Besides being a multi-award winning country musician, Miranda Lambert understands that she’s a celebrity. She’s a recognizable star whose picture graces the pages of national magazines and whose life events, such as her recent marriage, are reported in newspapers. Lambert began her recording career as a hot-headed gal who aimed to shoot her abusive boyfriend (and commit other acts of violence). She has since enjoyed a reputation as a fiery personality who could go to extremes when needed. Her import and influence on country music in general and female artists, in particular, cannot be overstated.
Lambert’s older now. She’s mellowed, but she still tries to maintain that feisty attitude than made her such an important star. Wildcard partly succeeds as a result. Lambert complains/brags too much. There are real things to worry about, and I don’t mean global poverty, climate chaos, institutional racism, or heavy social-political-economic concerns, I mean more of the why aren’t we all getting along type. When’s the last time strangers smiled at you in a friendly way? Okay. I don’t mean to exaggerate, but we live in weird times, and Lambert’s new album seems out-of-touch. For example, her complaints about being “White Trash” may have seemed disruptive back in 2004, but now come off as cliched. The conceit of a rich and successful woman like herself having discount store taste comes off as smug more than liberating.
The song also goes on too long for one with such a high concept message, one that can be easily understood in just a few words, and that’s true for several of the 14 cuts. Lambert has white trash taste, or she’s “Way Too Pretty for Prison”, or “Tequila Does” whatever that thing tequila does. She uses her persona for cartoon-like purposes. She can be funny, and she makes fun of herself as well as others. The tracks are generally radio-friendly. No doubt, this record will yield several hits. However, one expects more from Lambert. The songs previously mentioned come off as pre-fab novelties more than clever ditties, like TV sitcoms with a laugh track.
For an album named Wildcard, there doesn’t seem to a standout track. There are some very songs with strong emotional appeal and literate, artful lyrics such as the reflective “Bluebird”, the love story “Fire Escape”, the teary “Dark Bars”, and even the comic “Pretty Bitchin'”. Lambert can be catchy and humorous while making a serious point. She works in a variety of musical styles, from the gospel groove of “Holy Water” to the bubbly “It All Comes Out in the Wash” to the acoustic strings of “How Dare You Love” and more. The variety is easy on the ears as it allows Lambert’s voice to create an aural unity to the proceedings.
Then again, while the term wildcard would seem to suggest something surprising, it also has the other meaning: that of a playing card that can match any value or suit in poker. Perhaps, Lambert is suggestively telling us she’s ready to blend in by pretending to stand out. The cover of the record depicts Lambert as a sexy babe wearing a tight dress with a low neck, a short hem, and fishnet stockings. She’s got a devilish smile, a gleam in her eye, and is holding a pencil and a crossword puzzle. Huh? Lambert’s that wild girl who loves to do word games? Or maybe it’s just her way of fitting in. Lambert can appeal to those who love girls for their bodies and their brains. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does seem a waste of a wildcard here used to make a mediocre hand better rather than take a chance on a batch of songs that could make a royal flush.