” in particular. Those are the ones that linger like a slap to the face. Give them a chance.

Four The Record is out today on RCA Nashville. Please note: Florence And The Machine’s Ceremonials, also out today, is a dope album, but we’ve already written about that one at length.

“Baggage Claim”:

“Mama’s Broken Heart”:

Comments (82)
  1. This is why Tom is like my favorite music writer on the web. He speaks the truth about music regardless of the positive or negative cultural connotations behind the genre and/or artist. I personally love country for the reasons listed by Tom in the opening paragraph, even if it isn’t aesthetically innovative or culturally relevant, because a lot of what gets played on country radio are just damn good pop songs.

  2. Interesting, bold choice for Album of the Week. I unapologetically love the first 2 Miranda Lambert records. The third one left me cold enough that I’d been planning to give this one a pass, but now I’m intrigued

  3. haha good one guys

  4. I await the inevitable Album of the Week: Lana Del Rey.

  5. Wal-Mart country rOOLZ So HARd!!

  6. Yowza. Stereogum delivers the one-two punch of not knowing their M83 from their Neon Indian and bumping sub-Bon-Jovi so-called-country soft rock. What is going on today? Is it April 1st already?

  7. Let’s all re-read the first paragraph starting with the sentence “But one thing that many stripes of music fans persistently fail to acknowledge..”

    Brave choice, Stereogum. Kudos.

  8. Barfy music. Would you really listen to this Stereogum? Really? I doubt it.

  9. This Kmart country sucks and the writer is about as musically educated as a sack of cold shit.

  10. Wow. I admittedly read this blog less and less every month, and it seems every time I come back it is more self-calculating and attempting to appeal to everyone more than it was before (Double Take reviews anyone?). Now you’re giving mass market country albums a glowing review? Seriously? This is almost too much.

    I love this quote: “Nashville’s assembly line is extremely good at what it does.” Yeah. And so is KFC, Two and a Half Men, and Wal-Mart. Make a product as efficiently and profitable as possible on a large scale without any consideration of quality. This is corporate lab music. You cannot be serious with this post. Not to discredit the talent of the musicians themselves involved in this genre (they’re usually all wildly talented), but the music itself is business as usual. There’s nothing wrong with it, just like there’s nothing wrong with Coldplay. It is what it is. There is a ton of great original country music out there though, ain’t this ain’t it. That’s why there is a genre out there labeled alt-country. It’s an alternative to the CMT homogenization.

    I hate internet indie snarkiness so if you like this music, cool (good cop-out me!), but I thought this blog was a celebration of forward thinking, creative, and original music. There are already a number of distribution channels out there for this stuff.

  11. I tried. I listened to the tracks you posted here, and I’ve heard some of her songs on the radio (I flip past the country station admittedly when I get bored), but this isn’t doing anything for me. There’s nothing wrong with shiny and well-produced pop music, but there doesn’t strike me as anything worth a second glance in these songs. I listened to “Mama’s Broken Heart” expecting some kind of revelation, and it sounded like a pretty stereotypical breakup, and after listening to “Baggage Claim,” I didn’t really find anything exceptional about using organ in a country song. When it comes to country music, I really like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, alt-country, and a lot of your old outlaw country/Porter Wagoner type stuff. The quintessentially Nashville George Jones has some really nicely produced songs, but this album here doesn’t really strike me as anything more than product. Hats off for trying to be different, but it doesn’t matter if the music isn’t there.

  12. really excited about this! four the record is great!

  13. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  14. This = nope.

    I understand the the music is probably just fine. And I think I understand your reasons behind this selection. But I don’t come to Stereogum to be told about new music that the Target music section end-cap will also tell me about.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it’s good to go back to some radio-friendly pop tunes, just to clear our heads…

    Why not get some classical up in here???

  15. This is REALLY BAD music. There’s plenty of stuff this site covers that I’m not into, but this is pretty silly. I don’t see it, at all. Is this a paid promotion? That’s the only way this would make sense.

    This is not a “country music sucks” or “pop music sucks” or “Wal-Mart-country music sucks” thing. Let me make that clear. This is some silly-ass music.

