You approach a Miranda Lambert song called "Automatic" with certain expectations—by not approaching it at all, really, instead crouching behind a desk, or a wall, or a Camaro, or something, braced for a cleansing, delightful hail of epithets and flames and bullets. She's a Texan country superstar whose first big song was called "Kerosene," whose second album was called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, who belts out snarly-sweet tales of voluptuous hostility and Kevlar-tough love while gripping a mic stand shaped like a shotgun. Country radio is like 98 percent bros now—Luke Bryan falling offstage while covering Macklemore pretty much sums it up—and it sometimes feels like she's 98 percent of the remaining two percent, a one-woman #yesallwomen. Her goofy and wise new album, Platinum, goes easy on the gunplay, but rest assured she's still armed to the blinding-white teeth.
Lambert's best album is still 2009's Revolution, a fusillade of brash and rowdy jams—see her version of John Prine's "That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round," less a cover than a home invasion—punctuated by the startling, sob-inducing ballad "The House That Built Me," one of maybe three viable candidates for best country song of the 21st century to date. (It came on the car radio as I drove back to the hospital shortly after the birth of my second son, and lo did I bawl like an idiot.)
Platinum is an airier, more sprawling affair, as if it's its own Broadway revue, a Western-swing kiss-off rubbing elbows with chain-restaurant arena rock (Carrie Underwood livens up the pretty OK "Somethin' Bad"), the cartoonishly ribald "Little Red Wagon" channeling primo DLR-era Van Halen and spilling directly into the soft-rock resplendence of "Smokin' and Drinkin'," a Bread anthem for the gluten-free age. A sun-room folkie shuffle called "Old Shit" ("I'm a fan of it"); a kicky cabaret vamp called "Gravity's a Bitch." It all goes on a bit, but you're loathe to call this record a cab and deprive yourself of its further company all the same.
She's a tabloid concern now, both her weight and her marriage (to The Voice luminary, Pizza Hut ambassador, and fellow chart-topper/NRA-card-carrier Blake Shelton) of paramount public interest. These matters are addressed on the cheery life-in-the-public-eye lament "Priscilla" (no offense to the tough-Tweeting Shelton, but he is not the Elvis in this equation) and the stormier life-in-the-private-eye lament "Bathroom Sink": "It's amazing the amount of rejection that I see in my reflection," Lambert notes with a mournful, knowing twang. Best in show though is the gentle soul valentine "Holding on to You," which she sings the hell out of without making a big deal of it, triangulating Al Green and the Eagles, a peaceful easy feeling that for once doesn't make you want to punch someone in the face.
Not a lot of violence here at all, really—yes, even including "Automatic," which turns out to be an uncharacteristically ham-handed ode to The Way Things Used to and Still Oughta Be, hailing the pleasures of stick shifts and taping songs off the radio and mailing letters while condemning the modern scourges of GPS devices and (?!) divorce. Ah, geez. It's on-message genre-wise but personally way off-brand, a stirring but vapid endorsement of the status quo negated by the mere existence of the not-so-quietly revolutionary singer delivering it. She is all the past the future needs.