While Miranda Lambert’s debut album Kerosene offered a refreshing burst of artistic exuberance and a relative disregard for the conventions and methods employed by her then would-be peers, the album suffered from a certain narrative naivety and a notable lack of artistic refinement. With her sophomore effort, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Lambert brought her artistic vision into clearer focus on an album that showcased a young woman who was a bit more road-weary and a hell of a lot less blindly optimistic than when she began her musical journey.
Despite it’s near universal critical acclaim, however, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was mired in a struggle between the firepower and aggression that had come to define Lambert’s image (and which underscored a considerable portion of her songwriting) and abstract meanderings through a string of love and heartbreak ballads. Those ballads came off as largely esoteric, and while the album provided a degree of irreverence and rebellion that country music has been lacking in recent years, it nonetheless seemed like an incomplete artistic statement–one on which Lambert failed to fully realize her potential and utilize her multi-dimensional talent.
Revolution finally brings all of these conflicting issues into balance, resulting in Lambert’s most even and satisfying disc to date. Now fully evolved as a vocalist and showcasing significantly matured songwriting skills, here she mostly avoids shooting people and burning things, instead choosing to focus on deconstructing the emotional core of her anger, her frustration and—perhaps most strikingly—her happiness (an emotion notably absent from her two previous efforts).
It can’t be overstated that Lambert’s songwriting has taken a huge step forward since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a record on which even her best songs lacked definition and clarity. Revolution is 15 songs deep, and each of those 15 are fully-formed stories that stick, thanks to Lambert’s deft lyrical strokes and her willingness to write candidly about both her personal strengths and shortcomings. “Love Song,” co-penned by Blake Shelton, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelly is Lambert’s most mature and accessible ballad yet, while singles “Dead Flowers” and “White Liar” are satisfying peeks into love in transition.
Lambert’s movement away from the “attitude songs” for which she may be most well-known makes way for perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Revolution–the fact that we actually get to feel some of the personality that was previously obstructed by her need to prove herself a bad girl. Lambert’s wry humor shines on “Only Prettier,” a wonderfully playful ditty that stands well outside country music’s typical thematic boundaries. Likewise, the early middle-section of the album showcases a quirky trifecta of two-and-a-half minute songs that feels somewhat like a series of character sketches and serves as an experiential romp through some of country music’s most intriguing possibilities. “Me And Your Cigarettes,” “Maintain The Pain” and “Airstream Song” each build on different influences (ranging from respectful pop-country to a subtle nod to the Bakersfield sound), yet fit together surprisingly snugly, a seven-minute subset that adds depth to a long album that never outwears its welcome.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was, by all accounts, a record that demanded (and demanded loudly) attention. Revolution is a more sensitive, quiet and nuanced album that is all the more satisfying for those qualities. For the first time in her career, Lambert is the storyteller that many have always believed she could be, and more often than not the material on Revolution is so far beyond her past work that it would hardly fit on those earlier albums.
This truth is especially highlighted by “The House That Built Me,” Revolution’s finest track—and one which, ironically, Lambert didn’t write. Penned by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, the song finds Lambert going back her childhood home, remembering how the gravity of the place shaped her. As great as the song is, it’s Lambert’s restrained and beautifully emotive vocal performance that makes it so completely moving.
If Revolution lacks anything, it is due to the fact that producers Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke are unable to match Lambert’s greatness. At times, the album’s production is too full, too generic and too layered. This is mostly true on the album’s more rocking tracks, where the arrangements sometimes seem sloppy, and where the playing often lacks character. The greatest artists, bands and producers approach the recording of their music with an obsessive, often borderline-neurotic attention to detail, believing that every note that is sung or played must serve a purpose to deserve a place in the final recording. To those people, the music is sacred, and timeless, and powerful. Occasionally on Revolution, there is a frustrating lack of that attention to detail, a fact which betrays Lambert’s commitment to her art.
Fortunately, those instances are only occasional, and the strength of Lambert’s singing and writing elevates those moments beyond the limitations of their production. To that end, Revolution fires on nearly all cylinders and hits nearly every mark, positioning itself as the best country record of the year and serving as a turning point in the career of a young woman who is, at this moment, country music’s most interesting and artistically relevant artist.