Dear Miranda Lambert: You will likely never read this review, but if you do, please take away just one thing: More showing, less telling.
Few artists possess a voice with as much fire and personality. Yours is a sweetly scorned thing that seems to saying, ‘Just shut the heck up and listen to me’ on even the lamest of ballads (ahem, “Better in the Long Run”). And no one else today can wield a Southern drawl as it if it’s a weapon, stretching even the word “bangs,” as you do on the downright volatile “Mama’s Broken Heart,” into something that makes a man shiver.
Also, when it comes to songwriting, you do fine – the best, actually – when you’re on your own. Heck, your side project, Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels,” is one of the year’s strongest country records because it’s full of recession-inspired grit, which Four the Record desperately needs. So once and for all, let this be the last album on which there is so much as one song in which you brag about how much you like guns and whiskey. Sorry, but the whole “Fastest Girl in Town” shtick? We get it. Thanks.
Like much that comes out of mainstream Nashville, Lambert can be frustrating. On each of her four albums there are moments of brilliance, songs where her mix of glossy slow-dances and finely tuned rock n’ roll serve to simply let the querulous artist tee-off and burn away any conventions. Then there are songs like “Fine Tune,” which come off like boardroom-constructed attempts to capture Sheryl Crow’s Kid Rock period.
On Four the Record, however, the first knock-down-wow instance comes with “Dear Diamond,” a Lambert-spun tune (of course) that also happens to be the slowest on the album. Here, she crafts a domesticated, murder-free version of “Tell-Tale Heart.” It’s a wedding ring that haunts the narrator, and every move of Lambert’s hand is a reminder of the singer’s betrayal. More fun—and devilish—is “All Kinds of Kinds,” which takes Southern charm and sticks a knife in it. Male congressmen wear women’s clothes, and no-good mothers slip their bratty kids prescription drugs. Yet rather than pander or pledge allegiance to small-town values, Lambert urges the listener to “look in the mirror” and shush it.
In commercial Nashville, such a sentiment is downright revolutionary. So once again—for the fourth album in a row—it’s a shame that such nerviness accounts for only half of Four the Record. —Todd Martens