Is Miranda Lambert, who turned 30 last year, still the trigger-happy wildling she once was? Or has she now officially become a happily married woman settled contentedly into a new decade of life, with all the goodness and wisdom that getting older brings with it?
To hear her talk, you might think it's mostly the latter: "Even just talking to my friends—I was out at the [Kentucky] Derby this weekend, and people were showing baby pictures, and dog pictures—'Look at my puppies!' They were talking about Obamacare, or whatever," Miranda said in a recent interview. "It's not 'What concert are you gonna go see?' anymore, it's 'Baby started eating cereal!' It changes, but it's fun. It's a good thing."
But is Ms. Lambert a completely new woman now? Well, as I said in my review of her 2011 release Four the Record, the answer is still "not quite." Her fifth album, Platinum, is a feisty 16-song effort that strives to prove that she can raise the roof while living under it.
"Automatic" pines for yesteryear's simplicity and suggests that life was better before technology took over. It also praises hard work and the permanence of marriage, remembering a time when "staying married was the only way to work your problems out." "Holding on to You" says Lambert's relationship with her husband is better than anything else in life.
A woman works toward a healthier mental state as she cries in the bathroom (on "Bathroom Sink"): "It's amazing the amount of rejection/That I see in my reflection/And I can't get out of the way/I'm lookin' forward to the girl I wanna be/But regret has a got a way of staring me right in the face." Then the song lets us know that the girl's mother taught her to pray, which is where it concludes: "I pray as I get ready/Forgot to make me steady/And I thank Him for his patience."
On "Priscilla," Lambert writes something of an open letter to Priscilla Presley, asking how to cope with other women trying to seduce her husband—a problem tabloids have suggested that Lambert (who is married to country superstar and The Voice judge Blake Shelton) has as well. She sings, "How do you or don't you get the love you want when everybody wants your man?/It's a difficult thing being queen to the king/And I feel ya/ … Married to a man who's married to attention/Couldn't think of anybody better to ask/How to be the first to make it last."
"Two Rings Shy" finds a righteously indignant wife telling a selfish husband she won't "get dressed up, just to be your clown." He's a drinker with a wandering eye, we learn, and she's just not willing to objectify herself to "compete" with other women who've attracted his attention. "Babies Makin' Babies" seems to try at times to be a cautionary tale about teen sex and its consequences, namely a more difficult economic future. We also get shout-outs to forgiveness and the sanctity of human life ("Oh, but all has been forgiven/On the day the water christen/The best thing that could have ever happened by mistake"). But …
It also suggests that out-of-wedlock teen sex is just what happens in small towns … and actually what keeps them going ("Well, it's a tried and true equation/Maintains a small-town population/That turns us all into a family"). "Smokin' and Drinkin'" (with Little Big Town) reminisces about how two rebellious teens liked to kill time: "We be lighting up and saying 'This town sucks' so we painted it on the bridge/We were young in love to not know enough that those were the days that we were going to miss/But, d‑‑n, we know it now 'cause that's all we talk about: smokin' and drinkin'."
"Girls" describes a beautiful, tough woman with the provocative line, "Imagine a fighter with a centerfold face." It also suggests that this untamed blue-collar beauty is someone who's so independent she can never commit to just one man: "If you think you're the only one she'll want in this world/Then you don't know nothin' about girls." On "Little Red Wagon," a woman's sassiness crosses into girl-power-gone-wild territory: "And I've got long, blonde hair/And I play guitar, and I go on the road/And I do all the s‑‑‑ you wanna do."
Two mildly suggestive references to sex show up on "Priscilla" as Miranda laments, "Golden gate, we have to put up a gate/To find time to procreate/ … And I shouldn't have to play that part/At least while we're not in bed." "Bathroom Sink" says a mother "taught me how to pray and drink." "All That's Left" finds a fed-up woman giving up on her emotionally absent husband ("All that's left for you to do is leave"). "Hard Staying Sober" justifies and minimizes a woman's addiction to alcohol and cigarettes in the wake of a tough breakup ("Why do you think the world drinks? Why do you think the world smokes?/ … Somebody somewhere is out having a ball and somebody's laying around heartbroke").
"Another Sunday in the South" celebrates the lazy goodness of a Sunday … while admitting that church isn't part of the picture. "Somethin' Bad" narrates a Thelma & Louise-like tale of how a runaway bride connects with another woman for a drunken road trip and crime spree. "Old Sh!t" is an otherwise innocuous song praising old things … while repeating this phrase eight times to make the point: "I'm a fan of old s‑‑‑." The similarly crass "Gravity Is a B‑‑ch" repeats that coarse observation five times as it reflects on the perils of getting older. Other occasional profanities on the album include "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "a‑‑."
Is something like maturity emerging in Lambert's music … and life? It seems so, especially in moments where she celebrates marriage, family and prayer. But Miranda's still Miranda. And that means we also get fond recollections of teenage smoking, drinking and vandalizing. She shrugs her shoulders over teen sex and looks to Thelma & Louise for road trip inspiration.