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Miranda Lambert Balances Her Firebrand Past With Her Pop-Star Present on ‘Platinum’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: June 03, 2014
Label: RCA Nashville

Time has a way of creeping up on us. Miranda Lambert knows this well. She’s 30, which these days – especially in country music, where many a Nashville icon has churned out a meaningful album long after grandkids started arriving – is hardly the definition of old. But a spunky firebrand like Lambert? The same lady who threw a brick through Music Row’s front pane with the smash-mouth “Kerosene” off her breakout ’05 debut? That girl, er, woman is married now. Happy. Wildly successful. What to do then when those ex-boyfriends in need of a good tire slashing are relics of your younger self?

It’s a tricky question, one that in recent years the Nashville-by-way-of Texas starlet has had mixed success with: First came 2009’s landmark Revolution, a critical darling of an album that revealed her softer side with charmers like “The House That Built Me.” Yet middle-of-the-road follow-up Four The Record found her struggling to assess whether she was still the “fastest girl in town” or a full-fledged adult, “polished and changed for the better.” With the refined, pristinely polished Platinum, her fifth LP and most mature, well-rounded effort to date, Miranda crosses the threshold: She’s no longer a girl finding her way in the world, but rather a wiser, advice-spewing woman — still a shit-talking firecracker, though one who’s comfortable with the notion that her rowdiest days may be behind her.

Lambert’s realization is our benefit: Platinum is a supremely balanced set, tailor-made to reflect the singer’s fully evolved, dichotomous persona: a tough-as-nails traditionalist pining for the good-ol-days (honky-tonk reflective “Old Shit,” the slow-burning, lighter-waving “Automatic”) who still gets her kicks moonlighting as a cowboy-boots wearing tease (the hip-hop bouncy “Platinum,” “Little Red Wagon”). “It ain’t my fault when I’m walking jaws dropping,” she says, with a devilish bat of the eyelash.

“It’s a difficult thing being queen of the king,” Lambert contends over the ’50s-style boogie of “Priscilla,” addressing her status as one-half of the First Couple of Country alongside The Voice‘s Blake Shelton. She’s tipping her hat to her pop fanbase, of course, but the approach also leads to unnecessary collaborations: both “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” featuring Little Big Town, and the rowdy “Somethin’ Bad,” her and Carrie Underwood’s retort to bro-country, feel forced.

These are small missteps on an otherwise solid outing. Lambert’s biggest asset remains her voice, a sharp instrument occasionally dashed with bluesy affect (“Holding on to You”). Like her, it’s only grown more polished with age. “You can nip and tuck and squeeze it, but you’re never gonna beat it,” she sings, charging into her third decade with characteristic hellfire.