  16. Buzzmedia, what’s the going rate for album of the week? I’m A&R for some pretty bad bands.

  17. Wow Tom your willingness to go against the grain and buck what we would expect you to name album of the week makes you so cool. Ignore the fact that less than 1% of your audience will actually like this album and do a full review. I’ve said it before but Tom’s taste in music sucks major dick.

  18. What the hell is wrong with all you people? Music is music at the end of the day.

  19. Miranda Lambert is terrific. I just wish you wrote for a better site so that you didn’t have to spend half this review being defensive about the commercial context of a great record. And also for the sake of your own sanity. How long can you write about music for an audience that doesn’t hear it?

  20. This could very well be the best album ever recorded, but it doesn’t really belong on this website.

  21. To those melting down: are you telling me an artist like Drake isn’t the product of massive music machinery? I don’t see comment sections with the same reaction to him than what’s shown here.
    So he “belongs” here but this doesn’t?

    This is the music your country probably does better than any other place in the entire world, and I’d prefer to hear about it from someone with a perspective similar to mine than some Country-exclusive blog.

    Nothing incites White on White crime more than a bit of Nashville on a site for US, not THEM.

    Sheezus.

    • To address your double-standard argument about Drake, he very early on established crossover attention from indie blogs such as this on his self-released So Far Gone mixtape by sampling non-hip-hop indie bands like Lykki Li and Peter Bjorn and John. He also uses his blog often to plug or show his appreciate for new music by Beach House or How to Dress Well, whose style of music ultimately has been slicked up and tidied by Drake’s friend, The Weeknd. I’m not familiar with Miranda Lambert’s work or her tastes in music (She could very well be jamming out to Arcade Fire covers for all I know during her downtime) but I think here on Stereogum, those who are familiar with Drake’s history know full well that there’s more to him than what his commercialized image shows.

    • I don’t particularly care for Drake, but no, he’s not the product of a massive music machinery. He was an unsigned mixtape star for about two years before he got picked up by a big music “machine”. You could also say that the subject matter in his songs and some of the sample choices in his tracks have something unexpected about them in a rap context. I don’t see how anyone could hear anything unusual or unexpected in a Miranda Lambert album.

      But hey, let’s all come together on Stereogum and enjoy music for what it is. EVERYTHING belongs here. I hear Michael Buble’s Christmas album is great, for what it is. Donny and Marie are also top-notch, if you’re into that kind of stuff.

    • For what it’s worth I think Drake sucks far worse than Miranda Lambert.

      • I said “like Drake”, so feel free to insert Kanye, Waka Flocka Flame, T.I., or any other mainstream Hip Hop artist generally accepted by the “indie crowd”. You ever hear of Pavlo? The mediocre flamenco guitar player from Toronto who made a load of cash when he was illegally sampled by R. Kelly? Yes, I know Kelly gets the “indie” stamp of approval but probably not for acknowledging an independent artist.
        Do you even remember what the previous Album of the Week was? It was Black Tusk, there were 5 posted comments. Have you listened to it? I can only speculate that most readers simply accepted that a Heavy band got the nod and moved on, because Heavy music is “cool”.

        If this is like darts on ESPN, you have the choice to not read or change the channel. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on or written about.

        I can (literally) throw a rock from my backyard and it would land on Degrassi St., and I don’t think Drake gets a pass. Not sure where that leaves that argument.

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

        • the Degrassi comment was a joke bra, chillax! and OMG you live so close!

          Nobody is saying that Miranda’s kickass new record about break-ups, heartaches, and trustworthy old Ford pickups shouldn’t be written about, it just shouldn’t be written about on a blog that showcases off-kilter music in it’s various forms.

          Also, nobody is exactly saying that the article is poorly written or anything like that, it’s just an audience-gauging misstep. Although, by making this the Album of the Week, I’m sure that SG is attracting new readership, so maybe it’s just a cash grab? Who knows. It’s made for a great discussion today.

          Not unlike Nashville, ICP and Psychopathic records is pretty amazing at what it does too, they are the actual definition of Indie (as independent, which has lost all meaning). All that being said, I still don’t think we should be discussing their albums on this site, either. Unless Jack White is involved, obv!

          There is hard-to-define aesthetic at play here and Ms. Lambert, at this point in her career, doesn’t make the cut.

