The Gritty, Gutsy Miranda Lambert We All Fell in Love With Is Back

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It’s not really something you’re all that proud to admit out loud, but it’s hard to not be pretty damn happy about Miranda Lambert splitting up with Blake Shelton. After finally wrestling herself away from her overrated, overgrown manchild of an ex-husband, you just knew that the resulting break-up album was going to be on fire.

Lambert gave us the first taste of her post-divorce sound last week with the debut of “Vice,” her first release since 2014’s Platinum. With just the first few hauntingly angelic seconds of what will no doubt be a song that ends up on a greatest-hits album, you damn near wish that she could just go on ahead and break up with Blake Shelton again if this is the kind of tune we’re going to get out of it. Miranda Lambert is back, y’all, and she’s more badass than ever.

Last Wednesday, Lambert performed “Vice” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and in those four minutes, made immediately clear that the sweet, slicked-up Miranda Lambert that we’ve seen as of late is gone. As she made her ascent to the top, Lambert had certainly softened her edges. And it paid off – as she grew into her role as the most famous woman in country music, the chain-smoking, shotgun-at-the-ready persona slipped away, replaced by twee little songs about little red wagons over a bro-country beat.

But now, Lambert has returned, and Lord, is she grittier than ever. And maybe we have Blake Shelton to thank for that. It’s no coincidence that once he came along, songs like “Kerosene” were replaced by mediocre duets like “Something Bad” and that damn “Little Red Wagon” song. Perhaps even being in the same room with that walking jar of hair grease permeated her consciousness enough to take a little of the fire out of an artist who had once been one of country music’s most brazen.

This might seem like a criticism of Lambert, but it really isn’t. She has always been at the top of her game. To be sure, Platinum wasn’t Lambert’s best effort. It was a good album — certainly one of the best of last year — but it sorely lacked her characteristic grit. Hell, even the album’s bright spot, an ode to Priscilla Presley, was a complaint about her ex-husband, proving that she’s really at her best when Blake Shelton is either in her crosshairs or her rearview mirror.

With “Vice,” Lambert takes a pointed shot at the people who said that she might have run around on Blake Shelton. On this track, she is very explicitly talking about the sex that she’s had and the beds that she’s been in and out of. Whether or not that all happened before or after she ended her relationship with Shelton really seems irrelevant. Lambert doesn’t assume any shame or apologize for what she’s done — it just is.

And in that, she’s honed herself into a grown-up version of the girl who stole everyone’s attention on Nashville Star. Only now, she’s been around long enough to grow and learn and get a divorce and end up jaded. She comes into the song a cappella, letting her voice express all the pain and longing and regret that she infused into the lyrics. When she sings about finding “sweet salvation on the dinin’ room table” in the form of a bottle of Jack Daniel's, it recalls a place plenty of people have found themselves sitting in.

It’s a spot that we certainly shouldn’t shame a female country artist for being in. Plenty of fans and critics clutched their pearls to their chests as this track was released, happy to shame her for either ruining her own marriage or sleeping around after it ended. But Lambert isn’t copping to cheating on this track; she’s simply admitting that she’s doing a whole lot of fucking. She’s unapologetic that one of her “vices” is the company of a good man.

More than that, she’s essentially daring you to shame her for having too many one-night-stands or drinking too much or breaking too many hearts. It’s a gutsy move, even for the most famous woman in country music. George Strait might be able to talk about being the “Fireman” and "puttin’ out fires all over town," but female artists in country have long been expected to ooze sexuality while never actually addressing that they may like and have and, heaven forbid, enjoy sex outside the confines of a heterosexual marriage.

And maybe you could take “Vice” as an admission of sorts, a melancholy lament of what she’s done to her marriage. But that’s not what I hear. I hear a woman who’s coming out on the other side of a battle, sorting through all the emotional shrapnel and trying to figure out how to put herself back together again.

It would have been easy for her to write a revenge ballad, a “Kerosene” 2.0 if you will. Especially considering that Shelton released his own cheap-ass fuck-you to Lambert in "She's Got a Way With Words," whether or not he wants to admit that it's about his ex. But Lambert chose to focus on her own pain. If anything, “Vice” proves that Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani and the tabloid covers are the furthest things from Lambert’s mind. She looks inside, trying to figure out exactly how she found herself in this mess. She shows a remarkable emotional maturity, one that certainly can’t be said for her half-wit ex-husband.

There’s no doubt that Miranda Lambert is going to come out on the other side of this divorce unscathed, no matter how many #TeamBlake hangers-on believe otherwise. It’s just fortunate that we will all have the privilege of getting to listen to her work it all out.

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