Review Summary: An "almost classic" marred by a couple of weak tracks...is still worth buying!
Miranda Lambert is a woman who is not afraid of expressing her anger. That would be one way to describe the content of her 2nd album, and it makes it that much more of a tasty listen. After the success of her 1st record, Kerosene, Miranda has come roaring back with a record that not only continues her tough chick persona, it fleshes it out as well.
As it was with Kerosene, Miranda has written the vast majority of the material here. There are only 3 cover songs on "Crazy Ex Girlfriend", and with the conviction that Miranda puts into the songs, they may as well have been straight from her pen as well. The album is split in to 3 sections; the first 4 songs being uptempo and fun, the middle 3 being quiet and introspective (and all written soley by Lambert), and the final 4 which as a whole are darker and not as "fun" even if they are uptempo.
Gun Powder and Lead- The leadoff track starts quietly enough with some ambient noise (it sounds like a wheeze or possibly a snore), and some picked acoustic instrumentation. The instrumentation seems a little light for the subject matter, but the chord progressions build the tension until the huge release of the chorus. Its almost as if you can see and hear a thunderstorm coming, and then it hits hard. The lyrics play out like she watched an episode of "Snapped" and made the story into a song. She's playing the part of a battered woman out for revenge, and she leaves you no doubt as to how the story ends when the shotgun blast sounds at the end of the song.
Dry Town- This is the only "comedy" piece on the record, and is a big change in atmosphere coming right after "Gunpowder." This is also the first cover on the record. The instrumentation is pure country. This is actually as country as this album gets. The lyrics talk about being stranded in a town that has no booze, and the horrible quality of life there. There are hooks and punchlines aplenty in this awesome song.
Famous In A Small Town- The first proper single off the record does not disappoint. It is a summery, shimmery good time of a listen. The acoustic guitars jangle out and the rest of the instruments follow suit, fleshing out this tale of small town fame.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend- If anyone had doubts about Lamberts status as a knuckle and ball buster after "Gunpowder and Lead", this song will squelch them. The whole thing is raucous and edgy. Its lyrics are some of the best on the record with gems like "somebody tell that girl/ step up to the plate I'm gonna pitch....little bitch" and my personal favorite "didn't give a 2nd thought to being thrown in jail/ cuz baby to a hammer, everything looks like a nail...and I was mad as hell!" You can imagine a barfight set to this song, which means Lambert definitley accomplished her goal.
Love Letters- This song begins what I believe is the "heart" of the album: a trio of songs all written soely by Miranda. They are more downtempo and introspective. Sadly, Love Letters is her first mis-step on the this album. The first four songs pass by in a blur of fists and guitars, but this one just isn't strong enough to stand up to all the others. Its played out as a traditional country waltz all the appropriate chromatic chords in the bridge sections, but it comes off as a fascimile rather than the origianl document.
Desperation- This song is much stronger than Love Letters. Its about being lied to, but still wanting to keep the singnificant other around. The sound is very relaxed and loose, even in the more intense sections. Its a big upswing after "Love Letters".
More Like Her- This is hands downt he strongest Lambert composition on the record. Its a tale of being "the other woman", and watching your man go back to his first love. She's not vindictive towards the woman like in "Crazy Ex"...she's actually setting herself up as the inferior girl, saying she should have been "more like her" so the man would have stayed around. However, in the 2nd verse she realizes that the man isn't worthy of either of them.
Down- This song is written in a very bluegrass-style, although the production is too souped up to be traditional Bluegrass Music. The song is good, but not great. It passes by in a swirl of minor chords and belted lyrics and leaves you without remembering much of it at all. I consider this the 2nd mis-step.
Guilty In Here- This is the final Lambert compostion, and its a doozy. Its a fun rocker with a killer tag line "is it guilty in here, or is it just me". The lyrics even go as far as to quote the Rolling Stones "under my thumb" and Machiavelli (the philosopher, not the rapper). Its a great summery song and if there's any justice in the world, it will be a big hit for her.
Getting Ready- This song is a bit of an anomaly. Its a rock song given a country makeover, but even then, its still not traditional Nashville fare. Its got great country instrumentation, but its structure is atypical for country pop. The Chorus is sung slightly different every time, and the hooks aren't where you think they should be. However, that doesn't make it any less good. It is a Patty Griffin composition.
Easy From Now On- This is an underrated country classic, written by Carlene Carter, and covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris on her album "Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town." Miranda gives the song a facelift, making it more of a contemporary Ballad, and including some beautiful slide guitar along with some very well sung, closely harmonized backing vocals. The song is about letting go of a bad lover, but being so hurt that you go out trying to make your own reputation. Its lyrics are pure country, even if the instrumentation is not quite traditional. This is one of my favorite parts of the record.
All in all, this is a great record. Possibly one of the best records of the year. Miranda Lambert had a lot to prove with this album, and aside from a couple weak songs, this album did the trick.