          • You’re making too many assumptions.
            “it just shouldn’t be written about on a blog that showcases off-kilter music in it’s various forms.” That is not for you to decide.
            “it’s just an audience-gauging misstep.” You’re assuming that all readers add comments, which I’m sure isn’t the case. Just because the majority of what has been discussed is negative, the overall opinion of Stereogum readership towards this artist can’t be gauged based on the comment section.
            “at this point in her career, doesn’t make the cut.” Add “I feel” before “doesn’t make the cut”, and your point has more value.

            You made your opinion clear of the music with ample histrionics; I just don’t see why a music site that discusses Rihanna and Beyonce can’t discuss Miranda Lambert, who, like those examples, records pop music that’s simply played with different instruments.

            I know you were joking.

          • let’s just agree to disagree.

            see you at the CMA’s

    • i think you’re the only one melting down.

    • Drake’s song moto sounded good. I listened to it and genuinely enjoyed it, that’s it. I’m kinda annoyed that Miranda Lambert’z music is artistically unsatisfactory an generally uugh fuckin big huge queef. I amount of play she’s getting in the indie-music cannon iz not really the issue

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  22. Degrassi alum get a pass.

    I think it’s the straight up mass market pop country aspect that I take issue with, not so much that it is popular or part of the music machine, because let’s face it, SG is as much a part of the music machine as Miranda Lambert or Coldplay or even your boy Drake. I would venture to say that SG’s readership knows little about watered down pop-country and furthermore doesn’t care.

    This is like reading about dart throwing championships on EPSN, yes it is related, but who cares.

  23. Fuck it – lets continue driving down this odd road: Speaking of quality assembly line music, can we all please start talking about the new Nickelback album and how they are hit machines?

    • A lot of the things I wanna say have already been said by other commenters, but I’d just like to expand on Evan’s comment here. The rationale is absolutely correct. With the logic that’s been applied to posting this review, you could just as easily make the next “Album of the Week” the new Nickelback album. In fact it would actually be more eligible, considering that Chad Kroeger writes nearly all his own material, and Miranda Lambert doesn’t. She’s an interchangeable blonde country girl whose songs could have been anyone else’s. It could have been a flip of the coin that put those tracks on her album rather than Carrie Underwood’s or Taylor Swift’s. Until she’s featured as a guest on a Fleet Foxes track, I believe that she and her kind shouldn’t be talked about here, much less lauded with critical acclaim.

      But hey, your site, your rules.

      • we’re talking about fucking nickelback – don’t change the subject.

        anyway, how do you think chad gets his hair to look so soft? pony cum?

  24. Made it a whole 1minute and 14 seconds! I feel like I’m 9 and my mom just picked me up from school.

  25. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • It’s more hipster to act like you like this decision to review this album that no one here really will ever listen too. Liking every type of music doesn’t make you worldly it makes you a lying douchebag.

      • Oh shit. you pulled out the douchebag. Can you read critically or are you just a gop on pop kinda guy? I never said I liked it. I said it was a rational choice because he gave his rationalization. You can’t slam some one’s musical choice. Tastes are different and him liking ML is rationalized well. Noone told you to like it. So stop freaking the fuck out, hipster. Besides you haven’t even heard her album Angry White Teengirl with Teengirl Fantasy.

  26. you guys are losers for arguing if this is appropriate or not and I’m an even bigger fucking loser for reading it. and we’re all closer to death. THANKS A BUNDLE GUYS.

  27. Am I the only SG reader who likes her? FYI, her last two were also the only mainstream country album I’ve ever bought, so I’m not a knowledgeable fan of the genre or anything. When I first heard Kerosene many years back, it struck me as different and defiant for country. I liked Gunpowder and Lead for the same reason and finally took the plunge into the genre with that album. I also thought Dead Flowers was about as emotional of a ballad as I’ve heard in the year it came out. So yeah, she’s the one mainstream country artist I like, I’m looking forward to this one and I could care less if anyone makes fun of me for liking one mainstream country artist.

  28. The only wal-mart country song I”ve heard that I was like “that’s a pretty good song” is when I was like 6 and heard Tim Mcgraw’s “Stars Go Blue.” Then I later found out it’s a Ryan Adams song, so that explains that.. I know, ‘Cool story bro’.

