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Album Review: Miranda Lambert’s ‘Wildcard’

Wildcard continues Lambert's reign as one of country music’s most important artists.

Written by Cillea Houghton
Album Review: Miranda Lambert’s ‘Wildcard’
Miranda Lambert; Photo Courtesy of Vanner Records/RCA Nashville

The follow-up to the vulnerable 2017 ACM Album of the Year winning The Weight of These Wings, Miranda Lambert’s sharply written and produced seventh studio project Wildcard finds her striking a balance between the fragility of Wings and the brazen nature of hits like “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder and Lead.” Lambert turns each of the album’s 14 songs into their own characters, her voice gentle when needed and strong for the remainder.

Lambert’s confidence pours through as “White Trash” opens the project, Lambert playing the role of a woman who mixes her new high class lifestyle (“queen finally got a castle,” she sings) with her “White Trash” ways she has no intention of abandoning, whether its carnations in a whiskey bottle vase or dog hair on the fancy furniture. “I can’t keep my white trash off the lawn,” she croons over a swampy melody heavy on electric guitar. She stays in this rock n’ roll vein on “Mess With My Head,” demonstrating that she’s still equal parts shameless and funny, neutralizing such compromising scenarios as dating a bridesmaids ex and accidentally bringing him to the wedding on “It All Comes Out in the Wash.”

Miranda Lambert; Photo Credit: Ellen von Unwerth
Miranda Lambert; Photo Credit: Ellen von Unwerth

From here, she naturally transitions into a reflective state with “Settling Down” as she wonders if true happiness is the familiarity of life on the road with her gypsy soul, or at home with the one she loves. “Am I looking for comfort, am I looking for an escape, am I looking for you, am I looking the other way?… am I settling up or settling down?” she observes with poignant vocals. She turns back to her gritty sound on the bluesy, gospel-esque “Holy Water” before kicking it up a notch on “Way Too Pretty For Prison” where she and duet partner Maren Morris get in touch with their feminine sides along with a double dose of humor citing all the reasons they’re not made for prison, from multiple women sharing a sink to the orange jumpsuits that wash out one’s face.

Lambert takes this energy even higher with the fiery “Locomotive” that has her unapologetically owning every aspect of herself, proclaiming over a fast-paced melody dominated by electric guitar that even when she’s down on her luck, she doesn’t give up.

She brings herself back to earth with a much gentler tone on “Bluebird.” The mellow number shows how she sees the world from a positive perspective in her own unique way, like how she’s a giver who’s still giving people hell and when love hands her lemons, she just mixes them in her drink. “If the whole wide world stops singing and all the stars go dark, I turn a light on in my soul and keep the bluebird in my heart,” she sings peacefully, calling to mind the plaintive nature she displayed on ballads like “The House That Built Me” and “More Like Her,” proving she can master all sides of the emotional spectrum.  

She reconnects with her sense of humor on “Pretty Bitchin,’” that has her chronicling life’s blunders with an encouraging mindset, calling herself a “pretty hot mess” and taking digs at the tabloids that plaster her business across the covers with such lyrics as “I’ve got a pretty good time in the checkout line with all the free press I’ve been gettin,’ it’s pretty bitchin.’”

After sharing her love for tequila on “Tequila Does,” the kind of song you can almost hear a chorus of drunken patrons singing after one too many margaritas, she lays claim on her past in a lighthearted way with “Track Record.” “I can’t help it I’m in love with love,” she shares, analyzing her “checkered past” and wondering what motivates her decision-making. “Maybe it’s the ones that I can’t fix, and maybe it’s the chase that makes me tick, girls like me don’t mean it but we don’t know better, I’ve got a track record,” she ponders over a dreamy, ’80s country-meets-pop-rock melody.

Lambert ends the album by allowing her true colors to shine through in “Dark Bars.” It’s here she unabashedly admits that while she’s not in pain or on drugs, she still feels a natural kinship with the people that seek sanctuary in a smoky club where no one knows your story or cares to learn it, describing herself as “reckless” and “desperate” in search of cheap thrills. “I know a thing or two about broke hearts, neon truth can hit real hard,” she sings in the melodic ode to sorrow, her voice reflecting the comfort she feels in such a space.

With Wildcard, the superstar singer balances unwavering honesty with her sweet soul and keen observations about the world surrounding her. Lambert is as bold and fearless as fans revere her for while still honoring her vulnerable side that allows her to keep her heart open even in the darkest hours, continuing her reign as one of country music’s most important artists.