The canon of break-up albums includes some of the most iconic albums ever recorded. Whether it be Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” (1977), Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” (1995), Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” (2006) or Adele’s “21” (2011), records such as these capture the tumultuous emotions that come with the end of a relationship and help take listeners on their own journey of working through whatever heartbreak they may be experiencing. With her sixth studio album, “Weight of These Wings,” country singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert effortlessly joins the ranks of these great break-up artists, as she details the fallout from her own divorce.
In July of last year, Lambert and then-husband Blake Shelton, a country star in his own right, announced their separation seemingly out of the blue. Unlike other recent celebrity breakups, such as that of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Lambert and Shelton seemed to end their marriage rather quietly and provided no concrete reason for the split. However, this does not mean that rumors didn’t fly for the better part of the year, as tabloids released countless stories speculating about the reasons behind their divorce.
“Weight of These Wings,” which was released Nov. 18, ultimately feels like a response to all this emotional upheaval and signifies a marked departure for the Texas native. Over the course of her previous albums, including “Kerosene” (2005) and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (2007), Lambert had cemented her place as a mainstay in country music by playing the role of the fiery, scorned ex-lover, indicative of said album titles. Yet Lambert’s latest release takes a more emotionally-nuanced approach over the course of its two discs and 24 tracks, as she fearlessly wears her scars while working through a flurry of emotions and musical genres.
“Runnin’ Just in Case,” which opens the album and first section “The Nerve,” gently eases the listener into this journey, combining classic country instrumentals with a more expansive sound. The track sees Lambert reflecting on her Southern roots and the emotional weight of being largely mobile for the better part of a decade, especially as she is embarking on her quest to find herself once more. As she poignantly sings at the track’s end, “Happiness ain’t prison but there’s freedom in a broken heart.”
The rest of the first half of “The Weight of These Wings” is built around this concept of grief and exploring its implications. “Ugly Lights” is a rowdy country rock anthem that details drinking alone at a bar to cope with loss, made evident when Lambert nonchalantly sings “I wear my sadness like a souvenir.” On the sardonic “Pink Sunglasses,” Lambert sings about cheap eyewear helping to “Always makes the world look a little bit better,” while clearly avoiding her current pain. The tender, almost leisurely “Use My Heart” marks the end of the section and sees a wounded Lambert admitting “I don’t have the nerve to use my heart.”
However, it is lead single “Vice” that is perhaps the highlight of the section, encapsulating the heart of the album in its four-minute runtime. With the rebellious singer of Lambert’s previous studio albums long gone, the smoky country-rock hybrid sees a fragile Lambert lamenting the loss of one of her great loves. The remorseful, eerie track features an atmospheric chorus signaled by the crashing of an electric guitar and cymbals as she resignedly sings “Another call, another bed I shouldn’t crawl out of / At 7 a.m. with shoes in my hand / Said I wouldn’t do it, but I did it again / And I know I’ll be back tomorrow night, oh.”
The second section of Lambert’s sixth LP, “The Heart,” continues to tell her story, though she now confronts her grief and loss rather than drinking or running away from it. The simple guitar ballad “Tin Man” references the eponymous character from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900), as she confesses “Take it from me darling / You don’t want a heart.” While still a bit of a downer, “To Learn Her” sees Lambert making peace with the fact that her partner has moved on and offers sage advice that “To love her is to learn her / Some things you just can’t learn.”
Somewhat fittingly, “I’ve Got Wheels” closes out the album, serving as a full circle moment. The track starts outs as a dreamy, mid-tempo tune, but by its end, it becomes a resolute anthem to continually moving forward, despite the pain one faces. While Lambert admits “Sometimes these wheels / Get a little heavy,” she triumphantly declares “Damn these wheels / I’m rolling on.”
Just like that, Lambert’s journey ends, and while her scars may heal, the lessons from them will never fade — a true testament to the story she is telling.