  29. Well there are actually lots of Walmart country songs that are even better than that one. Tim Mcgraws Dont Take The Girl, Deana Carters- Strawberry Wine, and Randy Travis’ Forever and Ever Amen are just a few great ones. What irks me about this post is that Miranda Lambert doesn’t have any songs that hold a candle to those. Which makes me wonder..”Why her.” I actually went on the Billboard country Charts and listened to most of the 30 songs on the top country chart list, and I would say that Miranda’s song was about the the 16th or 17th best one. None of them were very good. Except that George Strait song. That one was decent. So I wonder why none of those songs have gotten any play here. If stereogum wants to start pushing Pop Country, thats fine with me. But just to single her out as like the Kanye West of Pop country is silly, because her songs aren’t even close to the best ones being released today. I think its because she comes across as a girl who might be a little more interested in music than say Carrie Underwood, who seems like she probably has owned about 5 records total her entire life… Miranda Lambert seems like she maybe might have heard of Stereogum or Pitchfork before. Thats the only reason I can see that so many indie blogs like to show her love…. Because as far as her songs go. They suck. Their actually worse than most Pop Country songs. Which is pretty bad. Oh yeah…and Brooks and Dunn have some jams too!

  30. I think we can all agree “Achy Breaky Heart” is just about the pinnacle of western music, so let’s just leave it at that

  31. I hate all of you.

  32. So, Brian Wilson’s lost masterpiece “Smile” is FINALLY given proper release this week, to the delight of many-a music nerd’s ears… An album many have been waiting their entire lives to hear, by one of the greatest and most influential bands of all time… and… Miranda fucking Lambert is the album of the week? You’re high off your ass if you think this is the best album of ANY week. Imagine that Hemingway had a long lost masterpiece which had never been published and were finally to see the light of day and the NYTimes Book Review pushed it to the back page in favor of the new Twilight novel. Get why people are upset? People don’t come to Stereogum to read about Miranda Lambert. It doesn’t matter if it’s great or if it’s shit. Country is a genre that Stereogum readers simply are not interested in. Please… your “about” page says that you’re “…the leading online community for INDEPENDENT and ALTERNATIVE music news”.

    http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/lambert_miranda/artist.jhtml

    ^^^ That’s where I’ll read about my favorite “Country music stars”.

    What ARE you about?

  33. you people are hilarious. i resent that i happen to like the same music as an entire audience that takes itself so seriously that something like this causes legitimate outrage. i don’t care that this is the album of the week, nor do i plan on listening to it. because it’s the freaking stereogum album of the week, not anything remotely important enough to me to inspire such elitism and ignorance. half of you are so wrapped up in your silly little blogs, and so entrenched in your own personal little indieshere that this IS new, exciting music but you all have too much weird misplaced pride to even acknowledge it. or rather, you leave indignant comments saying the writer is stupid and uneducated simply because you have an aversion to anything labeled “country.” i’m not a fan of country music, but sometimes you people made me wish i lived in alabama and devoted my entire life to becoming a groupie for faith hill.

  34. Way to alienate your devoted readers Stereogum. Sounds like a great move.

  35. Love the comments here. Truth is, this choice comes down to personal taste. Miranda Lambert can sing. She has a great voice. She’s teamed with quality musicians and writers. It would be different if she couldn’t sing, or if the musicianship was lacking. More than likely, Miranda is never going to produce her Kid A or Pet Sounds. I just don’t think she has that level of creativity. But her two previous albums and this one are simply fun to listen to. The songs are catchy and infectious, if you can get past the fact that she’s not from Brooklyn and doesn’t have the word “bear” in her name.

  36. Great review Tom! Haters gonna hate but I’m a huge Miranda fan. These hipsters are pissed because you gave album of the week to, heaven forbid……a country album! I grew up in Norcal but have been listening to country since I was in the womb and i feel that Miranda is different that the typical country female. I love her new CD and I can admit that I had to listen to some of the songs a few times before I really liked them. I also don’t feel that is is appropriate for people to comment about her album if they only listened to one song or half of a song before turning it off. If you’re a country hater than back off! Miranda is here to stay and if you don’t like country music then why are you reviewing/reading this article?!

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