In early 2019 Miranda Lambert moved to New York City, secretly married a police officer and got some new ink: A wildcard, the queen of hearts, on her inner right forearm. Cast as a “queen of heartbreak” by the media when her divorce from Blake Shelton in 2015 spurred a string of short-term relationships, Lambert reclaims the narrative of her up-and-down love life by embracing it. In her latest album Wildcard, she puts life’s unpredictability into words against the backdrop of her move to the city and sonic exploration. Each song sounds different, but full and fun, all wildcards themselves.
The first track “White Trash” combats a common country music critique right off the bat. Yes, Lambert admits, she’s “upgraded from the barbed wire” fence for a “nice picket.” And yes, she only lives in Tennessee part-time. But that doesn’t mean she should lose her country cred. A funky mix of banjo and electric guitar, the song follows Miranda through her house, documenting the duct tape and dog hair, which she attributes to her upbringing. “New money, old habits” Lambert explains.
“White Trash” establishes perspective, but “It All Comes Out in the Wash” sets the tone of the album. Fun and upbeat, Lambert declares herself a clean slate. “You take the sin and the men and you throw ‘em all in / And you put that sucker on spin,” she advises. With strong backup vocals and playful lyrics that address awkward incidents, Lambert lets her listeners know that the healing process doesn’t always have to be sad and lonely.
If “It All Comes Out in the Wash” is the car sing-along song for dealing with a break-up, then “Bluebird” is the diary entry of the record. Dark and determined, Lambert assures herself that when the next storm blows through, she’ll be able to handle it. “When the house just keeps on winning / I’ve got a wildcard up my sleeve,” Lambert winks. And, if the world were to stop singing, she promises to “keep the bluebird in my heart.” For those who don’t know, the Bluebird Cafe is a songwriter hangout in Nashville with a famous open mic night. With a slow and steady pace and lovely lyrics, the “Bluebird” showcases just that — Lambert’s talent for songwriting.
A change in pace, “Locomotive” sounds like Lambert just stepped off the train in her new home, ready to throw down — “New York City seems O.K.” she declares. “Locomotive” is the closest thing Wildcard has to a rock song, and it also has one of the album’s most clever turns of phrase: “I’m sweet tea sippin’ on a front porch, sittin’ / while my hubby fries chicken / and I’m pluckin’ these strings.” Although this scene doesn’t quite fit in with city life, it sets up the following lyrics, “he gives me wings.” A play on the food and the joy she gets from being with her husband, Lambert’s voice soars alongside heavy instrumentation and the listener can’t help but feel happy for her.
Smirk-worthy lyrics set to a head-nod inducing groove, Lambert praises her band, her fans and everything in between in “Pretty Bitchin’.” It’s insanely catchy. And, even though it seems like she sings “pretty” every other word, it doesn’t get old. “Life’s pretty great, life’s pretty weird” she repeats, summing up her contentment.
However, Lambert acknowledges that her life hasn’t always been so great. On “Track Record,” she owns up to having a “Past that’s checkered / As the floor at the diner of Main Street” and chronicles her misadventures in love. But as messy as she says it is to be a “heart-wrecker,” the song doesn’t sound like it. Instead, like a sunny Sunday afternoon drive, it’s bubbly and laid-back all at once. When Lambert claims “I can’t help it / I’m in love with love,” the listener can’t help but believe her.
The album’s closer finds Lambert in “Dark Bars,” an unexpected retreat into the shadows given all of the light in the songs that precede it. “I’m not in pain, I’m not on pills” she eases fears, “but I’m still hanging out in dark bars.” Despite being in a better place, Lambert admits that she can be “reckless” and “desperate.” So maybe it does make sense to end in melancholy reflection. Both the listener and Lambert know better than to think that all the storms have ended and that yesterday’s load of laundry was the last. But now this queen of hearts knows her own, and has an album of exploratory, lyrically-sound songs to show for it.