The women of country, such as Kacey Musgraves, girl group The Highwomen, and Maren Morris, are consistent in their country music industry endeavors: They deliver personal pieces and masterfully original lyrics. Industry veteran Miranda Lambert, with her seventh studio album, affirms her spot among the growing ranks. Wildcard delivers hard-hitting elements of country rock and soft melodies, with a tongue-and-cheek tone that sharply diverges from her previous album.
Back in 2016, Lambert released The Weight of These Wings, a double LP brimming with the emotional aftermath of Lambert’s divorce from country singer Blake Shelton. This album was a journey for Lambert and listeners. Charted within the bounds of 24 songs, she left it all on the table—her heart, her country soul, and her past.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lambert admitted, “There were some fun moments on The Weight of These Wings, but just that whole portion of my life and art was not the funnest time. With [Wildcard] I just wanted to cut loose a little bit.”
But time heals all wounds. Maybe it’s her new beau (New York police officer Brendan McLoughlin), or maybe it’s her decision to partner with country producer Jay Jocye (who’s worked with Keith Urban, Little Big Town, and Carrie Underwood, among others) but there’s renewed energy and reinvention in Lambert’s sound on Wildcard. Elements of rock surface and are masterfully characterized with electric guitar riffs and drums, and her playful lyrics are sparked with slapdash humor.
Lambert’s light-hearted lyrics are best displayed in her pre-released single “It All Comes Out in the Wash,” a song that offers Tide as the solution to all life’s embarrassments, mistakes, and heartbreaks. Singing “You take the sin and the men and you throw ’em all in / And you put that sucker on spin,” Lambert attests to second chances and starting over.
Her coy humor also shines on “White Trash” and “Pretty Bitchin’,” two songs that juxtapose country clichés like trailer parks, and “Titos in the kitchen” with banjos and guitars.
In “Mess With My Head,” a daringly dangerous electric guitar piece, Lambert sings about a late-night rendezvous soured by the relationship’s dynamic. Lambert sings, “You treat my mind like a hotel room / And I know why I gave the keys to you / I let you mess with my, mess with my head.” It’s inventive, addicting, and hits that sweet spot between a country ballad and rock anthem.
Maren Morris joins Lambert on “Way Too Pretty for Prison,” a devious duet with a sarcastic twist. Opening to crashing cymbals, the song passes lyrics between the two singers about how they were cheated on, wronged, and consequently in pursuit of revenge. The thing holding them back from exacting their revenge: the “Lunch trays don’t come with Chardonnay” and “the state won’t pay for lash extensions.” In short, they’re way too pretty for prison.
“Way Too Pretty for Prison” reinvents the vengeful tone of Lambert’s earlier works, like “Kerosene” and ”Gunpowder and Lead.” Rather than taking her lover to the grave for all his mistakes, she’s willing to call on another to do the dirty work, while she sits back drinking Chardonnay.
“Holy Water” combines the backdrop of a rhythm and blues church choir with country swing and sway. Lambert’s voice transforms on this song. Raspy and rugged, she begs for a “hit of that holy water.” Rather than seeking religious redemption, though, Lambert sings “holy water’s gonna make us drown,” referencing religious corruption. The song is coy in its political arch, but its sentiment lingers just enough to tinge already tainted waters.
“Bluebird” is a sweet tune that talks about taking hold of the cards life throws at you and turning lemons into lemonade. The album’s title is pulled from its refrain: “And if the house just keeps on winning / I got a wildcard up my sleeve.” Lambert’s lyrics play with these sayings, unraveling them as she sings about changing her own fate.
Although Lambert is newly married, Wildcard’s focus doesn’t lean heavily into romance, making the subtle mention of her relationship a charming rarity. “How Dare You Love” is about the unexpected and uncontrollable feeling of falling in love. “Fire Escape,” is an imaginative piece that elicits a hazy, retro New York romance when Lambert starts off singing, “We’ll smoke like a couple in the 1960s / Lit up like a pair of Woodstock hippies.”
Wildcard belongs to Lambert. There is no mistaking her humor, nor the album’s storyline for any other artist but Lambert. For all her jokes are worth, Wildcard balances a lot of heart and introspection. Each song taps into her deeply personal past and present, and her journey since The Weight of These Wings. No longer weighed down, Lambert soars on Wildcard.
Featured Image by RCA Records Nashville